OU students' progress to be monitored by software


Students at the Open University are going to have their progress monitored by software to spot if they need any extra support.

The scheme, developed by the OU, has been designed to observe students' paths through courses and engagement with online learning modules.

The OU's Prof John Domingue told the BBC: "This has been developed as a tool for tutors to help students.

"We are planning to use this data for students studying in 2015-16."

The program, called OU Analyse, was developed at the university during the 2013-14 academic year.

It uses a variety of data sets held by the OU and assesses the likelihood of a student submitting their next assignment by using information gathered from four different algorithms.

The more algorithms that indicate the student will not send in their work - the higher the chance of that happening.

Prof Domingue added: "We take advantage of the fact that modules are presented many times. One can use the experience of previous students to benefit future students. An interesting fact is that the data of the interactions before the course actually starts, like reading the material available and engaging with forums, is extremely valuable.

"Currently it is deployed on 13 modules, mostly level one modules in order to try to provide timely indicators that students may be struggling.

"The model is tailored to each of the modules and by using this and identifying students, more tailored support may be provided."

The OU has taken steps to ensure that students' privacy is not compromised by the scheme - putting in place an ethics policy, agreed in consultation with a student committee, to protect their data.

'Great idea'

Ruth Tudor, president of the Open University's Students' Association, thinks the scheme is a positive one.

"It's a great idea and a great way of providing targeted support to students who may be struggling and need extra help," she told the BBC.

"I would like to think that this would improve the drop-out rate from OU courses. You must remember they take students who have come from no academic background so it is always possible that those people take on more than they think they can manage.

"That's why data analytics will help provide extra support and can help them be successful."

Reports suggest that some other British universities are thinking of using similar methods and Ms Tudor added: "I don't see why this shouldn't happen in other universities. It has happened in the USA and I'm surprised they're not using it here."

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