The New Academic Adviser: Your Computer
Netflix uses a complex data analysis process to make movie recommendations to its customers. Many Major League Baseball managers also use a numbers-based system to run their teams, taking advantage of the wealth of available data. Now some colleges are using a similar tool to help students choose classes, replacing the role of the traditional academic adviser.
The Computer Adviser
At many schools, you're likely to have a meeting with your academic adviser to discuss what classes you should take. Your adviser would use knowledge of your interests, familiarity with college requirements and personal expertise in the available offerings to make recommendations. This system has several drawbacks. For example, your adviser is limited by the degree of his or her knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, your adviser may be an expert on courses and faculty members within his or her department, but less so for courses in other disciplines.
To improve this system, several colleges and universities around the country are adopting a computer-based tool that compiles far-ranging and comprehensive data to recommend courses. When the computer system at Netflix recommends a movie, it has a massive amount of data at its disposal, including all of your past movie ratings, the ratings of users similar to you and knowledge of every movie available. Software course advising is similarly knowledgeable at a level beyond the capacity of a human adviser. It considers your intended major, the results of classes you've completed and data from similar students who've taken courses it may suggest to you.
Better Data, Better Recommendations
When a software advising system uses a broader range of data than a human, it's able to make more helpful suggestions. Also, software-based advisers lack the human biases that can influence decisions. This is comparable to a baseball manager who picks a better relief pitcher for a particular hitter based on what the vast statistics suggest, rather than a misleading gut instinct.
In several tests, computer-based advisers have led students to higher grades and lower dropout rates. There are numerous reasons for this. For example, these tools may recommend a class that you're best prepared for, rather than one that may be above your level of readiness. Also, these tools can help you design a schedule that allows you to complete requirements as efficiently as possible. This can be particularly helpful when the course and scheduling options are dizzying in their complexity.
A Place for Human Advisers
Despite the advantages of computer-based advising tools, many students still find value in the personal connections they develop with human advisers. While a computer may make valuable course recommendations, human advisers can provide you with an emotional connection. Course advising is occasionally about bouncing ideas off another person, soliciting life advice or developing a relationship with a possible mentor. These are all benefits that software advisers can't provide.
Just as Netflix works to strengthen its recommendation system, colleges and universities are further developing their advising tools. While they may not fully replace human advisers, these technological wonders may effectively complement them while improving your educational experience.
Course advising isn't the only facet of higher education that's moving online. Many colleges are also using online learning communities as a way to broaden their offerings.