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Learning analytics: Harnessing data science to transform education

About the series

The 21st century opened amidst an information revolution. It promises to change higher education as dramatically in this century as industrialization did in the last. Many aspects of education have already shifted; information is increasingly online, lectures are being flipped, and students are distracted in class by social media.  The real revolution will come when we harness information technology to personalize education. We already gather rich and extensive information about each student’s background, interests, goals, activity, and current status. Technology supported personalization will enable us to act on this knowledge; to optimize our education of an increasingly diverse student body, create much greater student motivation and engagement, and accomplish more with less.
This talk will describe how NSF-supported research and development--using data about the processes and products of education--led the University of Michigan to discover patterns of inequity in STEM education, develop an array of new student support technologies, and propose a major new Foundational Course Initiative.

Timothy A. McKay is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics, Astronomy, and Education, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  Professor McKay is a data scientist, drawing inference from large data sets. Dr. McKay’s research has been in two main areas: Observational cosmology and higher education.
In astrophysics, McKay’s main research tools have been the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Dark Energy Survey, and the simulations which support them both. His team uses these tools to probe the growth and nature of cosmic structure as well as the expansion history of the Universe, especially through studies of galaxy clusters and gravitational lensing. He has also studied astrophysical transients, including gamma-ray bursts, as part of the Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment.
In higher education, McKay utilizes learning analytics: Using the rich, extensive, and complex data produced by digitally mediated education to better understand and improve student outcomes. In 2011, his team created the ECoach computer-tailored student support system. In 2014, he launched the REBUILD project, an effort to increase the use of evidence-based methods in large foundational courses. From 2012-2015 he chaired the University of Michigan’s Learning Analytics Task Force which helped to create several new systems and structures supporting the use of data to improve teaching and learning. This group’s Learning Analytics Fellows Program provided the basis for McKay’s edX MOOC on Practical Learning Analytics. In 2015, McKay founded the Digital Innovation Greenhouse (DIG), an education technology accelerator within the U. Michigan’s Office of Academic Innovation. As Faculty Director of DIG, he works with a team of software developers, user experience designers, and behavioral scientists to grow good ideas from innovation to infrastructure.

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