Over the past few weeks, several of us in C21U have been working with others at Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE), Georgia State University (GSU), the University System of Georgia (USG), and USG eCampus to plan a series of events on “precision academics.” Precision academics is a relatively new term – we’re using it to describe technology-enabled, data-informed, and empirically-evidenced instruction.
The following is a short conversation with the person responsible for spearheading the upcoming precision academics events in Georgia, Myk Garn. Myk is the Assistant Vice Chancellor for New Learning Models at the USG Board of Regents.
Matt: What do you mean by “precision academics?”
Myk: Precision academics, at its core, is the practice of designing for and using digital data from student learning activities to inform and improve instruction. It implies an end-to-end digitization of instructional intentions (learning objectives), content, assignments, assessments, and reporting of student learning outcomes. Just as the practice of precision medicine is being driven by extensive laboratory and clinical data that now can be parsed, mined, and focused into solutions for ever more finely grained categories of individuals, precision academics leverages robust streams of finely detailed data about and from learners in real-time to inform and drive new instructional/learning platforms, models, and paradigms.
Matt: The comparison to precision medicine is really interesting, and raises a question of faculty development. Healthcare professionals are being provided professional development to lead the implementation of precision medicine, which requires the enhancement of existing skills and the development of brand new ones. What type of faculty development will be required to move precision academics into the mainstream?
Myk: Designing lessons that generate robust data streams, connecting that telemetry on learning to adaptive, analytical, and dashboard tools, and knowing what to ask of the data – and do with the results – will clearly require new abilities for faculty, instructional, and support staff. This will not be moving from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” stuff (a phrase that I really don’t like). Faculty will be much more intimately and actively informed and involved in the progress, problems, and successes of every student. They will be much more like learning scientists using their experience to craft and evaluate their instruction – and their students’ learning – using a broad range of new tools and paradigms. Much like when we moved into the broader use of learning management systems – or smartphones and their myriad apps – we will all be in need of on-going training and retraining for the adoption of precision academics.
Matt: The schools throughout the University System of Georgia are very different – how do you see “Precision Academics” benefiting different schools in different ways?
Myk: I believe that precision academics will benefit all USG institutions. We are in the midst of digital transformation that is infusing our handcrafted courses with new instructional tools. Precision academics is about incorporating and leveraging these new affordances to add empirical analytics and evidence-based adjustments and adaptivity to the experience and expertise our faculty already have.
Matt: What does the use of data to adjust and adapt instruction look like in practice? Do you envision faculty adjusting their instruction from one semester to the next? Or could they adjust real-time (i.e. mid-semester) as data is collected and analyzed?
Myk: I definitely expect faculty will adjust their lessons on an on-going basis. They do this now based on feedback they get from students – the use of empirical data will enable evidence-based analysis. For example, some competency-based platforms already allow for A/B testing of different lessons to evaluate their comparative efficacy. In addition, we already trigger interventions based on test scores. A more robust data stream from the learning activities leading up to the test might have allowed a faculty member to identify a problematic trend earlier (Dr. Ryan Baker at the University of Pennsylvania researches just these kind of indicators). The closer we can get to real-time responses – the better it will be for students.
Matt: What are the events you’re lining up for this initiative? Who can attend?
Myk: Over this next academic year, we will hold several webinars that will be open to everybody in the System. These will be designed to create awareness and develop understanding of what Precision Academics is all about and inform faculty and institutional ability to design and incorporate Precision Academics principles and practices into USG courses and programs. We will culminate in June 2019 with a Chancellor’s Summit on Precision Academics. This will be a one-day, in-person event to highlight and learn from USG and national exemplars.