Higher Education: Personalizing Instruction in 100+ Lecture Courses

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Think back to your college days, and imagine a lecture hall packed with hundreds of students. The professor, wearing a body mic or standing behind a lectern, looks like a spec to the people in the balcony, who take furious notes (or don’t) as she lectures. Every single day.

Exams are multiple choice, filled out on Scantron sheets, because even with a small army of graduate teaching assistants, there’s no way to grade essay tests (much less spend time providing substantive feedback), and the idea of presentations—even group presentations—is laughable with so many students.

But still, there’s got to be some way to personalize things so students can feel like more than anonymous faces in a crowd—but more importantly, so they can get the individual feedback they need to really learn the material and skills they’re supposed to take away from this semester.

One University of Arizona professor sends personalized e-mails to the students who fail the first exam in her 200-person course, showing she cares without having to dedicate every waking hour to tutoring.

Cohen crafted an email explaining that “the student didn’t do as well as expected on the exam, however, it was still early in the semester, and that changing habits now could turn their grade around” […]. She sent the message from her own email address, and personalized it using each student’s name.

The message didn’t offer any additional support to its recipients. Rather, it asked whether they knew why they hadn’t performed well, and whether they’d taken advantage of existing resources, like office hours and study groups. […] More than half of the 20 students Cohen emailed wrote back expressing their appreciation for her message and taking responsibility for their grades.

Cohen has continued sending the email to students who fail the first exam. And while she doesn’t have a clear sense of whether or how the message has changed recipients’ behavior, she has noticed that the growth in scores between the first test and the final grade is larger for this group than for the overall class, which she sees as an encouraging indicator.

-Becky Supiano, in The Chronicle of Higher Education

This is a fantastic approach, and we love learning about the ways Cohen and other professors manage to make students feel noticed in large lectures. But still, as Cohen herself says, this tactic doesn’t offer any actual feedback or support—just encouragement.

So what if we could go deeper, providing students unique feedback tailored specifically to their individual performance, strengths, and weaknesses?

Thanks to recent advancements in learning-oriented AI and machine-learning technology, we can.

Using Automated Assessments to Personalize Learning

Imagine a platform that can take students’ work—and not just Scantrons, but written and spoken assignments, too—analyze it on key performance markers, and provide both an objective evaluation and expert, subjective feedback designed to drive lasting improvement? Each student could submit her work and receive that feedback within hours, if not minutes. The professor would have access to individual student information as well as aggregate data showing the class’s overall strengths and weaknesses, empowering her to adjust the curriculum to meet her particular group’s needs. All without draining her limited time and resources.

The Quantified Communications platform does exactly that, with a focus on helping large groups develop the communication skills they need to become successful leaders. 

We work with business schools across the country, empowering professors and administrators to provide students with the personalized instruction they need to succeed. Students simply upload a video, and then our application uses natural language processing, facial and vocal analysis, and machine learning to score them based on the effectiveness of their content, visual and verbal delivery, and overall presence. Then, the application provides specific feedback and resources, created by experts, tailored to their unique communication skills. So not only do students know how they’re doing and why—they know exactly what they need to do to improve.

On the administrator side, professors and program leaders can view their students’ aggregate data to understand where, as a whole, students are excelling or struggling, then tailor their lesson plans accordingly to ensure the classroom experience is relevant and productive for every group.

We know the struggle educators face every semester to cover all of their material and ensure every student finishes the course with the intended skills and knowledge. And while we also know the sheer number of “EdTech” products and platforms can be overwhelming, we pride ourselves on offering educators a powerful tool to help them—and each of their students—achieve their goals.