Students come to school not as a clean slate, but with diverse values and goals, a wide range of family and social backgrounds, personal history and current challenges, interests and hobbies, psychological traits, and so on. Both intuition and research maintain that personality traits and past experience play key roles in academic performance. For example, perseverance is a critical psychological trait for success; healthy mental states and positive attitudes are associated with higher productivity and performance; gender or race can sometimes result in bias and influence performance; hobbies from early childhood can indicate college majors. However, current learning analytics research has not paid enough attention to the “person” elements. With the advancement in data science and the availability of vast academic performance and personal data, it is critical for us to leverage these resources to understand the role of personal attributes of learners, to provide educators with data-based interventions for students with different personal characteristics, and to help students build insight about themselves so that they can adopt learning strategies that work for each of them individually. Just like precision medicine, we are at a time when data science is making personalized education more feasible and effective than ever before.
The goal of this project is to build a new generation of learning analytics tools which integrate our understanding of “student as a person” and “student as a learner”. The research team will develop language, speech, and sensor-based machine learning tools that translate input data (academic performance, social media streams, WiFi access data and survey data from 1000 students) into attributes that will form a student profile. They will explicitly link academic performance and mental health with the personal attributes the students’ values, beliefs, interests, behaviors, background, and emotional state. Such tools will help address questions such as: What are the characteristics of a student who excels in writing? What is the typical profile of a student who struggle in Physics? What are the signs of depression in a student? The tools will provide educators with new insights in identifying group and individualized interventions, and provide the students themselves with richer means for introspection and the ability to make decisions that work for them in the learning process. We will also implement an app as our pilot intervention tool.