CourseSmart  is the world’s largest platform for eTextbooks and digital course materials. CourseSmart has over 40,000 titles from more than 50 publishers and over 3.5 million student and faculty users.
CourseSmart Analytics  provides faculty with a platform to develop insight into how students are interacting with the digital texts that they assign. Robust analytics seems to be the logical next step of the move from print to digital in curricular materials.
To get some insight into CourseSmart’s investment in analytics, and the larger potential of analytics to address issues of costs, access, and quality in education, I asked CourseSmart’s CEO Sean Devine  to answer a few questions (by e-mail):
Why should we care about analytics in education? What are the benefits and to whom?
Nearly every day we hear accounts of America’s competitiveness crisis, or our innovation shortfall. According to whitehouse.gov, in higher education the U.S. has been outpaced internationally: we rank ninth in the world in the proportion of young adults enrolled in college, we’ve fallen to 16th in the world in the share of degrees awarded to adults 25-34, and we suffer from a college attainment gap.
Analytics represents the intersection of technology and education innovation, and it holds great promise to address some of the most challenging issues facing students, institutions and faculty, including cost, retention and improving learning outcomes, all of which are vital to help us regain our competitive edge.
How long will it take for analytics to really impact the education industry?
Educators and institutions are already recognizing the importance of big data in the classroom, and understand that the insights gained through analytics could have an immediate impact. CourseSmart Analytics will provide feedback almost instantaneously that could result in an instructor shifting the focus of their curriculum or their teaching strategy to ensure students are achieving stronger learning outcomes.
There are lots of data companies. Why will CourseSmart Analytics be successful?
CourseSmart Analytics is the only platform that provides provosts, deans, course designers, and others an easy-to-access dashboard that is simple to understand and integrated directly into the institution’s LMS or campus portal.
Faculty will be able to identify “at risk” students based on engagement with assigned course materials and correlate this to overall student performance, which will help to aid retention and ultimately improve learning outcomes.
Administrators can use the engagement data in aggregate to determine ROI on expenditures for digital course materials.
Finally, publishers can use the data to assess the efficacy of their digital course materials and augment, as necessary, all of which impacts the quality of learning.
What other trends do you anticipate becoming part of the higher education conversation this year?
The trends for 2013 are all centered on the use of technology to decrease costs and increase the quality of higher education.
1. Analytics and data mining will continue to be a popular topic as many expect big data to impact retention, cost-control, improving learning outcomes and increasing graduation rates.
2. Hybrid classes and new forms of blended learning, like “flipped classrooms,” are expected to gain greater momentum, as more advanced digital course materials enter the marketplace.
3. Open source programs will shift from no cost to low cost, reinforcing the importance of maintaining quality while offering materials at a low, affordable price. Students will continue to save money, but will benefit from a better educational experience given the heightened quality control elements that will be implemented throughout open source materials.
Can you give us specifics about actual on the ground cost savings, using real dollars, that have resulted in an analytics program?
Data shows that only about 55 percent of college students graduate within six years and tuition costs are rising faster than healthcare, with student loan debt now totaling more than $1 trillion. CourseSmart Analytics was developed to help ensure that students stay “on track” in their studies, thus increasing the chances that they will graduate on time and on budget. With our analytics platform still in beta, we are waiting to assess the overall impact of our pilot, including financial benefits. However, we have already experienced how data can be transformative in other industries, from ecommerce to politics, and we can certainly expect the same impact for higher education.
What sort of investments is CourseSmart making in your analytics program in terms of headcount, research and development dollars, etc?
We have already deployed significant resources to develop our analytics solution, and pending feedback from our beta institutions, CourseSmart will continue investing significant resources to add new tools and functionality to ensure administrators, faculty, students and publishers are realizing the vast benefits of our analytics platform.
What is the business case for CourseSmart to invest in analytics (how do you plan to make money?) What is the company not doing as a result of the analytics program?
CourseSmart Analytics is currently being launched in beta. Upon general availability launch, we envision this functionality being included in our institution integrations, as an added feature. This aligns with our business goals to expand the benefits and capabilities within our institutional integrations. At the same time, the company is aggressively pursuing additional projects that impact student and institution pain points. For example, CourseSmart recently partnered with Internet2 and EDUCAUSE for a research project to test a flat rate subscription option for course materials, giving students access to all their required course materials for one subscription price over a fixed access period.
What would you want to ask Sean about CourseSmart’s Analytics?