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Who Needs A Faculty Advisor When You Can Have An Adaptive Advising Tool?

July 26, 2011, 6:33 pm

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving Tennessee a $1 million grant to help college students take the most efficient steps to a degree. The grant will fund a new computerized advising program….The computer software looks at students’ transcripts and experience and suggests areas the student may be interested in – and the courses to take to follow that path. Joe White, Nashville Public Radio, July 26, 2011

When the neoliberal education professionals adjunctified higher education, I always wondered how they were going to solve the problem of not having full-time faculty available to actually meet with students. Now we know:  getting a good grade in a course will be similar to clicking “Like” on Facebook; students can be advised by a computer to take other courses like that one.  Thanks to the Gates Foundation, students at Austin Peay State University will also be steered away from things the computer thinks they aren’t suited for.  This, Governor Bill Haslam (R) explains, will avoid the “false starts along major paths” that waste so much taxpayer money.

Curriculum will now be organized with marketing software similar to that used by Amazon to filter your reading choices.

The state’s plan used the “the Adaptive Advising Tool,” a new tool designed at APSU that uses an algorithm based on prescriptive analytics to provide tailored course recommendations to students – based not just on degree requirements but on likelihood of success in the course.

The program’s designed compares it to the match-books technology used by Amazon.com, which takes the books you own and purchase and suggests books bought by other people who bought the same books you have.

So what’s wrong with this picture, other than the fact that state systems have given up on the idea that actual teachers would work with students, get to know them, and help them craft an education that aligns with their interests and aspirations?  Or that students might do badly in something, figure out what went wrong, and then try again? Or the notion that students should only pursue what they are already good at and abandon things that are difficult? Or the idea that college might offer a student something that was utterly different than what s/he had learned in high school — which nowadays would not be that hard to do, since NCLB means that we don’t teach what we can’t test? (And by the way, speaking of Amazon, why does Kindle keep shilling Jaycee Dugard’s memoir of her 15 year experience as a sexual captive even though I have never indicated by any other purchase that I want to know about this? Does this not raise the possibility that students could be “advised” to take courses that politicians and corporations want them to take in the guise of an objective computerized course selection system?)

I’ll start you off with what else is wrong here.  Governor Haslam’s not-so-veiled interest in getting students out of college as quickly as possible because education still costs money that could otherwise be spent on tax cuts for corporations: uh, I mean supporting a “business-friendly environment.”  If you go to Haslam’s webpage, he doesn’t have  a section called “Education.”  It is called “Education and Workforce Development.” As Haslam explained, having students enrolled a minute longer than necessary costs money:

“It is a factor both to the student- there is a cost involved for being in school – to the work force, in terms of having a prepared work force. And third, to the state. With everybody that’s in public institution, the state and the taxpayer subsidize them, to a degree. So the quicker we can complete those degrees, the better.”

Atta boy, Governor Haslam (a history major from Emory, who never went to a public school in his life or chose courses without an advisor.)  Nowadays, you don’t have to be on welfare to be a welfare queen:  Wisconsin and New Jersey have added public employees to the list, and Tennessee has added college students.

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