A key plot element in the Neal Stephenson novel The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (1995) revolves around educational technology—a book that is actually a person’s lifetime companion in learning. The Primer in this novel is AI. It monitors, suggests, coaxes, guides, reprimands, and teaches what is most valuable in any given circumstance. Merely possessing a personalized copy of The Primer has such a profound effect on the course of an individual’s life that it is reserved for the most privileged members of society. The novel describes what happens when a copy accidentally falls into the hands of a child of more humble roots.
While the Commission is fully aware that The Primer is a science-fiction device, members are also struck by how little effort has gone into the notion that lifetime companions in learning that suggest, coax, guide, and teach can change the course of a person’s life, a conclusion supported in part by the landmark Brookings Institution study “The Missing ‘One-Offs’: The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students” (Hoxby and Avery 2013).
The “missing one-offs” of their study are those low-income, high achieving students for whom the effect of such coaching would be most profound. Public universities have a special responsibility to ensure that socioeconomic differences among students do not turn into barriers to success. The prospect of a lifetime learning companion is especially compelling for those institutions. Such a companion would, in the words of one of the experts who addressed the Commission, “erase accidents of circumstance” that are often the difference between success or failure.
The Georgia Tech Commitment seems to require a new approach to advising, one that not only serves traditional roles but also addresses the new role that advising will play in guiding both very young students and older learners. It offers a unique opportunity to build an interconnected guidance system that serves Georgia’s secondary schools as well as adults pursing lifelong education.
Advising for a New Era is a challenge to the traditional fragmented approaches to advising. The Commission recommends an initiative to integrate planning, advising, and coaching through a robust learner data backbone and AI assistants that will make use of lifetime data to provide personalized advising at scale.
Tasks within immediate reach include course selection and scheduling as well as career placement. Advice on whole-person development will require the development of more human- aware AI. These capabilities will supplement the needs of Georgia Tech learners throughout their lifetimes.
The long-term goal of this initiative, described in more detail in the CNE Report Supplement Advising for a New Era (Georgia Tech 2018a), is to bring three distinct aims of advising (prescriptive, intrusive, and developmental) under a single data-driven umbrella.
Advising for a New Era
Advising for a New Era is a challenge to the traditional fragmented approaches to advising. The Commission recommends an initiative to integrate planning, advising, and coaching through a robust learner data backbone and AI assistants. These capabilities will supplement the needs of Georgia Tech learners throughout their lifetimes.
Prescriptive Advising Faced with a confusing maze of curricular options, students often naturally play it safe and look to advisors for help. As a result, academic advisors frequently spend much of their time sorting out sequencing problems in a student’s schedule instead of mentoring students or assisting them in areas where they are struggling.
Prescriptive advising seeks to correct these issues, using technology that is akin to GPS mapping to provide students with highly structured, coherent degree maps that align with career and further educational goals. This approach simplifies student decision-making and allows colleges to provide frequent feedback so students can complete programs more efficiently.
Intrusive Advising Intrusive advising strategies are based on individual performance and are designed to identify students who need help the most but typically never seek it. Computer algorithms can pinpoint students most at risk and trigger early alerts on which professional advisors can act. Effective intrusive advising depends more than anything else on accurate and complete data about ongoing student performance.
To achieve this, Georgia Tech must integrate student data into a common database and make it available to predictive analytic models that advise students on which courses to take, ensures classes are offered when students need them, and then, once students are enrolled in classes, generates alerts about performance issues for faculty members and students.
Developmental Advising Developmental advising helps students understand and articulate their talents, find what engages their passions, and discover what gives purpose to their lives. It leads to selection of majors and other academic offerings, choosing cocurricular and extracurricular activities that promote leadership development, and preparation for careers, including graduate school and entrepreneurship.
As students and parents become more concerned with return on investment, many institutions are witnessing a rise in the importance of developmental advising. In the absence of developmental advising programs and practices, mostly in career services, students end up taking advice from peers or parents and can form misconceptions about professional opportunities available post- graduation.
Prescriptive advising addresses how students will meet well-defined progress goals. Developmental advising, in contrast, is aimed at personal development. It therefore blends forms of advising that are often the responsibility of faculty mentors, academic advisors, and career advisors and counselors.
This initiative proposes three projects that address critical problems that must be solved if this new approach to advising is to be applied to the Georgia Tech Commitment: scaling, cognitive aids for human advisors, and effective, technology-based mechanisms for developmental advising that can be used by older learners as they progress through their careers.
Personalized Advising for a Lifetime One characteristic of Advising for a New Era is that advice is tailored to the needs and prospects of individuals. Lifelong mentoring entails not only advising for traditional college students but also coaching for K-12 students and mentoring for older learners and alumni. A human mentor might be able to track a student’s progress over many years and deliver that kind of personal advice, but the costs of individualized mentoring services are prohibitively large.
By the same token, human mentors are necessarily limited in the scope of their expertise, which means that large numbers of advisors are necessary to provide knowledgeable coverage of areas. Again, the costs of human-delivered personalization are unrealistically large. Therefore, a key problem to be solved in arriving at a new model of advising is how to support personalization at scale.
The information available to personalized advising systems is not static. It not only should consist of information regarding courses, degrees, and careers, but also should consider classroom performance, prior engagements, and measures of progress. For example, effective intrusive advising depends more than anything else on accurate and complete data about ongoing student performance. To achieve this, Georgia Tech must integrate student data into a common data backbone and make it available to predictive analytic models that advise students on which courses to take, ensures classes are offered when students need them, and generates post- enrollment alerts about performance issues throughout the semester.
An important element of the evolving architecture for supporting personal advising at scale could be the use of AI to partially automate the process. Georgia Tech research on AI-based teaching and learning has already demonstrated promising results on question-answering interactions. Projects aimed at scaling for a lifetime will inevitably connect with teaching and learning systems.
Technology-Enhanced Advising As the Institute moves toward a new model for advising, Georgia Tech will need to find new ways of supporting personalization at scale. This raises the issue of how to scale advising from a few thousand students to hundreds of thousands of people. Advising for whole-person development implies advising not only about course requirements and career placement but also for intrapersonal and interpersonal development.
This reinforces the importance of the personal nature of mentoring. Both scale and personalization are important even for traditional advising of college students. One of the reasons the current system for advising perhaps does not work as well as it should is that the productivity of advisors seems to be immune from the kind of technology enhancements that have enabled scaling in other industries. Lifelong and whole-person advising, which require even higher degrees of personalization, will compound the problem.
An important element of the evolving architecture for supporting personal advising at scale could be the use of AI to partially automate the process. While some elements of advising are personal and clearly require human mentors, other elements are susceptible to productivity-enhancing automation.
Automation can even enhance personalization. For example, an undergraduate student interested in designing a personalized course of study for the economics of climate change may benefit from a system that can access all relevant courses, keeping track of students with similar interests who have found those courses useful. Internet-based social filtering algorithms of the kind used in commercial recommender engines are known to be very good predictors of such preferences.
Preferred courses constitute a first approximation to a preferred program of study that can be successively refined by human counselors and advisors. As advising expands to encompass deeper questions of lifelong learning and whole-person development, social filtering algorithms might become more adept at tasks such as course scheduling, curriculum design, and career placement. In complex environments social filtering algorithms like recommendation engines are used for the personalized discovery of activities or resources that are popular among individuals with similar needs.
A Personal Board of Directors Advising for life needs a strong human element. There is a rich network of people who share a connection to Georgia Tech. This includes current students, faculty, and staff as well as alumni. One of the best ways that the Institute can add continued value to a Georgia Tech degree is by fostering the growth of a professional network for every learner. An outgrowth of the OpenIDEO Future of Higher Education Challenge (OpenIDEO n.d.), the Personal Board of Directors project uses social networking to establish and grow such a network.
The vision for the Georgia Tech Commitment includes a flexible network of peers, advisors, mentors, and colleagues from which Personal Boards of Directors will be assembled to foster high-value interactions around intellectual and professional goals for both undergraduate and graduate degree holders, adding a distinct value to Georgia Tech offerings.
Enabling students to build professional networks more easily can also help those who may not have an existing community offering advice and expertise about the college experience (e.g., first-generation college students). In this way, a Personal Board of Directors can be a critical part of advancing future career and education choices for those in greatest need of social mobility.
Students can also function as board members for alumni, turning the traditional mentor/mentee relationship upside down. People who have lost a connection to the Georgia Tech community may find a new spark of inspiration from current students. Both students and alumni will find that engaging with Georgia Tech is not just a transaction that yields a static degree but is rather joining a community of scholars and educators who will be able to help them continually navigate through a dynamic professional landscape.
Georgia Tech and Ideo
Georgia Tech and IDEO, an international design and consulting firm, partnered to sponsor and participate in the OpenIDEO Future of Higher Education Challenge. The global initiative was announced November 15, 2016, at the White House by Department of Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell. Winners were announced in February, 2017.
The Challenge provided faculty, staff, and students with the opportunity to submit ideas on how both Georgia Tech and the global higher education community can innovate and meet the challenges of tomorrow. Other OpenIDEO Challenge sponsors include Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley (ASU GSV) Summit, Level Education from Northeastern University, USA Funds, and the U.S. Department of Education.