Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Georgia Tech Students Automatically Earn College Credit for Internet Use

Walk into any college classroom and you'll probably see students on their devices. Some are taking notes, but most are also simultaneously monitoring multiple social media feeds. Rather than fight this trend as a problem to be solved, the innovative folks at the Georgia Institute of Technology have figured out a way to turn it into an educational opportunity. Thanks to a recent initiative:

students at Georgia Tech will earn college credit
for their Internet use, automatically.

Post a cool mashup on Instagram? That's 0.1 credits toward a graphics arts class. Play an online WWII first person shooter for an hour? You'll get some points in your History class. Defeat a troll in a Facebook argument and you will find your Politcal Science quiz grade is an A. Reddit and YikYak posts that have a lot of upvotes, count as a homework grade in creative writing. Following leading scientists on Twitter may be substituted for attending Physics lectures.  No credit will be given for activity on LinkedIn since there is little educational value there. 

"It is a well-known fact that college students spend an average of 126 hours per week online" says Dr. Loof Lirpa, Vice Provost for Online Initiatives. "Our faculty have worked hard for many years to get students engaged, but there are too many distractions now on the Internet. We started monitoring and analyzing Internet usage, and we discovered that students are still learning material and engaging in discussions via social media, but it's all happening online and we can't easily grade it.  All we had to do was figure out a way to use this tremendous student effort in service of their degree. We are now using advanced learning analytics on all authenticated network traffic to assign grades instantaneously," says Lirpa. "When the student has completed enough activity, they earn their degree automatically and it is emailed to them."

How does it work? The answer is the network.

In order to use the campus wifi at Georgia Tech (and most other universities), everyone has to log on with their username and password. At that point their entire network traffic stream is uniquely identifiable and available via log files from switches, routers, and firewalls. Every website visit, post, tweet, photo, and yes, even yaks are available and tied to a user. Each TCP/IP packet is archived and analyzed using high performance computing and advanced algorithms. Grades are assigned using machine learning that has been trained to recognize intellectually valid content.  The student receives a monthly report of their progress. The more they use the Internet, the faster they graduate.

It is not clear what will happen to the faculty, labs, and research programs that Gerogia Tech also operates.  However, there is clearly huge potential for increasing the impact beyond the current brick and mortar university.  "We are developing a Georgia Tech Degree app which you can download for $9,999.99," said Dr. Lirpa.  "The app will monitor all your network traffic and analyze your Internet activity.  When you have learned the equivalent of a Bachelor's degree, your Georgia Tech diploma will be emailed to you automatically."

What do you think about this latest educational disruption?  I think it's going to be huge.  And the good news is, just by reading this blog, you are a little further on your way to that Georgia Tech degree!