We live in an age of data, and–for good or ill– this data may be used for us and by us, or, it may be used by other agencies to influence our behavior. This latter assumption sounds somewhat dystopian, but it is the very model that is increasingly used by both corporations (e.g., targeted ads) and government agencies alike (and partnerships between the two).

In education, “big data” promises to have big potential in improving learning efficacy through adaptive and personalized tools. Yet, students are rarely privy to the algorithms or data points that are employed to improve learning.

I have a neat app that was included on my phone called “S Health.” It tracks my daily steps, it can monitor my heart rate, and it includes tips and advice about how to be more healthy. The nice thing about this app is that I know exactly what data it is tracking, and I have full control over my settings. If I want to start tracking calories and meals, I set the parameters and goals. There is a host of settings at my disposal, but the value that the application adds is a dashboard interface, achievement badges, reminders and notifications, and positive kudos and encouragement (one screen always has the phrase “be more active” at the top).

screenshot of S Health

As I think about academic data, and how students might use it for their benefit, I often consider my S Health app and how learning goals can be just as much about the habits and processes as it is about outcomes and summative measures. In fact, I would argue that the value of learning should be more about habits and processes than about summative data. And, students should not only have access to the formulas and metrics that institutions collect about them, but students should also have control over how these data might be interpreted or displayed to help learning.

This has inspired me to explore the creation of a software application that is modeled after a fitness or health app. The APT (Academic Personal Trainer) app will empower students to set goals, monitor academic progress, and focus on the behaviors and approaches that are conducive to intellectual development.


I brainstormed a cursory map of inputs, throughputs, and outputs. Institutions collect a variety of demographic data on students. These data can potentially be correlated with academic performance metrics to elucidate the messages, reminders, tips, and interventions that may be most helpful for student success. Some key principles that will underpin the development of this app are as follows:

  • The data that is used will be available to students
  • The structure and strategy of outputs and interventions will be transparent and modifiable to students
  • Positive encouragement is better than negative, “you’re ‘at risk'” type messaging
  • Continuous, iterative research and development (i.e., agile/kanban methodology) will be employed to improve the effectiveness of the application

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