Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Opening the Black Box: Analytics and Admissions

@peteyMIT via @EthanZ explains how technology is changing the university admissions process.

When kids apply to university in the USA, it is becoming increasingly common to include a link with supplementary information about the applicant - for example a project tumblr, a YouTube video, a Flickr album of artwork. The links are typically coded to track visitors, giving the applicant some idea about the level of interest the universities are showing. Chris Peterson finds this an uncomfortable experience: "As admissions officers, we are accustomed to reading applications; now, applications are reading us. ... Applicants are now armed with unprecedented insight into the processes that decide their fate."

There are several problems with this. Applicants and their parents may be misled by the tracking signals collected by these digital supplements, which may yield an entirely false picture of the university process. And yet applicants may attempt to use these signals as evidence that an application has not been properly considered. Even if the university attempts to block the analytics, this may still send the wrong message. (The absence of a signal is still a signal.)

In the past, analytics were a tool used by large organizations to monitor and control their customers. We are now seeing analytic platforms that seem to allow customers to monitor and control large organizations. Large organizations now need to understand how much information they are exposing to these platforms, and what conclusions their customers may draw. We can expect similar examples to appear in many other sectors.


Chris Peterson, Opening the Black Box: Analytics and Admissions (Chronicle of Higher Education, January 2013)

Updated 25 June 2015

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