Spotlight on Innovation: How Bay Path University is Improving Accelerated Online Learning through a Social Learning Platform

Woman using a laptop

Bay Path University is already breaking ground after establishing the only all-women’s fully online degree program, The American Women’s College Online (AWC), in the U.S. in 2014. The AWC offers over 20 degree programs, including business, criminal justice, cybersecurity, health services administration, leadership and organization, and psychology in an accelerated format. But Bay Path recognizes that online learning in an accelerated environment can present a number of challenges – particularly if students begin falling behind.

Their newest innovation, the Social Online Universal Learning Platform (SOUL), funded by a $3.5 million First in the World grant, seeks to address those challenges by making student progress more immediately visible to both faculty and students. We talked to David Demers, chief operating officer of the American Women’s College Online, to learn more about this innovative program. Demers highlighted three key components of the new program:

  • Data warehousing and predictive analytics
  • SOUL-Connect, to foster an online learning community
  • The Academic Resource Collection (ARC), which crowdsources supplemental course content

Here’s what Bay Path is doing.

1. Leveraging Data and Learning Analytics

While the AWC provides a number of student support services to address the challenges working women frequently face while working on a degree, access to those services is typically reactive, after a student has started to fall behind. With SOUL, the AWC plans to leverage data and learning analytics to provide those services more proactively.

“The power behind SOUL is that we are leveraging a complex set of data and learning analytics combined to build predictive models that will allow us to proactively identify and offer our interventions and support services to those likely to need them along their educational journey, particularly during their first few semesters with us,” Demers elaborates.

AWC students take six six-week courses, and Bay Path has a huge menu of support options available for students. If a student falls behind three weeks into a course, however, it could be too late to catch up. Students need to receive resources before they stumble, Demers notes, and that’s where one of the core elements of SOUL, an adaptive learning platform called KnowledgePath, will make a big difference.

Interventions are triggered within the KnowledgePath assignment, sending both a message to the student and allowing faculty members to see when interventions are recommended to students through the student dashboard.  Faculty members can also review or assign specific interventions, which will range from asking students to review a learning node or to take advantage of other available resources, Demers explains. In addition, the KnowledgePath assignment includes a built-in messaging system that allows students to trigger questions about a node. The messaging system will notify instructors with a message in the KnowledgePath system and through an additional message sent to the instructor’s Bay Path email.

“Once we start to identify appropriate predictive models and effective proactive intervention strategies that help students succeed, we will be able to move away from broad-brush projects and strategies that are designed to benefit a majority of students and more toward an educational environment that can be customized or tailored to each individual learner’s needs,” Demers explains. “That is exciting.”

Data warehousing will allow the AWC to make the data actionable and visible, and allow the college to create holistic profiles of learners in order to recommend unique resource combinations that have proven most effective for a particular profile. The data will also allow the AWC to measure precisely when a service or set of services was offered to evaluate the effectiveness of the timing and intervention.

2. Expanding Conversations beyond the Classroom

A second element of SOUL is Soul-Connect, an online component that allows students to connect to other students in their class, students in other classes, and even to expand those conversations to social media platforms like Facebook. In most online classes, students can only connect to other students registered for that specific section. With Soul Connect, students can expand their social connections and foster learning communities and opportunities both in and outside the classroom.

“Fostering learning communities is essential for a successful online environment,” Demers notes.  “We are able to do this by breaking down the ‘virtual wall’ that corrals students in a typical online classroom and allow ongoing conversations to extend into the social networking world.” The social media connections in Soul-Connect will be supported by the communication platform

3. An Academic Resource Collection that Offers Crowdsourced Content

The third element is the Academic Resource Collection (ARC), offering both supplemental instruction through articles and videos and a way for students to share resources that proved particularly informative about a topic or their own notes and papers. Demers says the idea occurred to him some years ago as he was talking to a colleague about social website bookmarking tools. He realized this was an interesting model for learning as well. In a traditional course, the material is assigned and restricted, Demers points out, “when students complete a course, that material, in many cases, disappears for the student.”

“Through SOUL, what we wanted to do is put the student at the center of the educational experience, allowing them to pull resources that they have found valuable and that have worked for them into their ‘student shell’ as they navigate their instructional assignments throughout their degree program,” Demers explains.

Through the ARC, students can:

  • Access resources for their courses
  • Rate those resources for other students
  • Contribute their own content, which then becomes available for other students to use and rate
  • Use the rating system to find popular resources

Bay Path hopes to use profile-matching algorithms in the future to provide recommendations to students based on their current courses and demonstrated learning style.

Keys to Success

Student access to the data is a crucial component for the project. Students will be able to see everything the university sees, including the profiles of model students that they match. Students could choose to opt-out, but they would lose the benefit of predictive modeling, Demers points out. Bay Path wants the project to be transparent, and hopes students can use their data as a way to self-monitor their academic progress.

Why You Should Watch This Project

If successful, SOUL will represent a leap forward in leveraging real-time data on student progress to inform early intervention, and allow Bay Path to better understand the most effective ways to deliver content and support to individual online learners. Demers notes that once everything is in place, services can be streamlined which creates efficiencies, increases retention and graduation rates, and ultimately improves the University’s bottom line.

Supporting the Non-Traditional Student

Want to learn more? Look deeply at two case studies from Bay Path University and Middle Tennessee State University at our recorded webcast: