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Course recommendation software gets $1 million grant

» By CHRIS COPPEDGE chris.coppedge@gmail.com & ERICKA CONLEY econley@my.apsu.edu

APSU has recently received half of a $1 million grant awarded to Tennessee universities from Complete College America and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in large part due to APSU’s new online course recommendation software.

The program began through the university’s online OneStop community this past April, and takes direct inspiration from the popular Netflix DVD and streaming rental service.

Mike Krause, the director of Academic Affairs at Tennessee Higher Education, contributed to the application process for the grant.

“Almost $380,000 will be devoted to expanding the Course Recommendation system to three additional institutions of higher education,” Krause said.

He also noted the grant would serve other purposes, including looking at ways to attract more adult learners through the “Prior Learning Assessment” program.

The new course recommendation software played a major role in APSU receiving the Completion Innovation grant. Krause worked with offices such as the Board of Regents, the governor’s office and the UT system in order to beat the competition for the grant.

“The catalyst for the course recommendation program was our provost, Tristan Denley, who is a mathematician and wrote the formulas on which the program is based and who then worked with the university’s talented IT department to implement the program within our computer system,” said President Timothy Hall.

Tristan Denley, the provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, remarked that Netflix was chosen as a model for the new program on the basis of familiarity and user-friendliness.

“Since Netflix is a tool that so many people use, we thought it would serve as a good model for something that students really need, and provide information in a familiar way,” Denley said.

The main challenge of creating and implementing the new system, according to Denley, was taking the original prototype and making it full-scale to fit the entire campus. The program works by looking at each student’s major, their previous transcripts and grades and crunches the numbers in order to make recommendations for the future.

As a result, one remaining difficulty is the behind-the-scenes calculations for each attending student, a task assigned to the Information Technologies department of the campus. Individuals such as Mark Jarrell, web services specialist, Rob Betts and John Lander provided programming, coding, databases and building the pages for the program.

Several technicians and computer programmers are assisting Denley with the program, among them Anna Murray, the head of Information Technology and the Enterprise Resources Planning administrator.

Murray monitors the ERP as well as the campus web environments, making sure users are satisfied, as well as anticipating new requirements from the users, basing them on changing business needs and new technological trends.

Denley said feedback has been positive overall, with students providing opinions on the look and feel of the system. The Peay Mobile student group also created a class suggestions page for APSU’s mobile phone application.

Denley hopes even more schools than the proposed expansion will be able to use it and the program will continue to grow and improve at APSU as a result of this grant. TAS

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