Can a data-powered mobile app take the pain out of cramming for exams? | #SparkSummit

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Fascinating new data use-case alert: Students’ study data can now be used to make them smarter, help them remember more and get better grades.

This is according to Alfred Essa (pictured), VP of analytics and R&D at McGraw-Hill Education, an educational publisher. The old textbook company has gone high tech, now calling itself a “learning science” company, Essa explained in an interview at Spark Summit East 2017 Boston. He said that tools from Spark and Databricks Inc. are fueling the transformation.

Essa told Dave Vellante (@dvellante) and George Gilbert (@ggilbert41), co-hosts of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile live streaming studio, that data underlies everything McGraw-Hill is doing with its software arm. (Disclosure below.)

Data is allowing Essa’s company to tackle some long-standing education hurdles. “Lecture and test — that’s the dominant paradigm in education,” he explained. Just one hiccup: “All the research evidence says that doesn’t work.”

While classes and exams probably won’t disappear anytime soon, Essa said we can at least improve their efficacy.

McGraw-Hill has analyzed data on what helps students learn and retain knowledge; things like effort for recall, spaced practice and interleaving make the cut.

“What we’ve done is taken those principles, written some algorithms, applied those algorithms into a mobile product,” he said That product, introduced last week, is an application called StudyWise.

He said McGraw-Hill will continue to tune the product as they collect real-time data from the students using it. “The results of their interactions are coming into our research environment, and we’re analyzing that data as a way of updating our models,” Essa explained.

The other half of the learning equation — instructors — also stand to gain from data. “They can begin to compare […] this way of teaching for these types of students works well. These are the adjustment that we need to make,” Essa said.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE and theCUBE’s coverage of the Spark Summit East 2017 Boston(*Disclosure: TheCUBE is a media partner at the conference. Neither Databricks nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo by SiliconANGLE