A GPS System for Student Information Is in Development

Similar to GPS, the Educational Positioning System will guide students to jobs and put grades and test scores into students' and parents' hands.

by / June 20, 2012 0

Someday all students in the U.S. — there are 80 million K-20 students today — might have access to their education records from early childhood through college thanks to an Educational Positioning System that's being built. Similar to the Global Positioning System (GPS), the Educational Positioning System will help students and parents track achievement, possible careers and chart a course for a job.

The Lone Star College System in Texas owns the concept for this system, and the nonprofit education group IMS Global Learning Consortium is acting as the holding agent that's providing governance, which includes standards and protocols.

The EPS has many planned benefits. One big one is continuity and ease of use. Because many of today's students change colleges at least once, they can't access records — outside of their transcript and diploma — after they move on, said Michael Mathews, chief strategist for innovation and entrepreneurship at Lone Star College-University Park. But if they and their parents owned their information, they could access more information in the EPS anywhere at anytime.

Another benefit could be career development. Instead of students going to college to figure out what they want to do for a living and how they want to get there, the EPS could help them develop a plan that may or may not include college. With a plan, they theoretically would take the courses they need, graduate faster and find a job in the career they're aiming for, Mathews said.

And that would help both the U.S. economy and colleges, which are under pressure from the U.S. Education Department to graduate students faster.

"With the EPS, we really believe the destination will be the right career and the right job. But along that pathway will be, 'Which courses do I need?'" Mathews said.

Lone Star College is piloting the system with its 90,000 students this year, and four other colleges across the country are on board as well. 

How the EPS started

The idea for an Educational Positioning System began with a SunGard executive and made its way to the ears of then-U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra. From there, the concept headed to Lone Star College and then out to the education community. 

Shortly after Apple co-founder and Chairman Steve Jobs died on Oct. 5, 2011, Michael Mathews leaned back in an airplane seat. At the time, Mathews was the vice president of business process management at SunGard Higher Education.

Mathews was frustrated after working in higher education for so many years. On that day, he wondered, "What would Steve Jobs have done if he had worked in higher ed for 37 years?"

Mathews' daughters had just graduated college. And he thought, "There has to be a better method to help students navigate through college and to help parents."

Then a concept came to him.

Why not make a device like a GPS that would start simulating how students could become, say, a nurse or a fireman from as young as third grade? The system would allow students to see all their test scores and how they've grown educationally over time.

"The next breakthrough will be that one day every student will hold the equivalent of an SIS (Student Information System) or ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system in their hand," Mathews said. "They no longer will have to go to college to identify where they're going and how they're going to get there. They'll literally hold that power in their hand. And that will help the American economy. It will help colleges feel like they're really meeting the needs that they originally intended to do, which was to graduate students who could have a job."

Two weeks later at the EDUCAUSE higher education conference in Philadelphia, Chopra called together 50 people in a roundtable discussion, including Mathews. He wanted fresh ideas about education.

Two people shared their ideas. Chopra didn't like them.

Then Mathews spoke up. He told Chopra about the Educational Positioning System. And Chopra said that was exactly what he was looking for.

SunGard didn't want to pursue the EPS itself because it was outside the company's forte of enterprise resource planning systems. In Mathews' time at SunGard, he had done work with Lone Star College.

The chancellor of the Lone Star College System sat down with Mathews and said he was interested in the EPS concept. Mathews left SunGard and came to Lone Star as the chief strategist for innovation and entrepreneurship.

The IMS Global Learning Consortium agreed to be the holding agent of the Educational Positioning System. And for the past six months, Mathews has tested the concept with students.

These students helped Mathews refine the concept, and a business plan for a startup was entered into a U.S. Education Department challenge. On June 1, the Department announced that Lone Star College System's team won the undergraduate division of the National Education Startup Challenge.

“Winning this type of national recognition demonstrates that the students have the ability to help leaders across the country innovate and change the way in which students navigate the landscape of education,” said Richard Carpenter, chancellor of the Lone Star College System, in a statement.

Out of the roundtable meeting with Chopra, the Education Department's Office of Educational Technology and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy worked together on a MyData Button. This joint project encourages schools and software vendors that have student data to give students a one-click button to download their education data. If the MyData Button and EPS projects gain enough traction, they could reach 80 million students in the U.S.

Where the project is headed

The Educational Positioning System won't compete against an enterprise resource planning system or a learning management system, Mathews said. Instead, it will be what's called an education and career positioning system.

The original concept has moved from a device to an app. During the next year, a few major college systems will start working on it. Lone Star College System will test it. And in the next 16 to 18 months,  the plan is to give students an app that allows them to download all their records by pressing a single button.

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.