Data Science Community discussion to focus on machine learning in education

October 07, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State community members interested in data science are invited to the next Data Science Community meeting, which will be a group discussion on the use of machine learning to improve learning analytics. The discussion is being hosted virtually via Zoom and will take place from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 12. Advance registration is required.

The discussion will be led by several Penn State faculty members: Priya Sharma, associate professor of education (learning, design, and technology); Mahir Akgun, assistant teaching professor of information sciences and technology; and Qiyuan Li, a Penn State education doctoral graduate who is now a data modeler and developer with Boston University’s Digital Learning & Innovation department. Briana Ezray, faculty lead of the data science community and research data librarian, organized the session.

“Within education, data science methods have been traditionally used to evaluate data for prediction and remediation. However, depending on specific research or educational perspectives, data can be applied and used in many ways. For example, one area that seems underexplored is how data sciences can inform the design of learning and pedagogical interactions,” said Sharma. “What is really powerful about integrating data sciences into education is being more precise about the use and application of data within your specific context and theoretical approach to learning.”

The discussion will kick off with an introduction to a collaboration between Sharma, Akgun and Li that’s focused on the use of machine learning to improve learning analytics. The project uses a form of machine learning known as supervised machine learning to classify student’s online discourse to assist the instructor in assessing the quality of learner interactions. The project also seeks to provide quantitative feedback about the amount of interactions between students. Providing detailed, yet timely, feedback is a key goal of the project.

“We are in the process of training/testing and refining the machine learning model, and we are discovering lots of nuanced questions about the use of machine learning models and AI for learning, which will guide our future research and design,” said Sharma.

The Data Science Community is a grassroots initiative supported by Penn State's Teaching and Learning with Technology, Institute for Computational and Data Sciences and University Libraries. To learn more about Data Science Community events or to join the community mailing list, visit

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Last Updated June 29, 2021