Netflix Select Your Major

Many of us are familiar with the movie rental service Netflix. One of the features of Netflix is a recommendation system that recommends movies to the user based on their past selections and the data from similar users. While the system can't always predict perfectly what you will enjoy it is fairly accurate in gauging your tastes and using them to find movies or tv shows that you would enjoy. This system uses a technique called collaborative filtering for filtering through the company's vast collection of user data. The system is similar to Amazon's recommender system although a different type of collaborative filtering.

While a system like this is very beneficial to Netflix users some wonder whether or not a system like this could work in academics. Traditionally students at colleges and universities across the nation talk to an advisor once or twice a year and pick classes based on the advisors experience and collective wisdom. This system works for most students but advisors are human. They make mistakes. Sometimes its hard to gauge if a student is prepared for a course. Or to pick up on hidden patterns of courses where the student does well. So what if instead of consulting advisors students consulted a software program that recommended based on your their past performance and similar students performances?

Such a system would essentially be the same as Netflix's system. The system would use a database of user ratings to determine which courses you were a good fit for. Except instead of users actually rating the course, the rating would be the grade of the student. A piece of software with this ability could even point students toward potential majors. Collaborative filtering systems can pick up on patterns not always visible. A student could be very successful in a group of related electives which could suggest they would be successful majoring in the field of those classes.

A netflix style advisor has been developed and is currently being tested at Austin Peay university. Initial results suggest that it is very accurate and students testing the service have loved it. While it is doubtful that a netflix style system would replace human advisors, the possibility of using computers to plan academic career paths is very much there.

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