Why You Should Beware Scores, Predictive Algorithms, and Other Mathematical Mumbo Jumbo

Why You Should Beware Scores, Predictive Algorithms, and Other Mathematical Mumbo Jumbo

There are, the saying goes, three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

We tend to think about that axiom in the context of politics, where people willfully manipulate numbers to suit their beliefs and goals. But statistical analyses in any context are only as perfect as the people who perform them—which is to say that none of them are.

The predictive scores, algorithms, and other mathematical tools that advancement and alumni teams are increasingly using to evaluate alumni engagement and likelihood to make a gift often obscure reality and, as a result, counterproductively warp our priorities and strategies.

Every engagement or affinity score, or algorithm, or survey result is one or more steps removed from reality. What happens to these numbers in the intervening steps is what makes them powerful, but it is also what should make us wary. Here’s why.

Many Colleges and Universities Ignore Equity When Sourcing Technology. That's Bad for the Students We Aim to Serve

Many Colleges and Universities Ignore Equity When Sourcing Technology. That's Bad for the Students We Aim to Serve

As a former higher education career services administrator now working in edtech, I’m concerned to see institutions sourcing technology solutions without an understanding of the biases that exist in that industry. It’s important for higher ed leaders to assess whether they are sourcing technology through an equity lens and understand how those decisions perpetuate inequality.

I started to grow concerned after returning from the ASU+GSV (Arizona State University + Global Silicon Valley Capital, a venture capital firm) conference this spring. True to its name, the conference attracts education thought leaders, edtech companies, investors, and foundations to discuss the challenges facing education and forge partnerships to solve them.

What We Taught—and Learned From—Our New Partners at the University of Alberta

What We Taught—and Learned From—Our New Partners at the University of Alberta

Since we started Switchboard in 2013, we’ve learned that platforms are not a panacea, and that we need to train people and change processes to make even the most effective software work. That’s why we now require our partners to undergo on-site training with our team before launching Switchboard. We completed our largest training yet with our new partner the University of Alberta last month and wanted to share.

Hello, We're People: How Lessons from Journalism's Crisis Can Save Higher Ed

Hello, We're People: How Lessons from Journalism's Crisis Can Save Higher Ed

Before I co-founded Switchboard, I worked as a reporter. I studied at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and went on to work for National Public Radio, the Boston Globe, and popular shows like Marketplace and Planet Money. I reported on stories ranging from the opioid crisis, to pediatric burns caused by Cup Noodle soup, to rickshaw drivers in India.

It’s hard to overstate how much public newsrooms and education have in common, and how much both professions can learn from one another.

Ask Switchboard: How Can We Engage Alumni With Podcasts, Book Clubs, and Continuing Education?

Ask Switchboard: How Can We Engage Alumni With Podcasts, Book Clubs, and Continuing Education?

Today, the first installment in our Ask Switchboard column, where we or friends of Switchboard answer anonymous questions from readers.

Our first reader question is about using continuing education to engage alumni. Kathy Edersheim, formerly of Yale and now president of Impactrics, has written eloquently on the subject, so we hand it off to her.