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How a Data-Driven Course Planning Tool Affects College Students’ GPA: Evidence from Two Field Experiments

man in white top looking at computer screen
Tim Gouw
Sorathan Chaturapruek
Thomas Dee
Ramesh Johari
René Kizilce
Mitchell Stevens
Learning @ Scale

College students rely on increasingly data-rich environments when making learning-relevant decisions about the courses they take and their expected time commitments. However, we know little about how their exposure to such data may influence student course choice, effort regulation, and performance. We conducted a large-scale field experiment in which all the undergraduates at a large, selective university were randomized to an encouragement to use a course-planning web application that integrates information from official transcripts from the past fifteen years with detailed end-of-course evaluation surveys. We found that use of the platform lowered students’ GPA by 0.28 standard deviations on average. In a subsequent field experiment, we varied access to information about course grades and time commitment on the platform and found that access to grade information in particular lowered students’ overall GPA. Our exploratory analysis suggests these effects are not due to changes in the portfolio of courses that students choose, but rather by changes to their behavior within courses