Dartmouth Predicts GPA Based on Phone Tracking App

Can a phone app predict your performance based on your behavior? This one can, at least if you are a college student.

David Wagner, Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

May 29, 2015

4 Min Read
<p align="left">(Image: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dartmouth_College#/media/File:Dartmouth_College_campus_2007-10-20_09.JPG" target="_blank">Kane5187</a> via Wikipedia)</p>

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We all know our grade point averages (GPA) would have improved if we spent less time on the weekend re-enacting our favorite scenes from Animal House and more time in the library. Yet, few of us led the kind of lives where we knew exactly where we went and how much time we spent there. But now our smartphones do. And that's why Dartmouth invented an app that can track student behavior and predict their GPAs to within a tenth of a point based solely on the info from their smartphones.

This is the quantified life. And if it works on campuses, it could soon work in the office, in our home lives, in the gym, and anywhere else. Think of this as the fitness tracker for life.

The Dartmouth app uses GPS and WiFi data for all parts of the small college town of Hanover, NH. The app knows when you are in the library, the coffee shop, the sorority house, and pretty much anywhere else. It figures if you're in the library you are probably studying, and if you're in a fraternity house on a Saturday night, you probably aren't.

Using your location data, the app predicts what you are actually doing and tracks your studying, sleeping, socializing, physical activity, class attendance, and even your stress levels, to get a picture of how you're doing. It can then predict your classroom performance without knowing anything previously about your talents, your IQ, your grades, your SAT scores, or anything else.

In other words, it is our behavior, not necessarily our talents, that best predict our academic success. Will you pass on the party to make sure you get that paper done? Do you show up for class? The Dartmouth researchers tried it with 30 students and could predict GPAs within .17 points. You have to figure they'll dial it in more with a larger group.

Here's a video that shows how it works, and a little bit about the types of behaviors that lead to academic success:

This is usually where we launch into the spiel about privacy, and how we don't like our smartphones tracking our every move. I'm not going there this time. First off, our phones track us anyway, so we might as well use it to our advantage. Second, this is one of those times it is for our own good.

It isn't hard to say that if we get more sleep, more exercise, go to class, skip the party, and study more that we'll get good grades. The trick comes when real life meets the ideal. And this app can help you course correct. Hey, you had a really good weekend last week, but maybe it is time to hit the books before it is too late? Or, maybe, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

The limitation to this going global, of course, is that for now the app is tuned to Hanover. If you took the same app to Cambridge or Palo Alto you'd have to reprogram it for the locations there. And some colleges are easier than others because of how the social life works. It is easy to map fraternity row, but what if the hot spots are nightclubs in the next town over?

What if you took the same basic concept and applied it to an office? It might actually work better there. Is the best employee the one who sits at their desk all day? Or, does getting up and circulating in the break room, or at the desks of fellow employees, help connect you to the info you need? Did you realize you take two-hour lunches?

[ This CEO thinks performance evaluations should work more like a fitness tracker. Read BetterWorks CEO: Treat Feedback Like a Fitbit. ]

Here is where the privacy spiel comes in. This is a great app for a student to choose to use for his or her own success. It isn't such a great thing if your boss tells you to download it and use it in your office. It has to be voluntary, which is a lot harder to do when mapping out the environment of an office than a college town. Once the employer knows the locations have been mapped for people to use this app, they're going to want you to use it.

Still, the quantified life is coming. We're counting steps now. Soon we'll be counting conversations, sleep, social time, and everything else, as the Dartmouth app is doing. Is this going to help us become more organized and successful, or are we going to stress ourselves out

[Did you miss any of the InformationWeek Conference in Las Vegas last month? Don't worry: We have you covered. Check out what our speakers had to say and see tweets from the show. Let's keep the conversation going.]

About the Author(s)

David Wagner

Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, leadership, and innovation. He has also been a freelance writer for many top consulting firms and academics in the business and technology sectors. Born in Silver Spring, Md., he grew up doodling on the back of used punch cards from the data center his father ran for over 25 years. In his spare time, he loses golf balls (and occasionally puts one in a hole), posts too often on Facebook, and teaches his two kids to take the zombie apocalypse just a little too seriously. 

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