SoDM educational researcher secures patents for innovative student assessment technology

By University Communications

An East Carolina University educational researcher has secured two patents that provide practical analytics for student and instructor performance related to competence in addition to traditional grades.

U.S. Patent 10,878,711 (Systems, methods and associated devices electronically collect, report and generate normalized educational outcome summaries of multiple different educational inputs, including didactic, experiential and problem-solving events and/or assessments) details how data from all assessment types can be given different relative values and different codes to map competency-based performance across program-related courses.

Dr. Todd Watkins

Dr. Todd Watkins

U.S. Patent 10,878,359 (Systems, methods, and computer program products for generating a normalized assessment of instructors) details how the data from all student encounter types can be mapped to give credit to instructors for their participation in competency-based educational programs.

These two patents represent the foundational intellectual property for an operational analytics platform known as the eXtensible Competencies Platform (XComP). The patents are the result of a decade of work by Dr. R. Todd Watkins, Jr., assistant dean for dental education and informatics at the ECU School of Dental Medicine, and the ECU Office of Technology Transfer to develop the platform’s U.S. and international patents.

“There were literally hundreds of technologies that focused on instruction and testing within individual courses, but, as an academic dean who is responsible for program accreditation, I was frustrated that educational analytics did not automatically feed program performance reports,” Watkins said. “These technologies were specifically engineered to reduce the time and cost for accreditation self-study while simultaneously providing the traditional reporting needed for grades and transcripts.”

In 1998, health science educational programs were required to report program performance in terms of graduate competence, in addition the basic completion of credit hours. The problem that this presented was that health professional programs use instructional and assessment technologies that go significantly beyond lectures, labs and multiple-choice exams.

“We are particularly proud of the ways that we can include and track performance in problem-based/case-based and skills-based environments,” Watkins said. “Sixty percent of a health science curriculum is based on clinical performance, and these patents detail how to simultaneously give credit to the student and the instructor for these encounters.”

In 2018, ECU and XComP Analytics, Inc.—a newly formed entity backed by several regional entrepreneurs—signed an exclusive license agreement that allows the company to fully develop and grow XComP. As the technologies have evolved to include health science residencies, undergraduate higher education and high school programs, additional patents are pending based on the integration of the analytics across programs and educational systems.

“XComP was initially built to analyze the detailed strengths and weaknesses of students across all courses within a single degree program,” Watkins said. “We see XComP as a component of a larger, cloud-integrated ‘educational ecosystem’ that connects a wide variety of traditional educational softwares with non-traditional, job-specific performance reporting systems to expand the scope of the project to any level of education and training.”

Based on the ECU School of Dental Medicine’s use of advanced educational technologies, it was named an Apple Distinguished Program for 2012-2013 for the innovative implementation of technology in all aspects of its instructional, problem-solving and clinical education programs. The school has earned the distinction in the years since and currently holds the title through 2022. For his informatics work, including work with the technologies that became XComP, Watkins was named to the Apple Distinguished Educators Class of 2013.