Engaging students in Learning Analytics

This article was originally posted on Medium.

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Learning Dashboards, which visualize Learning Traces left behind by students, have many applications, e.g. they help teachers keep track of their students (with all privacy concerns that follow) and they assist students in keeping track of their progress.

Teachers love these dashboards. The more data available, the better it can help them steer a course, find struggling students and assist in grading. Students, however, tend to experience elaborate dashboards as a Big Brother tool straight out of 1984 (even though none of them probably read the book or saw the movie).

But it is important to get students aboard. The Quantified Self (QS) movement has shown that tracking and being aware of your own data can help change and improve your ways, and learning should be no different.

But students are busy. They have no time for this QS nonsense. They have exams, tasks, projects, … they are pretty much the “busiest” people you will ever meet. So introducing “one more thing” that, to them, has no direct impact on their ultimate goal, a good grade? Probably not going to be a success.

I believe one way of solving this problem is by taking a little detour. Figure out what it is students want, what is lacking in their workflow and how we can help. And if we find a problem we can solve, we might as well do it in a Learning Dashboards kind of way. (Of course, if the problem cannot be solved by putting Learning Traces to a good use, find another problem)

Meet LARAe (Learning Analytics Awareness & Reflection environment), a dashboard created specifically for teachers and students of our User Interface course of 2014. From our previous work and by talking to both teachers and students, we pinpointed a bunch of issues in their workflow and created a dashboard that attempts to do just that: improve their workflow.

In this course, students generate lots of data in the form of blog posts, comments and tweets. 13 groups of 3 students, blogging 3-5 times a week with each group commenting on posts of the others, difficult for both teacher and student to keep track of. Many use RSS readers, some manually explore the blogs on a weekly basis. A workable process, but not ideal for everyone.

So LARAe tries to make this workflow a bit more straightforward. When it does, teachers start using it, and so do students. And suddenly everyone is looking at Learning Analytics data…

Being regularly confronted with these visualizations of Learning Traces, students might start visiting the dashboard for reasons other than their original intent. They become curious and start to explore, gain awareness of their activities and that of others. And maybe they learn something along the way, improve their learning process and who knows, get that better grade.

Learning Dashboards have many applications. Taking them beyond mere visualizations of numbers and statistics will not only help broaden their range of applications, but also get them in the hands of more people. Like students. And in the end, it is all about the students.

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