Ed Foster: Can we improve student engagement through the use of learning analytics?

This video can be seen alongside others from the Learning, Teaching and Assessment Open Lecture series and annual conferences on the EDU Vimeo channel.

There is a great deal of interest in learning analytics at present within the sector. The process of learning analytics is one that draws lessons from the way that businesses use customer information to deliver a more effective service. For example, the Futurelearn MOOC currently uses learning analytics to monitor student engagement, looking to see when students drop out, or have difficulty with particular questions.

In this lecture, Ed explores the experiences of Nottingham Trent University during the pilot (2013-14) and subsequent institution-wide rollout (2014) of a student dashboard. The dashboard takes engagement data from a range of sources, then makes comparisons between each student and the students on their course and represents the individual student engagement graphically. This information sits in a dashboard visible to both students and their tutors. Tutors are expected to check in to the dashboard periodically and use the data provided in 1-1 discussions with their students. Furthermore, if a student has no engagement for a fortnight or fails an assignment, the dashboard emails their tutor.

Ed explores a range of issues thrown up by this work, including about the quality of data and existing processes, as well as the huge cultural, ethical and legal issues involved. For this session, he adopts the fairly mainstream definition of student engagement put forward by Kuh et al (2008). They define student engagement as the time students spend on educationally purposeful activities, such as preparing for classes, engaging in debate or participating in voluntary activities. They further argue that student engagement is the second strongest predictor for student attainment after entry qualifications. Their work draws upon earlier models including Astin’s (1993) IEO (Input x Environment = Output). Harris et al (2004), argue that to be engaged requires effort in four domains: cognitive, affective, conative (necessary time and energy) and relational.

Ed Foster is the Student Engagement Manager at Nottingham Trent University. His remit is to find ways to overcome barriers to students engaging with their studies. He is responsible for developing the NTU Student Dashboard and other institutional systems for helping students to participate fully in their studies. He previously worked in learning development and is actively researching student transition into HE and student retention.

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