Learning Analytics: Insights and Advice from Students

In the interest of supporting student success, the Learning Analytics DiaLOG group observed three focus group discussions that included students from all of the University of Minnesota campuses. These conversations, held in the fall of 2021, sought to understand:

  • What kinds of data can be helpful to students and when?
  • What are students’ expectations and concerns as they relate to learning data?
  • How should learning data be used by instructors?

The following synthesizes students' insights, their advice to instructors, and their thoughts on the learning data.

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Share a syllabus prior to the start of the semester

  • Students use the syllabus to coordinate their course calendars and workload for the semester. This helps them prepare for times in the course or semester that may be challenging for them allowing them to make decisions about their course load.
  • Providing accurate and timely information in your syllabus promotes trust and engagement with your students.

"I like to have everything laid out, so I can see what's going on for that month."

"Mapping out your semester using the syllabus is very important. It helps a lot when you know which weeks you're going to be busier and which weeks you have a little bit more free time."

"If a professor doesn’t have the information or gives bad information at the beginning of the semester I tend to shy away from actually going to them to find out more."

Be transparent about learning data

  • Tell students what learning data is and how you use it.
  • Consider adding a statement to your course syllabus.

"It could be an urban legend, but as far as I know professors are able to tell when you visited pages and stuff on a particular course."

"How the Instructor or the Teaching Assistant uses Canvas analytics is not clear. More transparency would be very helpful."

Give students feedback early in the course

  • Students need information about their ability to succeed in your course prior to the add/drop deadline.
  • Design your course to include opportunities for early feedback.

"In classes where I don’t get a grade until a month and a half in, I don’t do as well. I have a hard time connecting because I don’t know my performance in the class and it’s hard to know ‘I should be spending more time in this class?’"

"If I don’t know until a good chunk into the semester that I didn’t understand a concept, or that I misunderstood an assignment, then it’s really hard to catch up."

Provide timely and findable feedback in Canvas

  • Timely feedback and access to resources give students an opportunity to learn and improve.
  • Make sure ALL graded items appear in your Canvas gradebook. Students focus on grades reported in Canvas; if some course assignments are not accounted for in the Canvas gradebook, students may be unprepared for their end-of-semester grade.

"It’s best to get feedback on how you or your group are progressing during the project, because that gives you time to make corrections."

"If you get that feedback after your project is submitted there’s not much you can do. If it takes a few weeks for me to get a grade back then I don’t know if I should be changing how I pay attention in class or how I’m taking notes."

"If I don’t know something from the first exam but I don’t know I didn’t know it, then when I see it again I’m going to get it wrong again."

"Some professors don't use Canvas. It makes it difficult to check your grades easily."

Use learning data to help your students

  •  Students indicated that instructors should review learning data for insights into their teaching. When reviewing data consider the following:
    • Data in the context of the course, the situation, and the student
    • Potential limitations of data: What it does and does not indicate
    • Trends or patterns in performance associated with student work
    • Instructional issues or questions
    • Technologies are fallible and some data may be misleading
  • Students also indicated a preference for having access to learning data. For instance:
    • Which resources did their peers use most often?
    • How does their performance compare with that of their peers?

"It’s probably helpful for professors to figure out what format works best for their students. Like I prefer professors who have links to relevant topics and stuff on the page for an assignment as opposed to just a page that says ‘do this.’"

"If students used this resource and did well the instructor could share that 'This material worked to help students with this project' or 'Here are some resources that students used and they did really well on their exams.'

"I like to click on Canvas and see the scores to see where I placed with the average of the class."

Create opportunities for students to provide feedback

  • Canvas data provides a starting point, but don’t rely solely on a dashboard or log to determine if your students are engaging required material.
    • The learning data that you gather can reveal issues, but cannot pinpoint causes.
    • Different behaviors can look very similar online or may be attributable to a variety of circumstances.
  • The numbers don't speak for themselves. Asking students questions about their behavior will help you interpret data correctly and clarify next steps. Engage students as partners in improving learning environments.
  • When asking for student feedback, let them know that the data collected is being used to make your course better. Emphasize that they can play a role in improving the course by helping you understand the data you see.

"If an instructor sees that zero students have accessed a resource, maybe it was shared incorrectly. They shouldn’t make assumptions."

It isn't just about grades - students need connection

  • Students acknowledge that they are fixated on grades and check grades in Canvas daily if not multiple times a day, even when they know that this increases their anxiety.
  • Helping students understand the larger academic goal of the course (not just grades) can help them achieve balance.
  • Communication is key: connecting with their instructor helps students to feel connected with the course. Demonstrating that you care about their learning establishes trust.

"I yearn for quality feedback. Am I actually showing understanding or am I just checking the boxes?"

"In courses where I’ve talked to the professors not only do I learn more because I feel more comfortable asking for help from them, but also I noticed that when I meet with them, they seem more comfortable giving direct feedback about where I can improve."

"I find it really helps when the instructor reaches out and says “Hey here’s a resource for you.” It establishes that connection, which is really helpful."

About the Learning Analytics DiaLOG group

As part of the Digital Learning Operational Governance group or DiaLOG, the Learning Analytics DiaLOG (LA DiaLOG) group’s purpose is to guide the operationalization of learning analytics at the University of Minnesota. The group works to bring clarity and transparency to the learning analytics environment and to create a path for instructors to utilize learning data on behalf of their students.


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