Don’t Forget the . . . Data

My son is struggling in his online college algebra course, and I’m wondering if the instructor even knows. The reason for my wondering is the structure of the course itself–Boise State uses a prepackaged course called “My MathLab,” developed by textbook giant Pearson Publishing. Students login to the site, work through exercises on their own and then take tests (this software only works with Windows OS and Internet Explorer, by the way).

My MathLab does not include much social interaction (a necessary element of online course design) and naturally, there are minimal opportunities for teacher personalization of course content. I’m not implying that my son’s algebra course is poorly designed or that the teacher doesn’t care, but I’m wondering if students’ course data are available to the teacher, in order to identify who might need additional help.

But wait a minute, you might argue–isn’t the student responsible for his/her own learning and shouldn’t (s)he be pro-active in getting help? Well yes, of course. But sometimes the student may not know! The instructor, through viewing student data logs and other reports should be able to quickly identify and notify these students of potential problems, helping them address deficiencies in learning. Online courses provide a ton of data to analyze–when students last accessed the course, how long they stay on a page, what pages they visit, how many times they interact in a discussion forum, the resources they access, their personal profiles, and a whole lot more.

With these data, we can discover a lot more about our students and more easily identify their needs. Instead of waiting until the end of the course to discover a student didn’t turn in assignments or participate in activities, instructors can get a snapshot of student activity at any time, allowing them to create more options for students or improve the course design.

Here’s an example:

I want to find out how my students interacted in a discussion forum. In Moodle, I can use the reports feature (Participation Report) to see how many posts were viewed and how many posts my students submitted. Moodle can then identify which of the students did not participate and from there I can send them a message, reminding them of the assignment and asking them if they needed any help. And I can also send confirming messages to the students who were active, thanking them for their participation. Instead of feeling isolated in an online environment, my students receive personalized feedback and know I am monitoring their activity.

But we can take it one step further–by allowing students to view their own activity logs. This is also another feature in Moodle, that can be enabled in the course settings. You should inform your students that they can view their own activity logs and encourage them to be active participants in their own learning.

Being an excellent online instructor is more than uploading content, answering questions, and grading work. It also includes a commitment to consistent analysis of the data available in an online environment to inform, guide, and improve student learning. If you are an online instructor, find out what types of student activity logs are available for you to explore. And then start using them.

Check this out (Image of data visual at top of this post)! Data Visualization Tool for Discussion Forums (browser-based, works with major Learning Management Systems): SNAPP

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One thought on “Don’t Forget the . . . Data

  1. I’ve worked on online math programs and know the importance of providing data management tools. Because of my experiences with different companies, I couldn’t imagine that Pearson would leave such a component out of their product. I went to their site and did some digging around to find out more…and was shocked! There’s no mention of tools that aggregate data. There’s a grade book that shows an individual student’s progress, but that doesn’t tell the teacher how the class is doing overall. Pearson included tools that allow teachers to customize the content, but if the teacher doesn’t know how the class is doing and where they may be challenged, what exactly can teachers customize to other than their own preferences? Pearson really missed the mark with this one.

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