Using Learning Analytics to Build a Responsive Course

“Our job is to help our students discover the edge of their potential and then to push them beyond it. The analytics enable us to chart the course because they allow us to see what’s happening and where they are.” 

This was said to me by Roseanna DeMaria, a faculty member from NYU’s School for Professional Studies (SPS) that I helped with Learning Analytics questions during the fall 2020 semester.

My name is Rob Egan and I am the service manager for NYU IT’s Learning Analytics team. We’re available to all faculty looking for additional ways to monitor the efficacy of course implementations through the use of data. We work with faculty to explore how data can help them answer questions about their course, see how the design of their course fits in what they’re looking for (since Learning Analytics is inextricably tied to good course design), and then use the data to make changes to their courses that help improve the student experience.

We work with faculty to explore how data can help them answer questions about their course. Starting with an instructor’s vision of course design, then building a framework for data collection and interpretation using the tools our service provides. These activities help streamline the time a faculty member needs to spend during a course to understand the learning process and provide feedback, improving the student experience.

Our job is to help our students discover the edge of their potential and then to push them beyond it. The analytics enable us to chart the course because they allow us to see what’s happening and where they are." Roseanna DeMaria, NYU School of Professional Studies

Roseanna DeMaria, Managing in a Global Economy

Roseanna DeMaria is an adjunct faculty of MASY at the School of Professional Studies. We collaborated on her fall 2020 class, Managing in a Global Economy. She has taught the course for many years, both online and in person, and is comfortable using technology. However, there was a need to identify nuances in student performance which would enable DeMaria to analyze and address learning roadblocks encountered by students.

Through the fall semester, the Learning Analytics team worked with her to analyze and revise elements of her course that would keep students engaged in an asynchronous environment, as well as provide information which would enable her to understand what her students were—or were not—doing in the course, to identify learning roadblocks.

The move to remote instruction during the fall semester meant DeMaria needed to modify her course, providing her with an excellent opportunity to leverage the insight Learning Analytics could provide. Together, we were able to use analytics to better understand what learning tools and materials students were interacting with. We used NYU Classes’ Lessons to outline student expectations/objectives and Forums for discussions. This enabled her to target topics that students may have missed, highlight the importance of certain lessons, and have more direct and targeted conversations with her students. It also helped her create material that she knew would be impactful for her students. Finally, DeMaria created videos and infographics to help students better understand the complex topics of her course.

By having a snapshot of what her students were doing, DeMaria was able to stay connected with them throughout the semester in a way that may not have been as easy without that information.

Mark Alter, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

The Learning Analytics team also worked with Mark Alter, a Professor of Teaching and Learning at NYU Steinhardt. Much like Roseanna DeMaria, I consulted with Dr. Alter on how to use analytics to better understand what students were doing in his course. This gave him a lens into both his course as a whole, each of the classes, and his individual students. 

Alter approaches his course from the perspective of differentiation, asking: is it possible; how do we do it; and what type of data can be gathered to make ‘quick’ decisions. His questions included:

  • How to best design a course based on students’ approach to learning
  • How best to group students based on interest and topic for assignments
  • How best to assess students’ participation and learning
  • How best to manage the teaching session, within Zoom, to create a safe and supportive environment

By using the tools that were available for remote teaching and adjusting the curriculum to meet the different learning environments, Dr. Alter was able to continue to connect with his students across the world and review their responses afterward. The use of Learning Analytics and data in his course allowed him to understand how his students were interacting with his material (both assigned and optional) and make changes to increase the effectiveness of how he delivered his course online. The collected data helped answer the questions that Dr. Alter had.

Analytics as Part of Holistic Course Design

Although Learning Analytics are helpful to have when teaching a course, especially when it’s remote, they’re only one piece of what made the above examples work. Roseanna DeMaria and Dr. Alter, like many faculty, faced a number of challenges when switching their course to a remote-only learning environment. Both benefited from knowing more about their students through the use of Learning Analytics.  However, some other elements that need to be incorporated into a course to support student learning are: 

  • Personal contact for classroom work
  • Using the information on a course and individual level
  • continually checking in on the course 

Checking in with students, regardless of the system, will help them be seen and build connections that may be difficult to establish when not in person. Additionally, Learning Analytics can give insight into how a course is run from a top level perspective down to the individual student. This can help instructors understand more about the class as a whole and the students as individuals. Finally, it is important to continually check these metrics, as the course landscape is continually changing. Understanding these changes, and reacting to them in a timely manner, will garner better results from using Learning Analytics. 

My team, as a part of Research and Instructional Technology (RIT) & the Digital Studio, is available to assist Faculty with any issues and questions they have about Learning Analytics and how it can be used to improve awareness within their courses. We offer support documentation, training, and personalized consultations to make learning analytics practices easy to adopt. 

Learning Analytics can help fill in the gaps around how and why patterns of learning develop within a course, which is a great aid to other pedagogical strategies faculty already employ. Its’ presence within a course, when used properly, benefits everyone involved and can close the gap between teaching in person and completely online.