Originally Published December 5, 2018
In today’s higher education landscape, it is more important than ever to make decisions based on factual data and to be able to analyze data. In 1981, Ronald Coase, a Nobel Prize Laureate and Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Chicago Law School, made the following statement in one of his lectures, “torture the data long enough, and it will confess to anything”. I love that statement. I think this is an accurate portrayal of the importance of using and understanding data in context. Data, by itself, is just data. It is useful, but it is not informative. The number 9 is data, but without context, it has no relevance. You need an understanding of what 9 means. Is it good? Is it bad? Data with context, analysis, and judgment becomes useful information. Decisions are made based on useful information. Robert Logan published a data construct in 2010 in the article “What is Information?” that I think is useful in understanding these relationships.
Starting with Data and applying Context provides us with usable Information. Information added to Usage Strategy results in Knowledge and Knowledge becomes Wisdom when understood through Decisions and Values. Our goal is to provide you with access to relevant and timely data and information so that you can make informed decisions. We make this available in a few different ways.
The first way is data visualizations within the learning environment. A couple of examples of this type of visualization are the Class Progress and Class Engagement dashboards for instructors. Let’s look at an example of how these tools could be used. For this example, imagine that I am a busy instructor in the life sciences department. I teach many classes, but the one I am concerned about today is my freshman class of Biology 1101 which has 175 students. I am concerned that I have some students who have not been accessing the course and are falling behind. I am also concerned that they are not interacting well with online discussions to create learning connections with other students.
Question 1: Which students have not been accessing my course?
Figure: Example of Class Engagement statistics.
I am starting with this tool because it easily allows me to filter the class list of students to those who have not logged into the class in the past 7 days with just one click. Once I have opened the Class Engagement tool, I can click on the “not visited this course in the past 7 days” tile to filter the list of students.
Figure: Statistic showing the amount of students who didn't visit the course.
With the student list filtered, the remaining students are displayed with their current grade in the course, their projected grade in the course (if I am using the Student Success System in the course) and the interactions for each student in the discussion tool. The additional student information in this view also helps me start to answer my second question, which students are not interacting with other learners.
Question 2: Which students are not connecting with other learners?
I would like to get more information on the discussion connections between learners. The best place to view this interaction visually is in the sociogram view of the Student Success System. I have built a predictive model and am using the Student Success System in my course. When I go to the Student Success System in a new tab of my browser, I can view the discussion interactions for all of the students in my course. I need to select one individual student and then select the social learning element of the win-loss chart to open the class sociogram view.
Figure: Class Success Index.
Figure: An example sociogram.
In this view, I can find the students that are listed in the class engagement tool, which I still have open in the previous tab, to view the student relationships. In this view, we can quickly see that Morgan Parker and Ethan Diaz are un-attached learners which means that they are not interacting with any other learners in the discussions tool.
The second way that I can get data about student behavior is in the learning environment. I can drill in even deeper into the discussion data by going to the Class Progress tool. The Class Progress tool can show me a view of the students in my class and a quick snapshot of their achievements and engagement. The data elements in this view are configurable. One of the data points which can be displayed in this tool is the discussion activity.
Figure: The Class Progress page in Brightspace.
In this view, I can quickly see the level of activity in the discussion tool for each of the students in this course. I can also select an individual student to see the student specific view of this information. The student-specific view is the same view that the student sees about him or herself. In this student view, I can select the discussions tool in the left-hand navigation bar to see all of the discussion posts for this student. I can also expand any forum to see the topic posts in that forum and the replies from other students.
Figure: Discussions tab in a student's activity summary showing Discussions Progress.
If I want to go even deeper, I can go to the discussion tool itself in the course and look at the tool statistics for each discussion thread or for each student. In the User view, I can see the summary information for the activity of each student.
Figure: The Org Unit Statistics page showing User Statistics.
In the Forum and Topics view, I can see the summary of activity for each forum and topic.
Figure: The Org Unit Statistics page showing Forum and Topic Statistics.
From the User view, if I select an individual student name, I can see that student’s detailed activity across all of the forums and topics.
Figure: The User Discussion Statistics page.
Additional raw data about discussions is also available in the Brightspace Data Sets. We will look at the data sets in more detail in an upcoming article.
As you can see, there is a large amount of data and information available about discussions as well as other tools in the Learning Environment to help you make informed decisions about your learners and help them be successful in their learning journey.