Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Student engagement with e-learning

In "Academic Analytics: Indicators of Engagement" today at Moodle Moot Au 2010 Colin Beer (Central Queensland University) provided a very interesting analysis of information in a learning management system (LMS) to show a positive correlation between students results and their use of the system. International students use the LMS less, on campus students a little more and domestic online students most. Also more staff participation in online forums (posting to forums) correlated with more student participation and so with better student results. Also older students use the LMS more, as do females.

Students "click" on Blackboard more than the equivalent Moodle course. This may be due to Moodle's "flatter" interface. However, the time on site is similar.

One interesting finding is that students who fail a course tend to interact more with the LMS in the first few weeks, but their participation then tapers off.

Colin suggested this data can be used to categorise students who are likely below average so they can be given extra help. I have some ethical issues with this, as the students are being prejudged as to their likely results. Students who are so identified and still fail and those who are not identified and fail may have grounds for appeal. One option o avoid some moral and legal dilemmas would be to have the system advise the student but not tell the teacher.

Another interesting use for the data is to report on staff engagement with the students. There are worrying aspects to this as well, with university administrators, or event the federal government being able to automatically monitor staff engagement.

One issue at question time was how real-time discussion compares to store and forward forums. This could provide interesting analysis of different types of active participation by students.

What was most interesting about these statistics is not so much the individual results, but the idea that statistical analysis can be easily done using the data in the LMS. This can be done much more easily and more regularly than for conventional courses, where there is little data available on student engagement. In a was I suspect that online courses are subject to far more scrutiny than face to face courses ever were.

In a second talk, also from Central Queensland University, Ken Clark gave "Suggestions for future Moodle analytics: conceptions of teaching, visibility and reflection". The premise is that staff interaction with students (on an LMS or elsewhere) is important to results. The claim was made that there is a difference between what academics say they do and what they actually do. With an LMS it is possible to see what the staff member and students actually do. It occurs to me that this could be one factor holding back use of LMS: staff don't want anyone looking at what they do.

Ken found that 27% of Blackboard courses did not have a discussion forum. Reasons posited for this are large student cohorts (up to 970 students) and a lack of staff student training in using forums.

With Moodle forums were made mandatory and so only 11% did not have one. But only 33% of the forums had more than 5 posts from the staff, indicating token compliance. It was postulated that staff will use more forums as they get used to them.

Average number of postings from all staff was 10 forum postings per staff member. This seemed very low to me.

What I found lacking from this presentation was any of this discussion of what forums were used for. If forums are not an integral part of the course, then there would be little incentive for students or staff to use them. I use forums as one of the primary teaching methods in my Green ICT online course, with student participation in forums a significant proportion of the course assessment. Students are required to participate on-line to pass the course, so there is active student participation. But I use a mentored approach to helping the students, with private feedback to each students each week, so there are few postings to the forums by the tutor.

The last presentation of the session was "Moodle and the Scholarship of Teaching", by Philip Marriott (University of South Australia). Phillip is a rare academic who works comfortably in business as well as university having been working at Netspot recently. In this presentation he argued that Moodle would not change education on its own, but may be a catalyst. Phillip argues there is a cycle with educational technology: excitement, disappointment and ending with teacher bashing. Conventional wisdom suggests that these technology fail because they marginalise teachers. Phillip argues Moodle allows teachers to design courses the way they want and so will be different. I have my doubts about this as Moodle's options can be limited, with all teachers required to use the same template at an
institution. Also the system could be used to closely monitor what the
staff do.

The core idea Phillip was presenting is a scholarship of teaching. He
suggested looking at how different institutions consult teachers on
Moodle use. Also he suggested looking at Moodle in the second year of

At question time I suggested that teachers should act in a professional way and decide how technologies should be used and then tell the administrators in their institutions that this is how it will be done. This is an ethical obligation for any professional: they are required to act in the interests of their clients, regardless of orders to the contrary.

ps: The room for this session seated about 80 and used a plasma screen of about 2m which worked well. The Melbourne Convention Centre has very well designed integrated lecterns. These are movable, being attached by power, data and a/v cables plugged into the wall. The lectern has a work surface about 900 mm wide. There is a flat panel LCD screen beside a touch control panel at the top, then an area for papers and laptop.

There is a windows PC built in with corded mouse on the desktop and a keyboard in a pull out drawer. There are two USB ports on the desktop, and a microphone on a stork. There is a back-lit panel on the front of the lectern with the conference poster in it. One improvement I would like to see is replacing the poster with a screen.

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