Skip to main content

Digital educationStudent engagement

Learning Analytics at Cardiff University 

20 December 2021

Since 2020, it has become increasingly challenging to see and support our students’ engagement. As we increasingly use a wider blend of approaches to teach and support learning, naturally our students show a more complex and personalised pattern of engagement with their course. Perhaps we are no longer able to rely on spotting that a student has missed a few lectures as a spark to a first conversation about engagement. Perhaps we are less likely to see our keenest students working busily in the library, as we spend less time on campus. Or perhaps we spend less time in communal areas with colleagues, sharing insights and concerns about our shared students’ engagement.   

Students entering Level 4 have experienced disruption and transformation at scale. Cardiff University is committed to supporting the transition of each student into the institution and into the fold of Higher Education more generally. Looking ahead, one of the possible tools in the toolkit of Personal Tutors could be Learning Analytics. Learning Analytics sees data on students’ learning brought together in one time-saving space to provide an overview of how students are engaging and performing.  

It is hoped that Learning Analytics could offer staff a platform to have evidence-based conversations with students about their engagement with their courses. Empowering students to discuss their learning and engagement is likely to benefit students, as they will take time to consider what they may need to do to reach their goals with their Personal Tutor’s support at hand.   

What is Learning Analytics?  

Even in early weeks of study, data is presented around if and how students are engaging with their online modules. Reaching out in these early weeks with targeted and personalised support could set students on the surest path to success. As the term develops, assessment data can be discussed alongside engagement data, giving a burgeoning picture of how a student’s engagement may affect their performance. Data can be explored at individual and cohort level, allowing perspective and nuances to be better appreciated.  

How we’re using Learning Analytics at Cardiff University

Cardiff University are currently piloting Jisc’s Data Explorer tool with Personal Tutors in four Schools (CHEMY, MEDIC, MLANG and SOCSI). Building on the experience and support already provided by Personal Tutors in the Schools, it is hoped that the pilot will help us evaluate the system and what Learning Analytics may mean more generally for academic practice around personalised support. The pilot is aimed at supporting the transition of students at Level 4.  

We are working with Student Champions and the student cohorts in our pilot Schools to shape our approach to Learning Analytics. Staff involved in the pilot are committed to ensuring that Learning Analytics is beneficial to students and always a supportive tool. Ensuring that we are led by student voice throughout the pilot (and beyond) is rightly recognised as crucial to the success of the project.   

The dashboards currently display biographical data, SIMS data and VLE data in a range of configurable graphs for each student and module. The potential of the system is much more powerful, however. Integrations for data from spaces such as Panopto, Zoom, Teams and library services can be achieved, as well as physical and virtual attendance.   

It is paramount that we do not gather data for data’s sake and carefully consider whether each set illuminates the students’ engagement and progress. Engagement is a personal matter, and in this increasingly blended landscape of learning, we would expect more choice and personalisation. In time, insights about correlation and causation in learning may help us understand and communicate what works with our students in order to best ready them for success.  

Written by Ada Huggett-Fieldhouse