Learning analytics: Your roadmap to personalising the student experience

As with many other sectors, the transition to online has opened up a wealth of new, accessible information in higher education. Learning analytics combines data analysis of student interaction with online (as well as offline) education, aiming to provide a more personalised learning experience.

The potential for analytics is huge, and universities are beginning to harness the abundance of available data. But many faculties still face the burden of understanding how to develop an analytics strategy, as well as collating and analysing accurate data to make informed decisions that are aligned with student needs.

Ahead of Blended Learning 2015, we examined the various considerations and critical success factors that can enable faculties to gather information from different sources and create a single ‘source of truth’. Extracting actionable insights from student learning patterns will open up new possibilities to improve engagement and guide students to successful outcomes.

The case for learning analytics

The ability to investigate student study behavior is vital towards informing a number of blended learning attributes, including:

  • Teaching practice;
  • Curriculum design;
  • Learner engagement;
  • And course selection pathway.

These attributes reflect an important distinction between two perspectives: at a course level and a departmental level, from which both students and faculties stand to benefit. Many initiatives can result in the form of fact-finding projects (both predictive and reactive); dashboard analysis and reporting (of both students and staff); and the wider institutional approach.

But developing the analytics strategy very much relies on institutional maturity – what level of sophistication or readiness a university is at for learning analytics. When this level is determined, faculties need to identify:

  • The type of data accessible;
  • The tools available to assort and analyse the data;
  • Reporting, which could be ad-hoc or more formatted;
  • And consultation and engagement with stakeholders.

Some faculties can be tempted to track metrics just for the sake of it, not really considering the way in which information can be extracted from specific data sources. The key is to be able to draw out actionable insights to develop the blended learning strategy, such as using patterns of learning to predict individual student performance and implementing potential interventions if necessary.

Analytics in action – University of Sydney

At University of Sydney, there’s a learning analytics strategy (for flipped classrooms) spearheaded by Professor Abelardo Pardo, Senior Lecturer in the School of Electrical Engineering, who is responsible for the deployment of the unit and its design.
The design includes many active learning resources, such as videos, multiple choice questions in the notes, and sequences of problems for class preparation.

“Once a year,” he says, “there are several innovation projects funded and some of them use analytics to create an effective, blended learning environment. The university also supports us with additional tasks needed to deploy and run these data driven initiatives.”

At a more abstract level, pedagogical strategies are being adopted to increase student participation. Videos followed by multiple choice questions, for example, is a formative assessment resource that doesn’t count towards the students’ actual grades. Instead, it’s a way for them to ensure they are travelling along the right trajectory for learning outcomes.

The resources are designed to ensure student interactions support learning. Professor Pardo notes that different patterns of video interaction have been identified and are checked – in real time – if they are having an effect in the context of flipped learning.

“As a result, we can reach out to individual students and suggest different ways of maximising the usage of these videos. The results we have are still preliminary, but we think these techniques can provide greater support to the students. Our educators are currently supported by eLearning that provides access to several analytics reports,” he explains.

The support provided by eLearning and the reporting capability reflect more of the wider design strategy – for example, the type of resources; the type of interaction expected; inclusion of formative assessments; or the number of times students are allowed when solving exercises. These variables have a lot of potential to improve the learning design and therefore enhance the overall learning experience.

“We’re creating an environment in which we assume that students have a fair amount of interaction with the material, the instructors and among themselves, because that will increase their overall academic performance,” Professor Pardo notes.
However, creating this environment presents three distinct challenges. The first relates to enabling academics to become proficient with the necessary tools – that could range from creating or annotating videos, to detecting and processing events within them.

While the second issue lies in implementing additional tools that allow educators to create simulations and take a look at the data generated by them. And the third challenge is how to combine this data to produce predictive models, identify actionable insights and implement interventions.

“Linking pedagogical strategies with the collected data is not a trivial task,” Professor Pardo observes. “We need to think about what kind of activities would make more sense to include, ensure that proper data is being collected, and deploy the correct analytic procedures.”

Some universities have addressed the variety of available data and reporting by implementing integrated data warehouse applications – or enterprise warehousing. Only a few institutions have adopted this solution, but they are now able to provide multiple stakeholders with different levels of reports and intelligence.

At University of Sydney, several seminars and discussions on the use of analytics and associated issues have been held, as well as collaboration with other institutions – either through research projects or consulting.

“The most common data source is the learning management system (LMS). However, the LMS data is not enough and it needs to be integrated with other data sources such as student information systems. It’s by combining several sources that we can we obtain better insights and align them with the learning outcomes,” Professor Pardo says.

The conventional sources that are considered outside of the LMS are:

Initial enrolment information;
Student feedback surveys;
Number of courses taken by individual students;
And average scores.

The objective is to increase the number of data sources for analysis and identify important indicators, as well as scale personalised feedback using data to identify clusters of students with similar profiles.

By grouping together these profiles, Professor Pardo and his team will be able to communicate specific messages and feedback based on their preferred learning outcomes. This capability will require more detailed access and algorithms to create profile categories.

Learnig analytic

Analytics dashboard, courtesy of University of Sydney


Implementing data analytics is a group activity, not the responsibility of one individual. And it all starts with creating a data inventory, because most universities will generally have data that is already being collected. Dashboard reporting offers a range of opportunities for faculty to craft tailored learning experiences for students with their outcomes in mind, especially in the context of flipped classrooms.

“Think in advance of a solution that provides functionality for different stakeholders,” Professor Pardo says. “Not only to upper management, but curriculum design, course coordinators and instructors.”

Aligning the analytics strategy with the pedagogical objectives will enable students and staff to benefit from personalised feedback.


10 things to consider when launching shared services in higher education

At University Transformation 2015 day one, there was a lot of discussion in the room about best practice in shared services. In the final session of the day, attendees were asked to brainstorm key strategies that resonated with them when it came to planning or implementing shared services.

They were asked by conference chair Joanne Austin, Faculty General Manager Business and Law at Swinburne University: what do you have to think about when launching shared services? What are the major pain points, and, how do you overcome them?

Below is a summary of the discussion, highlighting 10 key things to consider when launching shared services in higher education:

1. Culture and people

University transformation involves moving people from different functions into a new service or team. And the reality is, there are some people who will come into a shared service and it won’t be right from them. It’s important to be clear from the very beginning to define shared services and how people can fit into it. It is equally important to give people the opportunity to move on if they don’t fit – one bad apple can spoil the barrel.

2. Avoid the ‘big bang’ approach

Transformation is not a quick-fix journey. It can seem like a reasonable option to take a ‘big bang’ approach to transformation, but change needs to be incremental and happen over time for it to be most effective. Make sure you road map what you want to achieve out of your transformation before you begin.

3. Break down silos

Transformation, in any sector, requires change. For the higher education sector, this involves moving people from different functions or faculties into on centralised service. This means it is important to look at processes and functions end-to-end. Do not change processes within departments – best practice would be to talk to people who are on the ground, listen to what your people are saying and make the change from the ground up.

4. Be agile

If a new process is not working, move on. Give it a chance, try to be innovative but be prepared to move on quickly if it fails. Listen, learn and adapt.

5. Change leadership

Without effective leadership, it is hard to determine a future view of what an shared service should be. Transformation requires a change leader who knows the vision and has the skills to move things fast, but at an incremental level. The world around us is evolving and organisations have to move quickly to keep up. If you have the right leadership, it will help with moving ahead with your shared service or vision. It will also make it easier to communicate that vision throughout the organisation.

6. Bring people along with you

Bring people along with you – talk to people, find out their ideas. Bring your people along the journey: work together with them to avoid an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. Emails or town hall meetings are not enough. Talk to people and find out what they know.

7. Measure as you go

Some of the changes getting made during transformation are done with the absence of data – which makes it hard to know: is the change for the better? Sometimes you have the feel for it, but sometimes you don’t. Where possible, collate and collect data as you go to track your progress. This will also make the second phase of your journey a lot easier. Monitor everything as you go along and shift things when they are not working.

8. Understand the business at all its different levels

Transformation requires a consideration at how the business functions at all levels. Sometimes, one function might think they do know the business at different levels and will try to impose their own ideas on how things should be run – but this will not work. You need to understand change and how the business works from a holistic business level.

9. Scalability

Consider the impact of scalability – can you scale up your shared service? Consider that as you go. Plan for the future.

10. Location

Where are you going to locate your staff? Do you locate them in a central area? Or where the client is? Be smart in your provision for shared services so internal customers can find what they need easily.

If you found this post interesting, check out SSON’s upcoming Planning and Launching for Shared Services Conference, taking place in Sydney, in February 2016.

For more information click here or email enquire@iqpc.com.au

Monash Masterplan: Taking campus design into the future

Australia’s higher education sector is among the best in the world in the context of standards and reputation. But against the backdrop of increased competition at a national and international level, universities are under pressure to create blueprints for development. This extends across more on-campus services, improved education facilities and greater sustainability.

With that in mind, we spoke to Jocelyn Chiew, Manager – Campus Design, Quality and Planning at Monash University, who is involved in the progressive Monash Masterplan. She discussed how the Masterplan will deliver an integrated campus design to enhance the experience for students and staff, as well as anticipate changing pedagogies.

What are the objectives of the Monash master plan and how do they correspond to the challenges facing the university’s current design?

The Monash Masterplan establishes a vision and 20-year strategic framework for the physical transformation of its campuses. Aligned with organisational ambitions, the Masterplan seeks to effect high quality, curated, designed and enduring built environment outcomes.

This position acknowledges the cumulative impact that small works can have on the quality of the broader campus experience. As such, a key message of Masterplan communications has been that all physical work undertaken on the campuses contributes to, and ‘is part of the Monash Masterplan’.

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Primary walks, North West Precinct, Clayton Campus, courtesy of Monash University

The Monash Masterplan has assisted the development of a consistent approach to project planning, design and review. Further to this, it has provided a solid case for campus wide planning initiatives and improvements to be proactively undertaken.

In the context of adaptation, how will you respond to the changing ways of teaching and learning?

The Monash Masterplan provides an enduring framework and principles for campus development. Rather than locking in a singular vision for the campuses, it describes a range of potential development scenarios for new buildings, landscapes, connections and so on, to emerge in response to key requirements including future pedagogies.


Green Chemical Futures, Clayton Campus, courtesy of Monash University

The Masterplan requires that development is designed to be robust, flexible, adaptive and high quality. New buildings and refurbishments need to respond to the principle of ‘long life, loose fit’, to ensure campus hardware does not limit organisational ambitions and activities now and in future.

What are the challenges to developing an integrated transport network for the university and how will you overcome them?

Monash University has introduced a number of initiatives to ensure efficient and accessible transport options are available at each of its campuses. Since the inception of the Monash Masterplan, we have delivered a suite of works to improve pedestrian and cycling accessibility and amenity, as well as introducing bus services that are now amongst the busiest in the state.


Caulfield Campus Green, Caulfield Campus

As a largely suburban university, we have the additional challenge of continuing to provide private vehicle parking in consolidated forms, whilst undertaking an ambitious program of public realm-oriented works to pedestrianise and activate the campuses.

The university continues to liaise externally with government, services providers and stakeholders on integrated transport opportunities – including lobbying for a train station at Clayton campus.

How have you integrated international student retention into the future campus vision?

The Monash Masterplan recognises that students are more aware now of the environments they want to be in, than ever before in the past. Curated, considered environments are mandated by the Masterplan.

New building projects are innovative, sustainable and inclusive, often developed and delivered in partnership or with collaborators. Since its inception in 2011, the Masterplan has also continued to evolve.

Campus activation and retail has become a recent focus, aligned with new on-campus residential development. These initiatives seek to ensure the university’s spaces and programs offer the best possible range of campus life experiences – a trend that is also starting to see greater online coverage of Monash activities via social media.

Since its adoption in 2011, the Monash Masterplan has directly influenced the way in which campus works are planned, briefed, and realised at Monash University campuses. Changes to governance, decision making and project review processes have also resulted, ensuring the Masterplan is embedded at every level of the organisation.

Be sure to join Jocelyn Chiew at Campus Development 2015, where she will present an in-depth case study on the Monash Masterplan.

Download the brochure to see the full program or visit http://www.campusdevelopment.com.au to know more.