Educational technology tips for teachers, librarians and schools.

8 Things Every Educator Should Know About Learning Analytics

8 Things Every Educator Should Know About Learning Analytics

By Bob Hand

As many modern teachers know, data can be a blessing and a curse. Ideally, data can be used to help students on a personalized basis.

However, an increased national focus on data-driven decisions in education has forced school districts to adopt less-than-ideal practices, designed to measure the school’s performance, rather than assess the needs of its students.

When it comes to the tasks of tracking, predicting, and improving student performance, we need data—but, perhaps more importantly, we need good data, and a method to quickly evaluate this information to create actionable plans.

Fortunately, as school districts adopt new tools and methodologies, we will work towards meeting these needs with “learning analytics.”

Learning analytics are at the forefront of these efforts. Learning analytics are defined as “an educational application of web analytics aimed at learner profiling, a process of gathering and analyzing details of individual student interactions in online learning activities.”

The future of learning analytics will cause drastic changes in education, and these are the eight things you need to know.

1. How Data is Collected

As students complete schoolwork through online applications, and as students advance throughout the year, their progress can be analyzed at great depth. This is partially why teachers have embraced new applications and technology such as Whooo’s Reading, as well as methods like gamification; such approaches generate actionable data for future teaching decisions.

More: 12 Educational Games to Boost Productivity

2. There Will Be an Increased Focus on Online Learning

School districts across the country are already experimenting with introducing online learning programs in the classroom. These efforts will become more pronounced over the next few years. Furthermore, online classes will become more commonplace.

This presents some problems. How does this impact teaching methods and assessment? Some critics fear that an increased focus on online learning may eliminate the human element of teaching, and that face-to-face interaction and effective teaching are inextricably linked. As far as assessment goes, online tools are sophisticated enough to identify cases of plagiarism, and keystroke recognition software can help instructors spot dishonest behavior.

3. Analytics Can Provide a Holistic View of Student Achievement

Learning analytics tools like Schoolzilla and FreshGrade can help instructors and administrators dissect research and draw insights from them. This leads to research-driven solutions in education. On a broad scale, this permits school districts to compare data to national averages.

However, for teachers, this means making student achievement data more actionable. These tools provide a holistic view of student performance, and create a more nuanced approach to evaluating progress rather than merely tracking test scores.

4. Learner Profiling Will Help Teachers Adapt

“Profiling” is a word with a lot of negative connotations—no one likes for others to make assumptions about them. However, in the context of education, it can help educators by categorizing students into groups with shared experiences, needs, and expectations.

This information can be used to predict future student performance, giving educators an opportunity to intervene. Ideally, learner profiles can be used to find the best teaching methods, content, and assessment strategies to maximize a student’s potential for academic success.

More: 10 Personalized Learning Apps

5. Analytics Can Eliminate Bias

Analytics can also eliminate the bad type of “profiling,” including biases based on gender or race. This capacity was demonstrated in a school district in North Carolina, when administrators sought to increase disproportionately low enrollment rates of “female, black, Hispanic, and low-income students in advanced math classes.”

Instead of relying on teacher recommendations to determine eligibility for advanced placement, students were selected based on data. As a result, many minority students were enrolled—and they thrived. In fact, enrollment in these classes tripled.

6. New Tools Will Spur Reform

Most schools today operate on the assumption that the “efficient learner hypothesis”—the belief that students have approximately the same level of knowledge when they start the school year, and progress at the same pace—is grounded in reality. However, learning analytics clearly debunk this approach to education.

In the future, more school districts will likely move towards a learner-centered paradigm, in which course material is individualized to best suit student needs. With any hope, the negative impacts of standardized testing will be rectified in upcoming years.

7. Digital Security Is Essential

As the amount of data that we collect from students rises, digital security will become even more important. Data breaches could result in further security risks, identity theft, and a ton of bad PR. Schools have become increasingly reliant on cloud-based applications, such as FileMaker Cloud, which has led to a high amount of sensitive student data being stored online.

Understanding the importance of personal security, best practices when browsing online, and data encryption will be paramount moving forward.

8. Student Privacy Must be Respected

There’s a divide between acceptable data collection practices and breaches of student privacy. Tracking Internet behavior, for example, is an inevitable issue. Considering the dubious future of net neutrality, this is a real concern. Some key players in edtech foresee a day in the near future when cameras, microphones, and wearable technology could also be used to gather information on students—though this might inspire more dystopian dread than excitement. As our capacity to collect student data grows, the importance of student privacy needs to become a priority as well.

Any effective educator must be willing to embrace change. As tools that give teachers access to learning analytics are popularized, it is essential that instructors use them intelligently. Rather than viewing analytics as a shortcut to better school performance metrics, they should be used as a means to facilitate the personal and academic growth of the next generation of learners.

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8 Things Teachers Need to Know About Learning Analytics

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