Saturday, February 9, 2013

Analyzing Education and Teaching Data Analysis

If data analytics can be so powerful and productive to business and profits, why not use it to improve the education world as well?  With the adoption of technology in more schools and with a push for more open government data, there are clearly a lot of opportunities for better data gathering and analysis in education.

Teaching Web Data Analytics
Web Analytics is measuring and analyzing internet data for the purpose of optimizing web usage.
In the classroom, students traditionally learn theory and go through oral recussitation of facts.  Today students are able to learn by doing.  Any teacher that expects students today to be involved in the classroom must be willing to create an environment where they can be involved with activities that teach the principles and give the opportunity to learn how to immediately implement them at work.

In the Classroom
A teacher should understand what students are doing in the classroom with their computers
Are they completing an assignment?  Surving the internet?  Playing chess?  Doing homework?

Could data analytics help professors and teachers nkow whether the students in their class are engaged?  In our data analytics class at the University of Utah, we had about 80 students attend each week.  The actual visitors to the blog and the Google analytics analysis during class each week were much less than the number of students, although most all had their computers on.

Technology is changing.  The way that students learn today can be and should be drastically different than how it has traditionally been.  Today students sit in a classroom set up to listen to the orator talk in the front.  Traditionally this works because the professor is the one with all the information and the students are there to gather everything they can from that single person. 

Today, because every person in the room has access to the internet and every bit of information in the world, there is not necessarily any need to have this traditional focus.  Analytics on the involvement of students during a class can show what activities create the most value and interaction. 

Online tools let educators evaluate a much wider range of student actions, such as how long they devote to readings, where they get electronic resources and how quickly they master key concepts.

For example, an online high school curriculum known as Connected Chemistry helps students learn key concepts in molecular theory and gasses. However, it also allows teachers to mine learning patterns to see how students master chemistry, statistics, experimental designs and key mathematical principles.

George Siemens and Phil Long of Athabasca University and the University of Queensland, respectively, ask how do big data and analytics generate value for higher education?
  1. They can improve administrative decision-making and organizational resource allocation.
  2. They can identify at-risk learners and provide intervention to assist learners in achieving success. By analyzing discussion messages posted, assignments completed, and messages read in LMSs such as Moodle and Desire2Learn, educators can identify students who are at risk of dropping out.
  3. They can create, through transparent data and analysis, a shared understanding of the institution’s successes and challenges.
  4. They can innovate and transform the college/university system, as well as academic models and pedagogical approaches.
  5. They can assist in making sense of complex topics through the combination of social networks and technical and information networks: that is, algorithms can recognize and provide insight into data and at-risk challenges.
  6. They can help leaders transition to holistic decision-making through analyses of what-if scenarios and experimentation to explore how various elements within a complex discipline (e.g., retaining students, reducing costs) connect and to explore the impact of changing core elements.
  7. They can increase organizational productivity and effectiveness by providing up-to-date information and allowing rapid response to challenges.
  8. They can help institutional leaders determine the hard (e.g., patents, research) and soft (e.g., reputation, profile, quality of teaching) value generated by faculty activity.
  9. They can provide learners with insight into their own learning habits and can give recommendations for improvement. Learning-facing analytics, such as the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Check My Activity tool, allows learners to “compare their own activity . . . against an anonymous summary of their course peers.”

Professors, Make the Change
The idea is simple yet potentially transformative: analytics provides a new model for college and university leaders to improve teaching, learning, organizational efficiency, and decision making and, as a consequence, serve as a foundation for systemic change.
More more information, visit:

Follow: @DarrWest on Twitter.  Darrell West is the Vice President and Director of Governance Studies and the Founding Director of Center for Technology Innovation
Paper - Darrell M West
Full Event - Data Analytics and Web Dashboards in the Classroom - Darrell M West


  1. Interesting thoughts on using analytics to better the education system. I was an education policy major so this is particularly interesting to me.

  2. Have you looked into the Khan Academy's new computerized classroom model? The concept they employ is that students can be actively monitored by a teacher from the front of the room and those who fall behind can be actively helped with problems as they are executed during class. Lecture is moved to an 'at home' activity as a watched video, so students get support doing problems in class instead of doing them 'blind' at home.

    This approach dovetails nicely with the research you're investigating, I suggest taking a look at and checking it out. There as a great 60 Minutes piece that looked at this as well.

  3. Nice blog..I am trying to still understand how we can gather and analyze involvement/engagement of student in classroom? Anybody have ideas?

  4. Are you saying that there were people that were playing chess during lecture? I don't believe it? :)

    Interesting to see how data analytics can be used beyond basic internet sites for companies. Looks like we're on the forefront of this technology in the classroom. It will be very useful to be able to track individual students and then customize their education accordingly.

  5. Great perspective on how to use technology & analytics to revolutionize the learning experience. Education is in much need of reform, and I think these ideas are a great step in the right direction.

  6. With not only the tools, but the culture that students are brought up in, reforming eduction to more closely work with technology and computers is an important step. We attempt to do so with projects outside of the classroom, but developing more interactive work inside of one could do much to increase attention as well as retention. Great work!

  7. I enjoyed your post and I agree with a lot of what you said. It will be interesting to see how education adapts to an increasingly online world. Nice post.