Students want more real-time information about progress
They also want to know how they're measuring up against their peers
A new study conducted by Blackboard suggests that students who receive automatic notifications on their academic performance would use it consistently — a tool that could help administrators and educators urge low-performing students to seek assistance, or rather give confidence to students performing at a high level.
Researchers found that students were particularly interested in automated academic performance notifications that showed how they were performing in comparison to their peers, as opposed to just examining their own performance in isolation. And, this type of assessment may be more alluring to students than one that tracks only their own progress, according to John Fritz, the associate vice president of Instructional Technology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s Division of Information Technology.
“We track our workouts, our steps, our calories; there’s a curiosity factor,” he said. “There’s a self assessment of where we stand compared to others, which I think is more intriguing to students than simply, ‘I got a good grade or I got a bad grade.’”
Researchers analyzed data from students who were using Blackboard Learn throughout the previous spring, with 22,227 notifications sent in all. The research found that students opened these notifications at 37%, a fairly high rate. According to Dionne Curbeam, the director of Instructional Technology at Coppin State University, the results underscored the importance of having early alerts for academic performance as a part of learning management systems, saying she believed the practice would only grow in popularity in the years to come.
“We’re moving into a personalized, customized world digitally. It’s the expectation of the learner, if they can do it on Netflix or Amazon; they’re going to want to see how data impacts their learning,” she said. “I think it’s going to become a standard.”
Research also indicated that academic notifications indicating a student's grades were one of the highest in the class were opened more frequently than any other type, at 42%. Following that were notifications alerting students that their academic grades were one of the lowest in the class; these were opened frequently at 36% of the time. The group with the lowest percentage of frequent notification openings were from students who were receiving news that their grade had been slipping; the frequency of opening these kinds of notifications was at 24%.
Curbeam suggested that the high rates of high-achievers checking their alerts frequently could be due to a combination of high morale and confidence in their abilities and performance, as well an inquisitiveness and even competitiveness about their grades that might not be as prominent in other student groups.
To boost the frequency of checking alerts from students in the “malleable middle” — defined in the report as students with a wavering academic performance that could be trending upward or downward) — Curbeam said it was important to ensure that human interaction and assistance in struggling students does not dissipate. Academic advisors should continue to press students who may be in danger of academic failure, and professors could strive to incorporate consistent checks on academic performance into the classroom process. She also said students could benefit from having an array of services easily accessible.
“Having those links and resources readily available, the student needs to have it right there,” she said. “Especially if they have low morale they might need it to be easier.”
It was important to not discourage struggling students via the use of the alerts, though she also acknowledged that this could be difficult to do because the data was clear and could not be obscured. She said institutions could use sensitive language, and also try to present the student with a plan, or at least the resources to begin crafting one, even if the news was that they were likely to fail a course.
Fritz, who yesterday presented on how his institution is using analytics to encourage more student responsibility, said in his own research he found that there had been a positive impact in grade performance for students who received academic performance alert notifications, especially when placed in the context of how they fared compared to their peers.
He noted that it did not work for all students, with only about 54% of students using it, but those students who did were one and a half times more likely to earn a ‘C’ or higher in the course. He expressed optimism that the use of alert systems for academic standing would continue to become more prominent.
“I hope so, I think it can,” he said. “But it comes down to the culture of the institution and the practice of the faculty.”