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Embracing technology in teaching for more targeted student engagement

How can academic staff combine new technology with data available to enhance their engagement with students?

The Wollongong Academy for Tertiary Teaching and Learning Excellence (WATTLE) Hot Topic Learning Analytics group, who advocate excellence in teaching and learning, has been working to find ways to address student experience and early identification of students struggling in the system.

To address these issues, the Learning Analytics group is piloting new technology, being led by Associate Professor Sarah Howard from the School of Education, with the introduction of the Student Relationship Engagement System (SRES).

Developed by researchers from the University of Sydney, the SRES is a web-based system that provides ways for lecturers to use student data to customise and personalise feedback in large student cohorts, to improve learning experience and outcomes.

Associate Professor Howard’s key research area looks at how teachers adopt new technologies. She says there are two key objectives with the project;

“One of the goals is to see a greater engagement with data and the use of analytics in teaching at the University, the other goal is to improve the student experience in online learning; the learning management systems and in the whole of their education.”

According to Howard, UOW’s Wollongong Campus can have up to 500 students in a subject, presenting challenges on both sides of the learning fence.

“The students can feel disconnected in large subjects, which can lead to feelings of disengagement and academics struggle to make contact with students in those scenarios.”

“It’s not just identifying the students who are about to drop out, but also to identify students who are marginal or those who are doing well to give them positive feedback.”

She says the SRES technology will provide a way for academics to use the data from Moodle to identify different groups of students in large subject cohorts, based on a range of factors (e.g. logins, assessment marks, attendance, etc.) and communicate tailored messages.

“The academic can decide what kind of data they want to use, it might be attendance data, it might be scores students have received on an exam or how much they participated in Moodle - they can bring all this data into SRES.

“For example, they can select students who have only received a pass for an assessment, missed two classes and haven’t done all the tutorial work, and send them a particular message - this might go out to 20 students of 500.

“It is triggered automatically at a certain point and the academic can then re-use that every semester if they want to, saving them time manually going through the marks and assessing which students are most in need of intervention,” she says.

Howard says the system is already in use at a number of universities in Australia and world-wide and has delivered positive results so far.

“Lecturers have received feedback via email from students saying: “I don’t know how you have the time to write all these emails”.

“The students really like the personal touch, the contact, the specificity of the message that’s being sent, rather than an obvious one that triggers when a student hasn’t logged into Moodle by a certain date.

“That message in a sea of 400-500 students is really valuable to the student,” Howard affirms.

The SRES software will be piloted from autumn session 2019 in a selection of large cohort subjects, within Education, Physics and Engineering.

Howard concedes the impact of the SRES on academic performance won’t be immediately obvious, however, once the technology has been in use for an extended period across different faculties, it will be easier to assess different academic trends.

The six-month pilot program will be run in conjunction with the support of an Educational Strategies Development Fund (ESDF) grant awarded to Associate Professor Sarah Howard, Dr Tingru Cui, Dr Jack Yang and Dr Jun Ma, funding their research in blended learning. The project will be supported by the SMART Infrastructure Facility and conducted with the Learning, Teaching and Curriculum Learning Analytics.

Once the pilot has been completed by mid-2019, all UOW academics will have the opportunity to implement SRES technology as part of their teaching practices.

If you would like information about this pilot program, contact Sarah Howard via sahoward@uow.edu.au.

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