Research · Editorial

OU steps-up efforts to improve student experience with innovative dashboard

Person using tablet on sofa

An interactive dashboard at The Open University (OU) is using machine learning methods to provide tutors (Associate Lecturers) with greater visibility of student engagement and experience.

Following more than a decade of research driving best practice, the Early Alert Indicators Dashboard is an established Predictive Learning Analytics tool with proven efficacy in improving student outcomes.

The objective to improve student outcomes is entrenched within the mission of the OU, to open education to all. The Early Alert Indicators (EAI) Dashboard, aims to provide greater visibility of the engagement and performance levels of students with their online studies, so that tutor support can be offered in a timely fashion when required.

Research conducted by colleagues at the OU has consistently shown evidence that using the EAI approach has had a positive impact on improving student outcomes and performance when tutors have used the dashboard.

Led by the Knowledge Media Institute (KMi) at the OU, the EAI Dashboard has been refined for more than a decade in collaboration with Machine Learning and Data experts, pedagogical experts, Associate Lectures, Staff Tutors, Module Chairs, students, and other relevant university stakeholders, demonstrating a remarkable example of an OU-wide, research-led innovation.

The OU’s Institute of Educational Technology (IET) led the user evaluation and process of building a strong foundation of evidence, demonstrating impact on student outcomes within the project. This involved the methodological design and generation of evaluation insights, providing evidence to determine the effectiveness and utility of the EAI Dashboard in aiding student outcomes. Evidence generation contributed significantly in motivating tutors to adopt and use EAI in their practices.

What does the Early Alert Indicators Dashboard do?

Discussing the role of IET further, Prof Christothea Herodotou, Professor of Learning Technologies and Social Justice at the OU, who led IET’s involvement in the project, commented:

“We conducted several studies with tutors at the OU. Some were focussed on checking EAI’s impact on student performance, others on how tutors engage with EAI and what their perceptions are in relation to using the tool.”

Discussing how the use of the EAI Dashboard can enhance the teaching experience of tutors and the student experience, Prof Herodotou shared:

“Without the dashboard, tutors use their own practices for monitoring student engagement such as check instances when a student logs in to the Virtual Learning Environment, some use spreadsheets, and some respond to prompts from the Student Support Team to intervene if there is an issue.”

“With the dashboard, tutors at the OU have all student information gathered in a single space and a consistent and systematic approach to monitoring students’ engagement.”

Prof Miriam Fernandez, Professor of Responsible Artificial Intelligence at the OU, who is part of the team working on the EIA Dashboard at KMi, commented:

“This tool applies Machine Learning technologies to learn from previous experiences, and enable the early identification of students at risk of failing. It is a sociotechnical capability, allowing tutors and technology to cooperate and support our students better.”

Empowering teaching for better student outcomes

The EAI Dashboard has been integrated within the services of the OU since 2017. As of December 2022, following a number of interventions with tutors to raise awareness about it, the EAI Dashboard has been utilised by at least 1/3 of tutors with expectations for it to be used by at least 50% by the end of the 2022-23 academic year.

Feedback from tutors has shown that among the benefits of using the dashboard, the ability to see as granular as weekly engagement of students is having an impact on how staff can understand changes and respond to the needs of their students.

In closing, Prof Herodotou discussed the technological support and resources for the dashboard that are available to Associate Lecturers:

“We have a dedicated webpage for tutors internal to the OU, with videos, digital resources and insight to support the use of the tool. These resources come in addition to the dashboard website, which has been developed by the OU’s Knowledge Media Institute, KMi”.

“We also have three tutors (Associate Lecturers) who were a part of the research team, and who are now delivering training to fellow tutors as to how to use the dashboard.”

Advancements of the Early Alert Indicators Dashboard will be tracked as a part of the IET Quality Enhancement and Innovation (QEI) research, practice and institutional expertise.