Using Canvas New Analytics to gain insights into students’ access

Dr Rachelle Maddison, Module Leader (Biology), International Foundation in Biomedicine, Biology and Pharmacy, INTO Newcastle University

Dr Raghda Zahran, Learning and Teaching Development Service (LTDS)

What did you do? 

I used Canvas New Analytics to check whether a small cohort of international students could access resources in their own countries.

Who is involved?

Dr Rachelle Maddison, Module Leader on the International Foundation in BBP, members of the Learning Analytics pilot group, with support from Dr Raghda Zahran from LTDS.

How did you do it?

I used Canvas New Analytics to monitor student engagement with resources on Canvas. Before I started using New Analytics I spoke to all the students to make it clear what information I could access and how I would use it. I was very clear that the information would only be used to support them and their studies in a positive way. I wanted to gain their trust early in the course and it make it clear that I was doing this to help them.

This system was used with two small cohorts (n=17, n=29) of international students on a 1 year foundation course. Most of these students remained in their own countries and all were taught online entirely throughout the academic year 2020 – 2021.

Towards the end of the first teaching week I used the New Analytics to determine which resources were being accessed. I was aware that the students were getting used to a new learning environment, mode of teaching, VLE, and in many cases, the first time they had been taught in English. When I did this in the first week I noticed that a number of students hadn’t accessed the asynchronous learning materials they should have. I used the ‘Message students who didn’t view’ function within New Analytics to send bcc messages to these students. I made sure that these messages were positive, mentioning that I noticed they had not accessed these resources and asking what I could do to help them.

I very quickly received messages back from these students and they mentioned that they were having problems accessing the materials in their country (China). Prior to starting the course, accessibility in China was checked for all teaching materials. However, it became apparent that, for a small number of students, there was a problem accessing videos via Stream. I was able to immediately give these students access using an alternative format. Having this functionality through Canvas meant that this problem was identified and rectified within their first week of study. I am sure that eventually the students would have mentioned their access problems, but without New Analytics I feel this would have taken weeks rather than days.

Another aspect of New Analytics that I found useful was to identify which students had not accessed pre-learning materials before our live sessions. If I noticed that most of a class had not accessed the pre-work (perhaps due to other deadlines) it meant that I could amend my teaching plan to account for this.

When a minority of students in a class had not accessed the pre-work, I approached them after class, either online or with a message, to say that I had noticed that they had struggled in our live lessons and that doing the pre-work in advance would help with this and what could I do to facilitate this. Again, the emphasis was on help and support rather than blame.

Another use was identifying which types of resources were not being accessed. For example, I noticed that the ‘assessment overview’ page was not being accessed, with important information on assessment and deadlines being missed. I used this information to signpost the location and use of this page and to show the students where this information could be found. Used in this manner it was very useful to help both myself and the students get used to a new VLE.

Why did you do it?

I wanted to monitor engagement within the new VLE.  The students are across the world, in different time zones, working online and in many instances, in English for the first time. Anything I can do to identify early access issues could only help with student engagement and attainment. The bcc targeted messaging system helped me to develop working relationships with the students much quicker than general emails and various live sessions. Once the students had responded to me in this way I noticed that they were more willing, earlier in the course, to approach for help with other issues.

Does it work?

There is no formal feedback from the students regarding the use of New Analytics. However, I do feel that it was useful from teachers’ point of view and we used the system across our modules to look for common usage problems in targeted students.

I had one live session that did not go the way I intended with a group of students. Using New Analytics afterwards I noticed that only one student had actually accessed the pre-learning materials meaning that my flipped learning approach that week was doomed. I could then talk to the students individually to mention that I had noticed they hadn’t had time to prepare, and we could look over this again in a study clinic once they had completed the necessary work. I feel that this approach helped the students and I to gain a more meaningful teacher-student relationship in online learning, and ultimately helped with their attainment.

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