Teaching Innovation Awards Winner
University of New South Wales
Recent developments in digital technologies are changing educational practices due to the wealth of data available and the possibility that if used judiciously this information can inform academic interventions that positively impact students.
Student feedback is a key “feature of successful teaching and learning”, leading to student success. Alongside this, we have found undergraduate students frequently cite dissatisfaction with feedback provided in student satisfaction surveys and course evaluations, for example with amount, specificity, and timeliness. In addition, there are significant workload implications hampering staff from providing timely and meaningful feedback to students. This is a particular problem for large cohort (>1000) courses, where personalising feedback can be extremely challenging.
Harnessing digital technologies to improve student learning experiences has become increasingly important with the rise in online teaching, combined with decreasing classroom engagement that has been observed worldwide. One field, learning analytics, may offer opportunities to efficiently provision student support, aiming to improve students’ academic outcomes. Learning analytics collects student digital data as they interact with the learning management system. We can then evaluate student behaviours to inform various aspects of education, for example, providing student feedback. Our innovation introduced timely, regular personalised feedback emails to first-year chemistry students throughout the semester. We analysed the learning analytics data from in-semester assessment tasks to generate tailored feedback emails sent to individual students at four timepoints. The personalised emails included an evaluation of current performance, and advice about support systems and learning resources available to assist their learning. We aimed to measure, collect, and analyse student digital data in-semester to provide students formative feedback and support that they can immediately act on (for example to improve academic outcomes).
Analysis of our intervention, taken across six semesters from 2019–2021 involved 6334 students, found that students receiving personalised emails were more likely to pass the course. Furthermore, our data show that personalised feedback emails fostered higher student success among a greater number of students and positive student attitudes. Students responded positively to the feedback emails, valuing both the timeliness and reassurance that we were monitoring their progress. For example, one student reported “Thank you very much for your feedback, it is very encouraging”, whilst another said, “you're one of the few [course] coordinators who seem to go above and beyond the call of duty”.
Providing large cohorts with this level of tailored feedback throughout the semester would not be possible without the benefits that learning analytics brought to the process, or a significant manual workload for teaching staff. Our innovation of a systematic and automated digital feedback system has proven effective and is now being piloted across the institute, and we hope soon at institutions across the sector. Our evaluation finds that students provided timely and actionable feedback assists students to maximise their learning. Using digital technologies and learning analytics has enabled us to do this effectively and efficiently for large cohort first-year university courses.