Every LMS contains some mechanism for tracking analytics for stakeholders. The D2L system I am now using gives information within the class list for logins to the system and course logins on a day to day basis. We check each day on students and record course login information in the Attendance window. It would be much easier for teachers with multiple classes to have the daily login to the course updated automatically so that the teacher does not have to do that first thing every morning based on attendance the day before. At least the course log-in gives a quick picture of that data. Login to the course information can become critical when assessing the progress of a student. The LMS keeps up to date grades as the teacher enters them. If a student’s grades start dropping, the course logins is one of the first places to look. Almost always, there is a direct correlation between decreased logins and decreased grades.
As the chart showed in the TOOL, a teacher needs as much information on a student at the beginning of the course as possible. If somehow the student has managed to start without having completed the orientation, there is a whole bag of potential problems. The teacher needs to know and needs to address these in an email and the first live session. Students often will not volunteer the information that they are confused and don’t know what to do until they are in a hole. Then, when they tell you or you figure it out, diving out of the hole can be difficult.
While the student always has access to grades, and the parents have a portal to check grades, it is almost always the teacher who sees the correlation first. This is when a phone call is necessary. Ideally, the teacher speaks to the student and the parent. Too often a situation arises where the parent expresses surprise and dismay upon learning how a student’s grade has dropped. We really cannot rely on the student to relay this information. On a practical level, so many parents have work and other family responsibilities that they simply do not check their student’s grades every day or even every week. In my experience, sometimes when I have called there has been some exigency which has taken the attention off the course and, possibly, school. I have encountered death in the family, an injury to the student, onset of depression in the student, illness in a family member out of town, and other issues which so dominated the student’s or family’s attention that they did not think or take time to notify the teachers. We can never assume what the problem is. We must find out and take steps to assist the student in getting back on track.
It is one thing for a student to drop behind in an A or B 20 week course. It is quite another if it is an AB or shorter termed course. Students in the latter group face the exigencies of time, which cannot be overcome if they drop too far behind. We must use every tool at hand to help the students be successful and to keep parents informed. A phone call should always be followed with a brief email and reported in the communication log. This log serves a couple of purposes. It is a record for stakeholders to see and it is evidence of the action taken by the teacher.
If one student is at risk, the teacher can differentiate for that student. If more are involved, they can be grouped. In these cases the teacher often needs to create a revised checklist or pacing guide to help the student(s) catch up. A student can easily be overwhelmed and not be able to see a way through. A day by day pacing guide incorporating missed work can often be the answer. If the parents are brought in on this plan, student’s can receive the encouragement they need at home to succeed.
If the teacher has the tool, as shown in the TOOL, to monitor access to content, this is important data to be examined on a regular basis. When students are not accessing content, they are on a slippery slope. If this behavior is not caught soon enough, the student may run out of options for completing the course.
Feedback on assignments is a critical means for students to receive the information necessary to succeed. If a student does not know why she received a particular grade, then the grade is relatively meaningless. Feedback is one of the powerful teaching tools we have. Imagine taking a driving test for your license. If the officer just stamps failed on the evaluation form, you have no idea what to do to improve. Was it my steering, my turn signals, the way I brake, the way I make turns, my speed or lack of speed? Our students feel just that lost if they do not receive specific and helpful feedback. What will help this student improve?
Feedback can be positive. Almost every week I use the email tool on the grades page and send a “good work” type email to the students who are doing well and an encouraging one to those who are trying. For those falling behind, I send an email noting their work with a request that they email or call me for help. I also offer a live session if they need that.
What can all of this data and analytics do for the teacher when planning for the future? Sometimes you see that the order of the assignments is not working well. Perhaps a particular assignment needs a little more time to complete. Conversely, you might be able to combine two assignments on the same day if the students finish them quickly. It is a little like working on a new recipe. In the process you find you may need a little more of one ingredient or a little less of another. Perhaps the order in which you put the ingredients together needs adjusting. The completion time was not long enough or was a bit too long. It is all about fine-tuning. I did not use a car analogy because they are all run by computers now, and I do not know how to describe it anymore. Fine-tuning still remains an apt term for what we do in a course.