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Many institutions surveyed (9, 47%) declared student engagement as a key driver to implementing learning analytics projects. Student engagement is crucial to higher education, as it essential to the learning process overall.


Definition & background:

Student engagement can be defined as students being invested in their learning process and involved in their learning and educational environments. Student engagement is considered an important factor of higher education at a Scottish level. The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) funds a development service entitled Student Partnership in Quality Scotland (SPARQS) which produced A Student Engagement Framework for Scotland. This document states five key elements of student engagement; 1. Students feeling part of a supportive institution; 2. Students engaged in their own learning; 3. Students working with their institutions in shaping the direction of learning; 4. Formal mechanisms for quality and governance; and 5. Influencing the student experience at a national level. It also states six features of effective student engagement; 1. A culture of engagement; 2. Students as partners; 3. Responding to diversity; 4. Valuing the student contribution; 5. Focus on enhancement and changes; and, 6. Appropriate resources and support.

There are different ways of assessing student engagement in higher education. The most efficient way of measuring student engagement is by capturing proxy measures such as VLE activity (63% of institutions surveyed for the report), attendance to lectures and seminars (42%), SITS or student record (26%), assignments, assessments or grades (32%), and library usage (21%). However, it is important to note that these are only proxy measures of student engagement, and that the way students will engage with their course will be on an individual basis.


Institutions stating engagement as a key driver:

  • University of Aberdeen
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • Heriot Watt University
  • University of Highlands and Islands
  • Robert Gordon University
  • Scotland’s Rural College
  • University of Stirling
  • University of Strathclyde
  • Open University in Scotland
  • University of the West of Scotland


Learning analytics projects focused on engagement:

  • Many institutions (such as Edinburgh Napier, Aberdeen and Stirling) are running pilot projects aiming to improve student engagement.
  • The Open University in Scotland and Scotland’s Rural College are developing learning analytics tools that would enable the development of a new dashboard, to monitor and promote student engagement. For Scotland’s Rural College, the data being collated would include portal engagement, attendance, VLE engagement and student support engagement. Specifically, the Open University has an interest in monitoring engagement from students from different backgrounds, notably SIMD20. Indeed, engagement may be a good way of improving retention for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Case study:

Most institutions within the University of the Highlands and Islands use an in-house learning analytics tool: traffic light system entitled BRAG (Blue, Red, Amber, Green) in order to monitor student engagement. The BRAG system synthesises data from attendance, VLE usage, assignment submissions, library usage and SITS in order to create a measure of student engagement. BRAG is then linked to a system of personal academic tutors who will be notified if a student is showing signs of disengagement. Following this alert, appropriate course of action will be chosen by an academic tutor.

 

Conclusion:

To conclude, student engagement is an important goal for higher education institutions. Learning analytics projects can directly benefit student engagement, as they provide a comprehensive understanding of student’s behaviour and allow targeted interventions. Student engagement is a factor feeding into retention, which is another important driver in learning analytics, but also higher education in Scotland as a whole. It is crucial to remember that the student is ultimately at the centre of higher education, consequently it is vital to promote student engagement.