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Students’ consumption of media is considerable. Research by Rideout, Roberts, & Foehr (2010), found that young people today are exposed to media for over twelve hours a day, but their ability to think critically about information online and use that information in constructive ways is not evident (Sternglasss, 1997; Hobbs, 2010; Scheibe & Rogow 2012). There is growing alarm about students’ ability to analyze online content, and this has lead to a calling for students to develop the media literacy skills necessary for finding, validating, compiling, and using online content (Barthel, Mitchell, & Hocomb, 2016).
In order for teachers to address the media literacy needs of this students, they must first have a window into how their students are learning online. Learning analytics is a growing field that can be used to help teachers see and understand their students’ online behaviors in order to address their potential skill deficiencies (US Department of Education, 2012). Learning analytics allows educators to track indicators of learning such as a students’ online research, their online source selection, their engagement in online lectures or dialogues, and their collaboration on online projects (Johnson, Adams, Cummins, Estrada, Freeman, and Hall, 2016).
This multiple case study utilized a learning analytics tool called the ThinkingApp to peer behind the curtain at students’ online behaviors. The ThinkingApp is a Google extension created in collaboration with educators in order to collect, organize, and analyze students’ online behaviors. The ThinkingApp was used to collect the online behaviors of six students and to allow the researcher to design interview questions that explored students’ perception of online privacy, how students used their school-issued devices, and what media literacy competencies they utilized. This study found that students were not concerned with their online academic behaviors being collected and were willing to candidly discuss their online behaviors. Additionally, this study found that students were not often asked to perform tasks that required media literacy skills. Finally, this study found that students approached their online work in unique ways, but that they all struggled to recognize the relationship between their attitudes towards school and their online behaviors during school.