Dissertation Abstract

Thinking Outside the Box: A Descriptive Study Focusing on the Application of Learning Analytics on Instructional Design

Author: Gregory James Cottrell
Dissertation Chair: Dr. Douglas Lare
Dissertation Committee Members: Dr. Beth Sockman & Dr. Andrew Whitehead

The information age has revolutionized how people communicate, access information and learn.  Today’s students are locating, evaluating and using information in significantly different ways than they did just a generation ago (Holman, 2009).    As students evolve their learning strategies, there is a need for teachers to evolve the way in which they instruct.  In a 1:1 school where every student has a personal mobile computer, the digital learning revolution is happening at an accelerated pace.  The aim of this qualitative research was to gain an understanding of how data about student internet activity can influence the instructional design choices that teachers make in order to meet the needs of digital learners.

This dissertation describes how ubiquitous computing has changed the teaching and learning process.  The Technology, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge framework is presented as a lens to understand the complex knowledge systems that teachers use to make instructional decisions.  Finally, the concept of learning analytics is presented and gaps within instructional design as they relate to learning analytics are analyzed.  This dissertation is based on the guiding hypothesis that 1:1 teachers need access to student internet logs in order to make fully informed instructional design decisions.  As stated by Scheffel, Drachsler, Stoyanov & Specht (2014), “in order to support students within a course, teachers should be aware of what the students are doing, how they are interacting with course material and where comprehension problems arise” (p. 117).

In order to gain an understanding of the impact of learning analytics on instructional design, five teachers at a public high school in New Jersey participated in a seven week long research project.  During this project the researcher compiled and provided each teacher with a report of the online behaviors conducted by their students in order to complete an assignment.  Teachers were interviewed prior to receiving the report and again after receiving the learning analytics report.  Teachers also participated in professional learning community meetings with the other participating teachers in order to discuss and reflect upon the impact of an increased awareness of students’ online behaviors.

The findings of this practical action research support the hypothesis that teachers need access to information about student online behaviors in order to make fully informed instructional design decisions.   The findings of this research showed several areas of consensus amongst how teachers incorporated Chromebooks into their pedagogy.  The research also showed that an increased knowledge of student online behaviors did not alter the teachers’ perceived value of technology.  The most significant finding of this research was the identification of several ways that teachers’ instructional design decisions were altered as a result of their increased awareness of online activity.  This finding supports the guiding hypothesis that there are educational benefits associated with providing teachers access to comprehensive learning analytics reports associated with their students.

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