That might seem like an obvious path given that an LMS is intended to be the hub for interaction between instructors and students, but at many schools it doesn't work at the institutional level because different departments use different LMS products. Even for Daytona State, which has standardized on Desire2Learn for many years, it was something new.
"We had basically a pen and paper system for years," said Eileen Hamby, associate vice president for the College of Business Administration and one of the leaders of the project to improve the school's performance analytics. Even after getting past the pen and paper stage, she said, "We were just storing outcomes in matrix form, in Word or Excel. It wasn't in a database. It was just there on a shared drive. That meant the data couldn't be aggregated, and that's what you need to look at the data." There was an online reporting system used to gather state-mandated metrics for Daytona's teacher college, but because that was a separate system it resulted in a lot of duplicate data entry.
Working in partnership with Desire2Learn over the past year and a half, Daytona State implemented the vendor's analytics module and customized it to not only provide feedback for the individual student but also guidance to the professor and metrics for accreditation reports. "We're the first that I know of that has integrated the LMS with student achievement like this," Hamby said.
[ Want to develop a classroom in the cloud? Read Dropbox In The Classroom: 4 Great Uses.]
Although smaller than some of Florida's other state schools, the college in Daytona Beach on Florida's east coast has a student population of about 32,000. Daytona State College came in #2 in the U.S. World and News Report ranking of online bachelor degree programs, behind New York's Pace University. U.S. News says factors in the evaluation included graduation rates, faculty credentials, and support services available remotely.
As part of the process of maintaining accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Daytona State had to show that it was measuring student achievement against educational goals and demonstrating continuous improvement in effective instruction. This is not just a matter of tracking grades. Every course and every program within the college has a set of more detailed goals for its students.
"You might have seven or eight goals for a course -- they might have to demonstrate some kind of ability or be able to discuss something intelligently -- analyze a business in the community, something like that. We track outcomes at the course level and the program level," Hamby said. "There are also key outcomes they need to achieve by the time they graduate, like cultural literacy, problem solving, and critical thinking."
Rob Saum, executive director of instructional resources, said that one of the goals in the 3D animation classes he teaches is for students to be able to explain the difference between NURBS and polygon animation and when each is appropriate.
Knowing which goals to measure wasn't so much the problem, but as the college prepared to update its accreditation, Saum said, "We thought there has to be a better way to collect some of this and analyze it." He approached Desire2Learn CEO John Baker, who agreed to work with the college to find that better way.
In a separate interview, Baker said analytics will be an increasingly important part of his product line and that the module Daytona State is using is the result of six years of research. "Once you're mapping all outcomes across every course, every program, you can pull together what's working and what's not working," he said. The analytics are good enough that they can frequently predict a student's grade by week 5 of an 18-week course, opening up the possibility of improving those outcomes.
"As the behavior is occurring in the classroom -- that's when you want to capture the data," Saum said. Some of the data that's most useful to instructors can be captured implicitly by the online system -- for example, being able to see that the student watched only the first five minutes of a video lecture.
Originally adopting Desire2Learn in 2003 to support its distance learning programs, Daytona State used it in a pretty traditional fashion initially: as a place to post course materials and have students submit quizzes and essays. In 2008, Saum said, it became the standard LMS for all courses, online and off, and since then Daytona State has explored more options for flipped and hybrid course formats.
"Without this all being on the same system, it would be impossible to use this outcomes analytics," Hamby said. "[Previously, the college could] measure student learning outcomes, measure the results, and try to improve the courses, but it was cumbersome try to do comparisons aggregate data across disciplines."
Can data analysis keep students on track and improve college retention rates? Also in the premiere all-digital Analytics' Big Test issue of InformationWeek Education: Higher education is just as prone to tech-based disruption as other industries. (Free with registration.)