Monthly Archives: February 2011

Statistics – if you know where you are can you do better?

In a meeting this morning the work of John Fritz from University Maryland Baltimore County came up and I went to have a look as we are thinking about better Blackboard stats both for the eLearning team and for providing to academics.
When I got to the webpage http://www.umbc.edu/oit/newmedia/blackboard/stats/ I was surprised to see that they are making their stats publicly available, showing which courses are the most active.  I wonder what effect that is having on competition between courses?  Also kudo’s for openness.
One of the more interesting stats are the “Grade distribution” reports.  It turns out that students who gain a A on average have more Blackboard activity than students that get a B who in turn have more than those with a C etc etc.  Now I found a similar correlation with A level students at a College I used to work at and Dave Pattern on his blog here and here found the same with number of books & eBooks taken out of a library.

Now you are probably thinking – so what!  Its really no surprise that students who get good grades tend as a group to have done more than students who get less good grades.  The simple equation

Ability X Effort = Grade     (or Ability X Effort X Teachers Skill = Grade)

would indicate this.  However what is different is that the statistics provide an indication of students that might not be putting in enough effort AND if staff access the stats early enough in the course then they can intervene, possibly raising the grades of the students in question.
When I looked at what they are doing for the users I was again impressed there are 2 types of reports available to their users.  One for the Academics which allows them to see the activity of the students in their class, what tools they use how many clicks/sessions etc so far so expected.

The interesting part was the one for the students, this allowed them to select a grade from the grade center and a start and end date (if left blank it pulls all activity).  It then returns their activity their grade AND the average activity of the students in their cohort for each grade.
Obviously you do have to be a little careful with this – meaningless clicks to increase your activity will NOT improve your grade, however it does give you an idea of your result in comparison to your effort.

For example —————————————
John Doe studies for 5 hours each week for 3 weeks before a test, clocking up 62 hits over 5 sessions (each session being 3 hours long) and gets a C in the test.
Grade    Hits    Sessions
A           122       6.8
B             98       5.6
C             67       4.9
D            46       3.1
Looking at the report he can see that more sessions and hits could give him a better grade next time.  So if he increases his study time for each session to 4 hours rather than 3 that should get him a B and if he has 7 sessions instead of 5 he might get an A.

John books in 6 sessions of 4 hours into his calendar – hopefully a A grade is not too far away!
———————————————————

Now obviously it might not happen exactly as in the example – ability plays a part as well, but if extra effort is put in it should pay off, the Student might do the effort required for an A and only get a B but thats still an improvement on a C.  The beauty of the tool is that it provides a student with motivation.