Office for Digital Learning


Learning analytics student guide

Posted on: 25 Jul 2017

This draft guide is influenced by Ulster University’s learning analytics policy. A key principle of the policy is to be completely transparent about all aspects of our use of learning analytics. We want you to understand exactly what data is being collected, how it is being processed and what we will be doing with the information. This document provides these details, and will be updated as our use of learning analytics develops.

What is learning analytics?

The “digital footprints” left when students use Blackboard and other institutional systems can be combined with data such as grades and past academic history. We already collect all of the data required, and use it to review aspects of our courses and manage our use of resources more efficiently. However the use of this data for learning analytics is new, and will provide additional information to you, lecturers, tutors and support staff. The resulting picture can give you a better idea of how your learning is progressing. It can also help us to understand how we can best support you to meet your goals, and achieve your full potential at Ulster University.

A key aspect of Ulster’s work is to make predictions by comparing a learner’s patterns of activity and achievement with those of previous groups of students. These predictions can help identify those who may be struggling academically and we can then contact them to see if we can help.

How can learning analytics help me?

Many learners, particularly when starting university, do not have an accurate perception of how their learning is progressing. Learning analytics can help you understand how your learning is progressing and how your engagement with course materials and activities impact your grades. Learning analytics also matches your profile, and activity, against students who previously completed the course allowing Ulster staff to better support you to achieve a good result in your course. As learning analytics matures at Ulster you will be able to use this data to better understand what you need to do to achieve the result you want.

Emails or text messages may be sent to you automatically to suggest additional support or resources that could help your studies. Messages may also be sent to congratulate you on good performance or improvement.

How can learning analytics help my lecturers?

Learning analytics provides your lectures with better information on your progress and how your progress compares to previous students. Your lecturer may contact you by phone, email or text message to check that you feel you are on track or to arrange a meeting to review your progress. Lecturers have access to data about your engagement and attainment, and they may use the data as a focus for conversations between the two of you.

Lecturers, or members of support staff, may also receive automated alerts about students predicted to be at risk, helping them to decide if they should make contact. It is important to note that the risk scores are only predictions: the model will always have a degree of inaccuracy, and cannot indicate with certainty what grade a student will achieve. It simply helps us to prioritise those students who are most likely to require additional help.

What data is being collected for learning analytics?

The following data is being used for learning analytics:

  • Background information: your name, identifiers used by the University, date of birth, ethnicity, gender, declared disabilities, contact details, whether your parents were in higher education, your socio-economic background, whether you are an overseas student and contact details.
  • Details about your course, the modules you are taking, and your lecturers.
  • Details of your assessments, marks and grades obtained.
  • Details of your activity in Blackboard: logins, resources viewed, assessments submitted and graded, and session timeouts.

The data is being used in compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998, and more specifically in accordance with the Data Protection Principles, the University’s Data Protection Policy and Data Consent Notice which you agree to at registration. The consent notice states:

“the University will use the information which it holds about you to deliver your programme, to provide educational and support services to you, to monitor your performance and attendance and to collect feedback; and for management activities such as strategic planning, statistical analysis, equal opportunities monitoring and maintaining IT systems.”

Is my personal information safe and secure?

Your data is subject to strict security procedures in compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998. Only those members of staff who have a professional requirement to support you are permitted to view the analytics about you individually. In particular, your lecturer will be able to view data about your engagement, attainment and any predictions made. If you have any concerns about the University using your data for the purposes of learning analytics, do discuss these with your lecturer. Your data is also combined with data about other students to help us improve our courses and to support students better overall. This data is not individually identifiable. It is first “de-identified” i.e. fields such as your student ID are encrypted. It is then sent to a central learning records warehouse managed by the University’s contracted agents, and hosted on servers in physically secure, multi-tenanted private cloud arrays in the European Economic Area. At all times you will have complete control over what data, if any, you wish to share with other students.

Who to contact if you have any concerns

Ulster's student guide to data protection outlines a process for officially requesting access to the data that the University holds on you, however if you have a specific request about Blackboard Predict you can email