Making an Impact with Student Learning and Data

May 11, 2017

Here at UC Berkeley, we have a reputation for using cutting-edge technology and tools to affect social change. As the world’s number one public university, it’s in our DNA to use our combined talents and skills for the good of others. Thus, when a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant was announced to support an “Impact Studio” to study how young people develop data literacy by teaching them how to measure their digital footprint, a team of Berkeley researchers jumped at the opportunity. Led by Principal Investigators Glynda Hull of Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, Amy Stornaioulo of University of Pennsylvania, and Matthew Hall of The College of New Jersey, the NSF grant would assist in building a set of visualization tools to help students gauge their online engagement. We spoke with ETS’s Associate Director Oliver Heyer and John Scott, a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Education, about the Impact Studio grant and its potential to help revolutionize the way we see higher education. Oliver leads the programming team that is building the Impact Studio, while John has played a key role in designing and teaching classes that will make extensive use of the software.

According to Oliver, the Impact Studio builds on the three existing SuiteC tools that flip student engagement on its head by providing a way for classmates to see how they are influencing and being influenced by each other. It is an attempt to take the data students create in their learning environment and reflect it back to them so that they get a sense of how everyone in their class is interacting with one another and with the material. As John puts it, SuiteC was designed to create a more peer-to-peer collaborative environment that fosters student cooperation and a sense that their learning is contributing to the learning of others around them.

The NSF award was designed to further data literacy in students and support many of the initiatives already underway in SuiteC. Specifically, it was created to set up a variety of visualization tools that would allow educators and learners to “analyze their online participation and how to make their digital footprints have bigger impact.” The tools would be tested in the global online community known as Write4Change (W4C), which seeks to connect teens with others around the globe to hone their writing skills and communicate for social change. With the Impact Studio tools, the participants in W4C can see how their words are being consumed by others in the classroom and peers around the globe.

SuiteC and the Impact Studio are part of a larger movement towards incorporating Learning Analytics into the classroom. As Oliver explained, we are just starting to harness all the data we create and formulate questions about how to use it. This trend, which is just beginning here and at campuses across the country, lets students see how they are participating in the class, as well as how the rest of the class is participating. While this use of student data might raise eyebrows, particularly when the security and the privacy aspects of the information are considered, John and Oliver both agree that transparency in the classroom and behind the scenes with the technology is crucial for all stakeholders. These measurements of impact and related analytics can help everyone on campus, from students in a classroom to administrators making high-level decisions across an institution.

Ultimately, Oliver and John are both excited to see where the technology goes in the future and how a student-centered approach to the learning environment can truly change the way a classroom understands its own knowledge. The Impact Studio is currently being studied with the international students involved with Write4Change but John is looking forward to bringing it to the Berkeley campus and studying how college students interact with the tools.The future of  Learning Analytics at Berkeley is intriguing and at ETS we look forward to supporting all of the innovative projects that our staff takes on.