dashboards students

Dashboards can have make-or-break importance for underperforming students

Students at risk academically could benefit from access to student-centered educational dashboards.

The researchers focused on questions such as: How do students interpret the information these dashboards provide, and do they find it useful? Which students find the information motivating and when?

“By asking students questions about their impressions of dashboards, we are able to gain critical insights to help us improve these tools,” said John Whitmer, Blackboard’s director for analytics and research. “As we broaden our knowledge about dashboards and their impact on student motivation, we can better ensure they are directly benefiting the students who need them the most.”

Researchers interviewed 47 U-M undergraduate students and presented them with course-feedback simulations. Half of the students saw information indicating they were performing in the top 10 percent of the class, and the other half saw information indicating they were in the bottom 5 percent.

Researchers asked the participants to think back to a course that was essential to their major, and then gave students three different scenarios of hypothetical course feedback.

The first feedback scenario told the students only how their dashboard login activity stacked up to their peers. The second was designed to mimic feedback from just after a mid-term exam, and it told students how they ranked in terms of both their login activity and academic performance. Similar info was given for the third scenario, which was styled to take place just before the final exam.

Based on the dashboard feedback, in all scenarios, the students with lower GPAs reported that they’d be more likely than students with higher GPAs to turn on the summary feedback feature and check it regularly, and take immediate action. And regardless of their GPA in real life, students who were told in the simulation that they were doing poorly were significantly more likely to find the feedback useful.

“Underperforming students are the ones who have the most to gain from dashboards,” Teasley said. “And a concern going into the study was that the dashboards would decrease their motivation. However, many of these students’ comments reflected insights about what they might do to improve, which is one of the intended benefits of dashboards.”

She cautioned that because the students in the “low GPA” group were still doing okay in their coursework, further research should test whether the findings hold true for students at risk of failing a course.

The study was funded by Blackboard and collaboratively designed and interpreted. All direct observation and findings were conducted by the independent research team at U-M.

Laura Ascione