Acting on Actionable Intelligence: Using Learning Analytics to Inform Interventions in a Historically Challenging Course

Concurrent Session 3
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Brief Abstract

Learn how predictive learning analytics, paired with peer-led Supplemental Instruction, improved student performance by two letter grades within a highly repeatable undergraduate blended learning course.


Phil Denman is the Coordinator of Faculty Support for Instructional Technology Services at San Diego State University. He leads a team of learning designers and technologists who help faculty design impactful learning experiences for online, hybrid, and blended courses. Phil holds a MS in Education with a concentration in Online Teaching and Learning and has spent the last 20 years exploring technology as a product manager, web developer, marketer, usability consultant, and learning designer.
Maureen Guarcello, PhD served as a researcher and consultant at the University of San Diego's Mobile Technology Learning Center, and currently works as an Instructional Designer at San Diego State University. Her dissertation research, 'Blended Learning and Bottlenecks in the California State University System: An Empirical Look at the Importance of Demographic and Performance Analytics' examined eight years of predictive relationship data between individual student characteristics and performance outcomes in a single Psychology 101 course. Her research and practice have extended into the areas of early student performance predictions by way of student course engagement behaviors, and student success interventions using peer-assisted active learning models. Maureen's previous experience resides in the areas of communications and program management at CSU Long Beach, the University of Hawaii, and the University of California, San Diego.

Extended Abstract

Acting on Actionable Intelligence: Using Learning Analytics to Inform Interventions in a Historically Challenging Course

Authors and Presenters:
Maureen A. Guarcello, PhD
Phil Denman

Short Abstract:
Learn how predictive learning analytics, paired with peer-led Supplemental Instruction, improved student performance by two letter grades within a highly repeatable undergraduate blended learning course.

Paper Abstract:

Background: In the Spring of 2014 more than 20% of the nearly 700 students in one, blended learning Psychology 101 class at San Diego State University (SDSU), received a D, F, or a W (withdrawal) grade. In response to the poor student performance outcomes and overcrowding in the often-repeated course, two interventions were offered to all students. One of the interventions used predictive analytics gleaned from the Blackboard Learning Management System and live class sessions, to provide students with a weekly score based upon their own course engagement. The second intervention introduced a peer-led Supplemental Instruction program (SI) offering 18 student-facilitated sessions to the entire class population each week.

This proposed presentation will do three things.

1) It will demonstrate how predictive grade modeling based upon Blackboard Learning Management system interactions, and paired with Supplemental Instruction, were incorporated into the Psychology 101 course, resulting in increased test scores, specifically fewer D, F, and W grades among those who participated.

2) After we share the outcomes of the semester-long intervention, we will facilitate a short, interactive audience exercise using some of the Supplemental Instruction learning strategies that helped students recover after failing the first exam, and contributing the highest class exam scores in the past 10 years.

3) We will share strategies for building similar interventions in historically challenging classes, and ways to make the programs scalable and in some cases, self-sustaining.

Psychology 101 (PSY 101) is an undergraduate course, instructed in a blended learning format, consisting of one live class lecture, and one virtual lecture each week. Psychology is an impacted major at San Diego State University, and the course also fulfills a general education requirement for graduation. Students who fail the course face longer time toward graduation and potential academic probation. The high risk of failing the course, coupled with the large class size, generally two sections totaling 750-1,000 students, made Psychology 101 an ideal candidate for two simultaneous interventions. Supplemental Instruction (SI) was introduced in Fall 2015, paired with the student Doing the Right Stuff (DRS) score. Both interventions were made available to all students and are described below.

Supplemental Instruction (SI) began at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) in 1973, and the highly prescriptive model of peer-assisted learning is practiced at more than 1,500 institutions in 29 countries (Martin, 2009). Supplemental Instruction targets historically difficult courses and offers free sessions to all students on a voluntary basis (Dawson, van der Meer, Skalicky, & Cowley, 2014).

Sessions are facilitated by students who were previously successful in the course, they are collaborative, and the SI Student Leader integrates course content and study skills with information gathered from attending all of the class lectures. Active learning in SI sessions may include memory games, journaling, and in the case of San Diego State University, we use Learning Research Studios, enabled with leading-edge technology to enable team learning and collaboration.

When the Fall 2015 semester began, students in both sections of Psychology 101 were introduced to 9 Supplemental Instruction (SI) Leaders. Each of the students led two SI sessions per week. Attendance began with anywhere from 0 to 3 students. At the end of the semester more than 65 students were attending a single session, and nearly 400 students attended sessions in one week.

Doing the Right Stuff (DRS): This year, SDSU faculty member Dr. Bernie Dodge created the Doing the Right Stuff assessment, a custom data function generated by a quantitative analysis of student behavior and engagement within the Psychology 101 course environment. Each week, student attendance in both live and online course lectures, homework completion rates, and activity within the content areas on the Blackboard platform, are calculated and weighted to yield a value between 0 and 100.

Students can view their Doing the Right Stuff (DRS) score in the Blackboard grade book, and the score resets based upon their course engagement each week. It is important to note that the DRS score is not factored into student course grades. If a student has a low DRS score, they are strongly advised to attend Supplemental Instruction sessions, but they are not required to do so. The accuracy of the predictive value of the DRS scores will be presented at this session along with the final outcomes of the Supplemental Instruction program.

Striving for Student Success Through Innovation: This session revisits the same Psychology 101 class that Drs. Mark Laumakis, Charles Graham, and Chuck Dziuban (2009), used in a case study analysis of blended learning in a large enrollment course.


Dawson, P., van der Meer, J., Skalicky, J., & Cowley, K., (2014). On the effectiveness of supplemental instruction: A systemic review of supplemental instruction and peer-assisted study sessions literature between 2001 and 2010. Review of Educational Research. 84(4), 609-639.

Laumakis, M., Graham, C.R., & Dziuban, C., (2009). The Sloan pillars and boundary objects as a framework for evaluating blended learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 13(1), 75-87.

Martin, D. (2009). Foreword. Australasian Journal of Peer Learning, 1(1), 3-5.