Progressin’ Towards Success: Using Progress Bars to Motivate Students

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

First year students struggle with time management and assignment deadlines. We implemented a Progress Bar in our learning management system (LMS), so students could track their assignment completion. The progress bar was hugely successful in allowing students to take agency over their learning. Come learn about progress bars!


Judy Opdahl is a Faculty Instruction and Reference Librarian with California State University, San Marcos. She has been with the University as a Faculty Lecturer for the past four years where her primary work is with providing information literacy instruction to first-year students in General Education: Life Long Learning (GEL), Writing (GEW), and Oral Communication (GEO). Currently for Fall 18, she is the interim Health and Human Services Librarian for Nursing, Kinesiology, Speech Language Pathology, Public Health, Social Work where she provides subject based information literacy to a range of learners from undergrad to graduate level students. In Spring semesters, Judy will once again take on the role of Business & Economics librarian helping learners from first year business learning cohorts to Executive MBA students. Additionally, she has also been an Associate Faculty Librarian, part-time, with MiraCosta Community College in Oceanside, CA since 2011. At MiraCosta she provides reference an information literacy instruction to a diverse range of learners seeking: certificates, continuing education, transfer to a four year institution, or Associate Degrees.

Additional Authors

Denise Kane is a faculty Instruction and Reference Librarian at California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM). She has been with the university for 2 years. Her subject instruction portfolio include psychology, education, sociology, criminology, biology, human development, liberal arts, as well as first year instruction. Previous positions include: University of California, Riverside, MiraCosta College, and Palomar College. Her research interests include threshold concepts, student motivation, and the first year experience. Denise has a BA and MA in History from CSUSM and an MLIS from San Jose State University.

Extended Abstract

First-year college students often struggle with being able to manage and complete work they have been assigned. This difficulty is magnified when course lessons and materials are housed in Learning Management Systems (LMS). As librarians who have taught a number of blended online learning literacy modules using Moodle  (LMS) for course management, we have observed first year students struggling to engage with lesson materials (assignments, readings, supplementary readings) resulting in students failing to complete individual and group point earning assignments on time. Learning and lessons in most courses are inherently scaffolded; therefore, it is critically important to identify students who are struggling so they can succeed in gaining foundational knowledge while completing the course. Further, students lack a sense of control over the materials in a LMS. We observed that all of these issues stem from students not having a clear mental model of the timing and pacing of the course over the semester. As a result, these students had difficulty continuing their studies and a significant number of our first year students found themselves on academic probation. We have struggled as librarians with how to successfully address these issues given the limited amount of time we have the students in library instruction classes. We set out to find a meaningful way to address the lack of students’ motivation and their continued struggle with time management.

After participating in the 2017 Faculty Summer Teaching Institute at our institution, we learned about tools and technologies that could aid students in their responsiveness to due dates and other requirements over the course of the semester. The Progress Bar was introduced as an analytic tool within Moodle (most LMS’s have progress bars) that could help identify student struggle while motivating students to complete their assignments. We were intrigued and decided to try it out in our Fall 2017 courses. Once students completed an assignment, the assignment space within the progress bar would turn green with a check mark. If a student failed to complete an assignment by the due date, the space for that assignment would turn red. We enabled the progress bar in all our information literacy courses. We did not tell the students about the progress bar in advance so that students would explore the possible uses for the progress bar on their own. We had students fill out a qualitative and quantitative survey at the end of the semester on their use of the progress bar.

    We expected that students would simply use the progress bar to make sure they turned in their assignments. We anticipated that the tool would allow us to identify students who were struggling. The progress bar allowed us, as instructors, to easily view students who had not completed assignments. We were able to send reminder emails to students who had not yet completed an assignment with a looming deadline. We were able to notice patterns of incomplete assignments and reach out to students and the course instructor. It is often difficult for students to reach out when they are experiencing difficulty. The progress bar allowed us to notice these difficulties and proactively reach out to the students. As a result, we were able to network with services on campus to provide support to students who were struggling with issues outside of the classroom.

When we reviewed the survey results at the end of our progress bar pilot, we were extremely surprised to find out that the progress bar was used in ways we had not imagined. Responses from students to the implemented progress bar were positive. Students identified the progress bar  as aiding in their ability to stay motivated to complete course assignments. A sample of just two of the responses, “The progress bar also reminded me that I have work to do, and it kept me motivated to finish all my assignments” and “I couldn’t wait to see the bar (become) progressively more green.  It motivated me to finish all the assignments that I needed to do, and also made me want to make sure that everything got done.”

Students were in fact using the progress bar to make sure they turned in their assignments. They were also using the progress bar to access the assignment guidelines since it was quicker to click on the progress bar than to scroll down the page to locate assignment requirements and due dates. We did not know this was possible. Students also used the progress bar to check that their group members turned in group assignments. They also used the progress bar to check to see if their librarian had graded their assignments. We had anticipated the progress bar would help students exercise some control with their work, but the level of agency was impressive.   

The progress bar became not only a tool for their own accountability on assignments, but also provided a check on the librarian and group members. Accountability is one of the first steps in students’ developing agency and control of their own learning. Students utilizing the progress bar realized their own role in their learning.

In our first year courses, students have group assignments. These group assignments help foster communication and teamwork skills. It is also a major source of contention for our first year students. Oftentimes, the team members have difficulty communicating due to their lack of experience working in teams. Students forget to get contact information, communicate effectively with group members, and make a cohesive plan for completing assignments. Some groups would do all the work and then the team member in charge of submitting the assignment would not follow through with the submission. The progress bar allowed for reduced anxiety with the group work since students were able to check to see that the work had been submitted and remind their peers to submit the work. Certain chosen assignments would not appear with a green check mark until the assignment was graded by the librarian although the progress bar registered the assignment as complete . Thus, students knew when assignments had or had not been graded. Students reported that the progress bar motivated them to complete their assignments. The students became excited with the amount of green completed check marks that appeared in their progress bar and stayed motivated to see that their entire progress bar was green rather than red.

    We look forward to the opportunity to present our findings with other educators during an educate and reflect session. We believe that the progress bar can have a huge impact in a wide range of classes and learning environments that use LMS systems and look forward to educating our audience about how to implement a progress bar in their own classrooms. During the silent reflection, we hope that participants will reflect on what they have learned about progress bars and develop ways they believe a progress bar could enhance student learning in their own environments. Like our students, the audience will be able to crowdsource other ways to utilize progress bars. In the Q & A portion of the session, we plan to select index card questions and comments that will appeal to the entire audience and have a engaging conversation about progress bars, their implementation, and how they could possibly be used in various learning environments. We look forward to listening and reflecting about progress bars with our audience. Our goal for the session is to have our fellow educators leave with ideas in place that they can implement at their own institutions designed to improve student motivation.