U. Wisconsin taps analytics to ensure students learn during pandemic

By collecting evidence of student performance, faculty are identifying skills students have mastered and areas where they're struggling.
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The University of Wisconsin, Madison implemented data analytics tools to ensure students are learning from their classes, which has become especially important to assess student engagement in online learning during the pandemic, UW’s student learning team said in an event last week.

The university’s Direct Evidence of Student Learning initiative allows instructors better understand how students are doing in their classes, according to the university. And having real-time data on student performance allows instructors to take immediate action to help students who are struggling in class at a time when many universities are concerned over student engagement with online learning during the pandemic, according to institutional surveys.

“Faculty need to know that students are learning,” Saundra Solum, student learning assessment team member said during an online conference hosted by the learning management company Canvas on Thursday.

The learning insights allow instructors to know if students are learning the material being taught, she said, which has become important as students learn online during the pandemic. And the university’s data system and online tool ecosystem can help faculty monitor student achievement, she said.


Courses that students are taking are uploaded to the school’s learning management system, Canvas, which allows professors to tag specific course assignments to desired learning outcomes for the class. Then depending on how a student scores on an assessment, the professor can determine if students have mastered certain skills or knowledge areas, Solum said. For example, if a student is taking a psychology course, a research essay may be linked to the learning outcome of research abilities. The grade the student receives on that essay then informs the professor if that student has mastered research skills for the class.

Solum said that by using this tool, instructors have been able to better understand what students are learning and identify areas of the class that students may be struggling with. It also helps instructors assess their own teaching methods and identify areas of the class curriculum that the entire class is struggling to understand so they can spend more time on certain concepts, she said.

Other institutions, including Brown University and Utah State University are also collecting evidence on student learning to assess student engagement with online learning and assess the quality of instruction students are receiving during the pandemic.

According to a survey of university presidents from, which collects data on U.S. education systems, more than 80% of universities are concerned about the long-term engagement of students with online classes during the pandemic. Since March, 98% of higher education institutions have moved traditionally in-person classes online, according to the survey, and while many universities have invested heavily in improving remote instruction, ensuring that students have continued access to quality education and are learning from classes in an online format is still a major concern among faculty and institutional leaders.

At Brown University and Utah State University, for example, faculty are being armed with learning-insight data, similar to the University of Wisconsin, to ensure students are mastering the content of their online classes and receiving a quality education despite the challenges education is facing during the pandemic.


“The reality is we want to offer high-quality experiences, and we are willing to do what it takes to make sure that students are getting what they’re paying for,” Mitchell Colver, a senior data analyst at Utah State University, said during a webinar in May.

Betsy Foresman

Written by Betsy Foresman

Betsy Foresman was an education reporter for EdScoop from 2018 through early 2021, where she wrote about the virtues and challenges of innovative technology solutions used in higher education and K-12 spaces. Foresman also covered local government IT for StateScoop, on occasion. Foresman graduated from Texas Christian University in 2018 — go Frogs! — with a BA in journalism and psychology. During her senior year, she worked as an intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and moved back to the capital after completing her degree because, like Shrek, she feels most at home in the swamp. Foresman previously worked at Scoop News Group as an editorial fellow.

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