The University's Learning Analytics Task Force has recently announced a new Fellows Program. This program will bring together faculty, staff, graduate students, and postdocs in a semester-long collaborative study of Learning Analytics. If you're considering applying for this opportunity or just curious what "Learning Analytics" means, read this guest post by Natalie Sampson, Public Health Ph.D. student and Graduate Student Instructional Consultant at CRLT.

Natalie Sampson

As academics, many of us think a lot about assessment in the classroom. How do we best assess our students' learning? How can we be sure they are getting it? In this information age of "big data," Learning Analytics is an emergent field that is tackling these core pedagogical questions.

You may have heard the term "Learning Analytics" (LA) around campus but still wonder what it refers to. According to the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SOLAR), LA is "the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs."

What might that mean for your teaching?  In practice, Learning Analytics may look like...

What if every college course had "curiosity" as an explicit prerequisite?  

When Bradford Orr introduced the course "Everyday Physics" into the University of Michigan curriculum in 1993, he included such a prerequisite on the syllabus. Moving away from the then-standard Physics pedagogy of lecture and textbook lessons, the course focused on "hands-on" discovery, as student groups performed lab experiments to study a series of everyday phenomena: soap bubbles, light waves, electrical circuits. The students worked with familiar materials to learn about the ways basic physical principles affect their daily lives--and can be observed and tested without elaborate equipment.  At the time a pioneering venture in curiosity-driven, experiential learning, the course continues to be the most popular elective in the U-M Physics curriculum.  

Bradford OrrAnd Orr himself continues to be an extraordinarily innovative teacher. Honored in 2012 with an Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship, his creative and committed instruction has also been acknowledged with a range of teaching awards, including the Provost's Teaching Innovation Prize (TIP), a Rackham Graduate Student Mentoring Award, and the Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award.

While Orr's teaching continues to develop with every new course and semester, students repeatedly return to the fundamentals--instructor passion and student engagement--in their praise of his teaching.  They describe Orr as encouraging students to "actively think about the material instead of receiving it passively." They attest that he "demonstrates genuine concern for fostering a love of learning and discovery of new ideas for all students." And they praise his creation of a "learning environment . . . that prepares future physicists for the road ahead and opens all students to what 'real' science and physics is all about."

In this space, we will occasionally highlight articles from around the Web that offer interesting perspectives on college teaching and higher education. Here are some short, thought-provoking pieces that caught the eye of CRLT staff during the past week:

  • Bookmark iconAn article from the Faculty Focus newsletter on the relation between grading and student learning.  Why not give all of your students A's?
  • A Tomorrow's Professor blog post that offers helpful suggestions for inspiring students to set challenging goals for themselves.  What if not all of your students come to class eager to be challenged?

Do you have other recommendations you'd like to share with U-M teachers? Include them in the Comments section below. 

CRLT Occasional Papers logoCRLT's latest Occasional Paper, "Teaching in the Cloud: Leveraging Online Collaboration Tools to Enhance Student Engagement," has just been released. A collaborative effort by CRLT Assistant Director Chad Hershock and U-M Political Science and Philosophy Professor Mika LaVaque-Manty, the paper describes how a wide range of instructors at Michigan use online collaboration tools to enhance student engagement and course management. 

Here's how the authors explain the research behind this new publication: