The Trending Prof

Anita Woods Ph.D., University Educator


As a graduate student, I loved collecting data. I couldn’t wait for experiments to finish so that I could start analyzing (even better if I could analyze in the evening with a cup of coffee in hand….ah perfection).  NERD!! Yes, I know.  But data is so powerful.  That love of data has carried over into teaching.

At first the desire for data began with one of my large undergraduate courses. The format was 3 midterms and a final, all multiple choice. Tutorials were not mandatory and the course was traditional in the sense that all material was delivered through face to face lectures. I learned how to evaluate examinations to see if they were fair and thorough, which was exciting and provided information about how the exams were designed. However the student side of the equation was lacking.  Why did student 1 move from a 30% in the course to an 80%, while student 2 dropped 10% every exam, student 3 failed each exam and student 4 achieved near perfect marks? With 500+ in a classroom, it was hard to equate what each student was doing in order to result in 4 marks that added up to a final mark on a transcript.

As a teacher of an online course, the rough statistics collected by the learning management system provided data beyond evaluations.  Sometimes I would be contacted by students who said that they weren’t able to log into online quizzes and therefore couldn’t take or submit the quiz. A quick little view of the log in record usually revealed that the student never logged into the course site until well after the quiz deadline…and read the reminder announcement about the quiz days after the quiz was due…..Data is powerful.

My desire to track students has only increased. Not just for the ability to determine if untruths are being relayed to me, but mostly because I want to know if there are correlations with certain behaviours and changes in course performance. I want to be able to counsel students and say “If you do this…..then you will more likely improve your grades”.  I have fairly good ideas of behaviours that help. But some students won’t engage in those suggested behaviours and may not do these things unless they see evidence/data themselves.


Currently, I am manually sorting through data in a traditional lecture course. It is a time consuming task, but I have been very encouraged by what I have seen.  Since tutorials are now mandatory, attendance is tracked by each TA. Assignments have been added and participation levels within these assignments can be quantified (didn’t do the assignment, did the minimum, did more than the minimum in a variety of parameters).  I have ways to now determine how students are participating much more than just exam performances. I love when the amount of data that can be collected becomes overwhelming and the problem is determining what is the best way to analyze.  Challenge accepted!  Ever since I have seen the power of Google Analytics, I want that level of tracking power for all of my courses, whether in online courses or in the regular lecture setting.


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