Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Jul 05, 2018 – Click here for the Spanish version
Higher education institutions everywhere are accumulating significant amounts of data about the way students engage with content, resources, and perform on academic tasks. This data can enable an early warning to faculty members about at-risk students, offering the possibility of preventive corrective measures. In order to improve the learner experience and accurately determine how reports will be shown to stakeholders, a learning analytics dashboard can play an important role in analyzing trends and turning available data into valuable insights.
At Dar Al-Hekma University, a leading teaching and research university for women in Saudi Arabia, learning analytics is leveraged to effectively understand the learning process as a whole. Dar Al-Hekma University (DAH) is made up of three major academic faculties: The School of Business and Law, the School of Design and Architecture, and the School of Education and Health Sciences, offering 11 bachelor’s degrees altogether.
Established in 1999, this non-profit higher education institution is dedicated to endowing its students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in today’s rapidly changing world. To achieve this goal, students and faculty need to make the most of the resources available. The university found that accurate reporting is key, as it allows analysts to implement adequate strategic initiatives based on trustworthy, complete, and easy-to-read data.
Rasha Malik, manager at DAH’s Systems and Applications Unit and a certified Blackboard Administrator at the university, believes that the digital learning environment benefits learners from all the different programs. “Information technology and everything that is related to the digital learning environment is essential in our university, and since it is a very dynamic matter, we have continually sought suitable information technology solutions to ensure students retain and improve their skills,” says Malik.
The university has also found that relying on accurate student data allows faculty developers to provide effective support, so professors are able to address gaps and adjust their classes. Before the beginning of each academic year, every faculty program submits their needs, which are then analyzed by faculty developers. As a result, all the requests from the different schools inform how the Information Technology department will prepare resources for the next term.
“We build confidence by nurturing student interaction with their peers, staff, faculty and the community, and the university is always updated with the technological infrastructure to serve students’ needs so they have the resources to do their best. We try to collaborate with programs by providing them with the latest resources and tools available in the market and supporting their implementation,” says Eman Musawa, system administrator at DAH.
“We require all faculty members to use the digital learning environment intensively in all courses. Since 2015, we have been replacing traditional examinations and most of the courses now have online assessments. Besides that, we are conducting a pilot project to activate virtual classes through Blackboard Learn,” comments Malik.
Constantly looking ahead, DAH recently implemented an in-house innovative statistical dashboard designed to track faculty performance and measure features usage. The dashboard was developed due to the need for a faculty statistical resources usage report and for an accurate performance appraisal. “We leverage data from the Blackboard Learn dashboard and customize it to generate an automatic report,” says Malik.
Musawa and Malik see a correlation between successful statistical information and the effective use of the digital learning environment. For this reason, they believe that developing accurate learning analytics is imperative in order to achieve the goals set by DAH, hence why this innovative statistical framework was an excellent solution for the university and is now supported by more comprehensive and intelligible data.
“The dashboard provides accurate statistics about Blackboard Learn features usage for each instructor and course. According to that, learner and faculty performance is measured to find out how the educational experience can be enhanced since we understand how students prefer to learn and which resources are the most useful to them. The result is an efficient and cost-effective statistical dashboard that allows access to real-time, comprehensive data,” says Malik.
Reports allow analysts to create strategic initiatives to achieve better learning results. Based on that, DAH can improve the learner experience and engage students and instructors in the digital learning environment by promoting group training, video tutorials, and one-to-one orientation.
“We encourage faculty and learners to use the digital learning environment, not only providing the latest features, but also ensuring they have sufficient knowledge to use it, so data is very important. Also, we always share Blackboard Learn best practices with instructors so they can make the most of the resources provided by the information technology department,” adds Musawa.
Saudi Vision 2030
Aligned with Saudi Arabia’s governmental program called Saudi Vision 2030, DAH is continuously improving resources and investing in more advanced and user-friendly digital environments. Because of that, all aspects related to online learning and the digital learning environment have changed rapidly at the university in recent years.
“International and local technology environments are moving at a very fast pace and we are aligned with Saudi Vision 2030. According to this blueprint, all organizations in Saudi Arabia, especially universities and schools, must keep up with the technological environments to provide comprehensive education to local and international students. We think the future will constantly bring changes and new possibilities to improve education and we are committed to using them for the benefit of our students,” concludes Malik.
Saudi Arabia’s Educational System
Public education is open to every Saudi citizen and education is compulsory from ages six to 14. The country’s literacy rate among the population aged between 15 and 24 years is 99.2% and in general the population above 15 years of age has a literacy rate of 94.4% (96.5% for males and 91.4% for females).3
The pursuit of gender equality is relatively new but rapidly improving. Although public institutions are divided by gender, many changes have been implemented to promote gender equality, such as the newly introduced physical education classes for girls at school. Vision 2030 recognizes women’s potential to strengthen the workforce, and is one of the factors that have allowed women to pursue their academic goals. Today, women comprise the majority of the student population in Saudi universities.4
Currently, there are 28 public universities and 10 private universities spread all over the kingdom, and Saudi Arabia continues the rapid expansion of higher education. University capacity increased to 1.7 million students, up from 850,000 in 2009 and 636,000 in 2006, and graduate programs expanded and diversified to meet the goal of ensuring 5% of the student population are post-graduate students.5
Saudi Vision 2030
A blueprint set in 2008 that aims to diversify the country’s economy and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, and tourism.1
These are commonly utilized in many fields, such as finance and healthcare, but are still not widely used in educational technologies. In education, they are usually primarily intended for faculty, administrators and other professionals. However, students also can greatly benefit from specific dashboards.2
1 Vision 2030. (n.d.). Our Vision: Saudi Arabia… the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, the investment powerhouse, and the hub connecting three continents. Retrieved April 23, 2018, from http://vision2030.gov.sa/en/foreword.
2 Whitmer, John. (2017, February 2). Surprising lessons from research on student feedback about data dashboards. Retrieved May 23, 2018, from http://blog.blackboard.com/research-student-feedback-data-dashboards.
3 Unesco Institute for Statistics. (n.d). Retrieved April 29, 2018, from http://uis.unesco.org/country/SA.
4 Forwerck. M. (2017, July 2017). The Borgen Project New Strides in Girls’ Education in Saudi Arabia. Retrieved April 29, 2018 from https://borgenproject.org/girls-education-in-saudi-arabia.
5 Al-Youbi. A The development and advancement of higher education in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Retrieved April 28, from http://qswownews.com/higher-education-in-saudi-arabia.
Photos by: AFP – Services Photo