Author: Dr. Diane Reddy, Professor of Psychology
Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Educators at colleges and universities across the United States are enhancing instructional practices through learning analytics, thanks to the capabilities of learning management systems (LMS). Instructors and administrators can now access an abundance of new data identifying student needs.
Still, instructors who access learning analytics must decide how to effectively act on this information, how to best approach their students and offer support that is most likely to facilitate their students’ learning.
At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the U-Pace online instructional approach offers guidance for making these decisions, outlining how instructors can create messages called Amplified Assistance—which is designed to support students as they tackle challenges and take control of their learning. (Multiple studies have found that these proactive, personalized instructor-initiated messages help students to achieve success.)
How It Works
To build Amplified Assistance messages, U-Pace instructors use data from any LMS to identify specific concepts that pose a challenge to individual students, and the scores related to any quiz attempts. With this information, instructors can then send positive messages that incorporate both personalized help with content and an unwavering belief in that student’s ability to succeed. These messages also recognize the effort and small steps that students are taking towards success, encouraging further personal and academic growth.
A Positive Approach
We recognize that it may seem counterintuitive to send unconditionally positive messages to struggling students; instructors may feel that they should call out negative aspects of students’ behaviors to encourage those students to change, or instructors may fear giving the impression that they accept average or sub-standard work. However, we designed U-Pace instruction to hold students to high standards while still recognizing their efforts and small achievements on the way to reaching those standards.
By focusing on shaping positive behavior rather than correcting negative behavior, U-Pace instructors avoid overwhelming students—particularly those who may already feel unable to cope—and avoid the risk of inadvertently discouraging those already struggling with challenging material.
Instead, U-Pace instructors’ communications actually increase students’ motivation and autonomy over both the short- and long-term. Amplified Assistance messages praise students based on the student’s actual behavior, focusing on present strengths rather than past weaknesses, and emphasize effort/work process rather than general ability or intelligence (see American Educator, 2005-06, for more information).
What Students Are Saying
Students reported feeling more instructor support and encouragement than those in conventional lecture sections. In fact, U-Pace students who received Amplified Assistance messages earned more A’s and B’s in their course than their counterparts taught in a conventional lecture setting (EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Case Study). U-Pace also has been shown to reduce the achievement gap often experienced by disadvantaged students due to factors associated with socioeconomic status as well as race or ethnicity (Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks).
Evidence of Success
On top of all of these promising results, U-Pace students consistently outperform conventionally taught students on cumulative final exams in a proctored classroom, and also demonstrate greater retention of information six months after the course (EDUCAUSE Review Online). Research supported by NGLC and the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences continues to build empirical evidence for U-Pace instruction and its Amplified Assistance messages.
This collection of empirical evidence—which includes a large randomized controlled study where learners did not self-select the online U-Pace or conventional face-to-face format of their course—points to U-Pace as a strong instructional approach that allows educators to capitalize on learning analytics data. Through U-Pace, instructors can help students learn how to cope with—and ultimately, overcome—their most pressing academic challenges.