Special Report
College & Workforce Readiness

Data Mining Opens Window on Student Engagement

By Holly Kurtz — June 02, 2014 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Ask students if they always try their hardest in class, and they might say “yes” because that’s what their mother told them to do. Or maybe if the students are a little older, they say “never,” because they are trying on a carefree attitude to impress their friends.

Those are just some of the problems that researchers encounter when they try to measure engagement by surveying students about themselves.

Enter educational data mining. Long used in business settings, the practice is newer to education. It involves using strings of data collected during computerized instruction to identify patterns. Once identified, the patterns can then be used to improve the instruction by, for instance, eliminating a scenario in which students tend to lose interest and stop playing an educational game. The strategy can be used to track when and why students might be off task and to draw broader conclusions about different aspects of instruction, including learner engagement.

For instance, for a study that appeared last year in the peer-reviewed Journal of Educational Data Mining, Jennifer Sabourin, then a doctoral student at North Carolina State University, and her colleagues analyzed data from “Crystal Island,” a computer game that teaches middle school students about microbiology. Based on that data, the researchers were able to tell when students were playing the game as intended and when they seemed to be disengaged because they were indulging in off-task behavior like climbing trees to reach virtual rooftops. As expected, the researchers found that students who were frequently off task learned less.

But the game had another feature that led to a more unexpected conclusion: Every seven minutes, a box popped up onscreen asking students to classify their emotional states. That led researchers to discover that off-task behavior seemed to help some students collect themselves when they got frustrated. After playing around a bit, their frustration lessened and they returned to the game.

Tool for Program Evaluation

Besides its use in studying or assessing the engagement of individual students, data mining can also be a tool for ongoing program or course evaluation. In a 2012 article published in the peer-reviewed journal, Educational Technology & Society, a research team led by Jui-Long Hung, an associate professor of educational technology at Boise State University in Idaho, demonstrated how this might work. The team combined student learning logs, demographic data, and end-of-course evaluation surveys to assess a supplemental, online learning program for K-12 students. The data included information from 7,539 students taking 883 courses in the program. The researchers created an engagement index that assessed how students interacted with each course that included the frequency of logins and clicks and the average number of discussion-board entries. After combining these results with other information, such as students’ grades, the researchers found that more-engaged students got better grades. But in the entry-level courses, engaged and disengaged students alike had lower performance, leading researchers to suggest that these courses might have “structure, design, and/or support issues.”

In their report, Mr. Hung and his co-authors tout the benefits of combining data mining with other information to evaluate engagement. “The result is a much richer and deeper analysis of student performance and teaching, as well as of effective course design, than could ever be accomplished with survey data or behavior mining alone,” they write.

Coverage of school climate and student behavior and engagement is supported in part by grants from the Atlantic Philanthropies, the NoVo Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, and the California Endowment. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness From Our Research Center Class of COVID: 2021's Graduates Are Struggling More and Feeling the Stress
COVID-19 disrupted the class of 2020’s senior year. A year later, the transition to college has in some ways gotten worse.
7 min read
Conceptual illustration of young adults in limbo
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness From Our Research Center Helping Students Plan How to Pay for College Is More Important Than Ever: Schools Can Help
Fewer and fewer high school graduates have applied for federal financial aid for college since the pandemic hit.
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration of young person sitting on top of a financial trend line.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision<br/>
College & Workforce Readiness Louisiana Student Finds Stability Amid Tumultuous Freshman Year
Logan Balfantz arrived at the University of Notre Dame last fall considering himself one of the lucky graduates in 2020.
3 min read
Logan Balfantz
Logan Balfantz
Courtesy of Sarah Kubinski
College & Workforce Readiness Layoffs, COVID, Spotty Internet: A Fla. Student Persists in College
Bouts with COVID-19 were just the latest challenges to face class of 2020 graduate Magdalena Estiverne and her family.
2 min read
Magdalina Estiverne poses for a portrait at her home in Orlando, Fla., on October 2, 2020. Estiverne graduated from high school in the spring of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Orlando, Fla., student Magdalena Estiverne poses for a portrait in 2020, four months after her high school graduation.
Eve Edelheit for Education Week