January 8, 2018 | Higher Education, MOOC

    Q&A with Paul Walsh: Analyzing edX Data for Insight into Student Success and Student Movement at the University System of Maryland

    As the second state system to join edX an online learning destination and MOOC provider founded by Harvard University and MIT in 2012, the University System of Maryland partnered with HelioCampus to assist with the system’s edX analytics initiative called USMx. HelioCampus is serving as the data czar for the USMx courses, totaling over 100,000 enrollments since its launch in July of 2016. The ability to explore and mine the data across the USMx platform was a primary driver of this partnership.

     Paul Walsh is the program director for the USMx initiative and works with the University System of Maryland’s institutions to expand access to affordable, high-quality education opportunities via the edX platform. This conversation provides insight into key questions the System is trying to answer including how to best identify and recruit students from USMx programs who may eventually enroll at a Maryland school and how students are engaging and performing in USMx courses and programs.

    What are the preliminary results from your implementation with HelioCampus?

    The initial reports provided by HelioCampus have been related to marketing and enrollment so USM can understand who is potentially coming to the System with certificates in hand. HelioCampus has been willing to answer a lot of our questions as we ventured down a road we'd never been on before. Trying to understand what we wanted out of the data before we even have it was difficult. edX provided data dictionaries that HelioCampus was able to help us decipher, but really it wasn't until we started getting data out of our first courses that we were able to get our heads around what it was telling us or not telling us. It's been a little bit of a learning curve for us, and it's been good to have HelioCampus along with us on that journey. 

    How is HelioCampus helping you understand student success within USMx courses?

     With a MOOC, you're talking about tens of thousands of users. We can now determine things like where student progression stops, or at what point students are hitting a success/failure wall in a given assignment. HelioCampus is already giving me feedback on things to consider regarding the data, based now on design and student success, so that we can have better passage rates, better engagement, more meaningful dialogue, and real impact in our courses. 

    How is HelioCampus helping you and your team understand the data and take action?

    There's a bridge that HelioCampus is helping us walk. Most of the time your faculty and instructional designers don't necessarily have experience with learning analytics. Most people involved in learning analytics don't necessarily understand pedagogy or instructional design. One of the things HelioCampus immediately helped me with is determining the next key questions we want to ask, and next steps we need to take. What does student success look like for someone who has a background in these edX courses as opposed to somebody who has only been a traditional campus student? Now we have the opportunity to get into how engaged students are and the impact of a given assignment in a given week.

    What are some common misconceptions people have about data analytics?

    First, that it's easy. Or, on the flip side but equally true, that it's so hard it's impossible to figure out. To a lot of people, it may seem like a foreign language that they just don't speak and don't know how to convert data into action.

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