Macquarie University
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Early alert systems using learning analytics to determine and improve student engagement and academic success in a unit: student and teacher perspectives

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posted on 2022-03-28, 23:47 authored by Amara Atif
Given the focus on boosting retention rates and the potential benefits of proactive and early identification of students who may require support, higher education institutions are looking at the data already captured in university systems. The student early alert system is a formal, proactive, early intervention communication system that institutions have put into place to help with the timely identification (alert) and intervention of at-risk students. The significance of student early alert systems is that support could be offered to high-risk students while they are still enrolled in the unit and able to influence their success/failure before the unit completes. Delivering timely interventions to students via a student early alert system typically requires teaching staff to identify at-risk students, and act upon that information in a way that would encourage students to change their behaviours.The research in this thesis carefully investigates the students’ and teachers’ perceptions on the use of learning analytics tool to identify disengaged students/at risk students and/or suggest intervention/s using student early alert systems. Furthermore, this thesis draws on the existing student success and retention literature to build a student engagement and academic success (SEAS) conceptual framework that incorporates teacher and student perspectives to early alert systems. The specific research questions explored in this thesis are: What are the opinions and preferences of students with respect to early alerts? How do students respond (attitude) to receiving an early alert/intervention? Do students report change in behaviour for how they studied for a unit, if they actually receive an early alert? Do early alerts increase student performance and motivation to continue in the unit? Do early alert notifications increase student motivation to utilise the campus student support services? What are the perceptions of teachers with respect to early alerts? What information would the teaching staff find meaningful to include in a student early alert system? What are the potential barriers to early alert system usage? What are the experiences and motivations of teachers with regard to usage, helpfulness and barriers/challenges to the use of a prototype early alert system? This PhD project followed mixed methods design to answer the above research questions. The research was undertaken in the form of two studies: ‘student perspective’ study and ‘teacher perspective’ study. Then, results from both studies were compared and interpreted. By using mixed methods design, this thesis has the potential to achieve the respondent group triangulation (students and teachers) in empirical evidence and to overcome some of the limitations within singular methods. The main contributions of this thesis are: (1) development of a theoretical framework to understand the perspectives of students and teachers regarding early alerts; (2) the development and use of ‘exploratory instruments’ for investigating the opinions and preferences of students on their attitudes towards the interventions and perceptions of teachers with respect to early alert process, and advantages and limitations to the use of early alert systems; and (3) development of a student engagement and academic success (SEAS) conceptual framework at the unit level. This study offers implications and recommendations for administrators, department, faculty, and institutions focused on utilising early alert systems as a retention tool. Study findings contribute to the body of knowledge on the future use and application of learning analytics tools such as early alert process, support and interventions based on the student and teacher perspectives.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Literature review -- Chapter 3. Research design and methodology -- Chapter 4. The student perspective study -- Chapter 5. The teacher perspective study -- Chapter 6. Conceptual Student Engagement Academic Success (SEAS) framework -- Chapter 7. Moodle Engagement Analytics Plugin (MEAP+) Now -- Chapter 8. Conclusions, recommendations and future work -- References -- Appendices.


Bibliography: pages 292-314 Empirical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Department of Computing

Department, Centre or School

Department of Computing

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Deborah (Computer scientist) Richards

Additional Supervisor 1

Ayse Bilgin

Additional Supervisor 2

Mauricio Marrone


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