Affordances and limitations of learning analytics for computer-assisted language learning: a case study of the VITAL project

Gelan, Anouk, Fastre, Fastre, Verjans, Martine, Martin, Niels, Jansenswillen, Gert, Creemers, Mathijs, Lieben, Jonas and Thomas, Michael orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-6451-4439 (2018) Affordances and limitations of learning analytics for computer-assisted language learning: a case study of the VITAL project. Computer Assisted Language Learning . pp. 1-26. ISSN 0958-8221

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Learning analytics (LA) has emerged as a field that offers promising new ways to support failing or weaker students, prevent drop-out and aid retention. However, other research suggests that large datasets of learner activity can be used to understand online learning behaviour and improve pedagogy. While the use of LA in language learning has received little attention to date, available research suggests that understanding language learner behaviour could provide valuable insights into task design for instructors and materials designers, as well as help students with effective learning strategies and personalised learning pathways. This paper first discusses previous research in the field of language learning and teaching based on learner tracking and the specific affordances of LA for CALL, as well as its inherent limitations and challenges. The second part of the paper analyses data arising from the European Commission (EC) funded VITAL project that adopted a bottom-up pedagogical approach to LA and implemented learner activity tracking in different blended or distance learning settings. Referring to data arising from 285 undergraduate students on a Business French course at Hasselt University which used a flipped classroom design, statistical and process-mining techniques were applied to map and visualise actual uses of online learning resources over the course of one semester.
Results suggested that most students planned their self-study sessions in accordance with the flipped classroom design, both in terms of their timing of online activity and selection of contents. Other metrics measuring active online engagement – a crucial component of successful flipped learning - indicated significant differences between successful and non-successful students. Meaningful learner patterns were revealed in the data, visualising students’ paths through the online learning environment and uses of the different activity types. The research implied that valuable insights for instructors, course designers and students can be acquired based on the tracking and analysis of language learner data and the use of visualisation and process-mining tools.

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