#LTHEChat 225 Tweetchat – 2 February 2022 – Supporting and humanising behavioural change without the behaviourism: nudges and digital footprints

Ameena Payne, Martin Compton, Sophie Kennedy

Hosted by an early career researcher, educator and incoming doctoral student (Payne), senior researcher and educator (Compton) and disabled, undergraduate psychology student (Kennedy), our collaborative and interactive tweetchat aims to explore how behavioural change in online, higher education can be supported without behaviouristic approaches. Specifically, we will engage in discussion on how nudges and digital footprints may be deployed effectively to empower marginalised students – and the potential pitfalls of such data-driven pedagogy.

When students engage in online learning, they leave behind digital footprints, artefacts that trace their activities such as contributions, page views and communications. Digital learning management systems (LMS) generate data from these footprints that can provide insight into student progress and engagement as it relates to student success. These data are called learner analytics (LAs). LAs encompass the broad data mining, collection, analysis, and sharing/reporting/disseminating of students’ digital footprints. LAs are shaping the role of online instruction and student self-regulated learning by promoting ‘actionable intelligence’ (Bayne et al., 2020, p. 71), allowing instructors to orient students and empowering students to orient themselves. 

The growing adoption and interest in LAs has supported a strategic commitment to transparency regarding key drivers for improved student engagement, retention and success. At the same time, concerns are increasingly voiced around the extent to which students are informed about, supported (or hindered by), and tracked and surveilled as they engage online. It is important to acknowledge that making pedagogical conclusions based on delimited dimensions creates a context for stereotyping and discrimination, and profiling can result in hindering students’ potential and may hurt self-efficacy.

Nudge theory, coined by behaviour economist Richard Thaler, connects persuasion with design principles (Thaler, 2015). A nudge is an approach that focuses not on punishment and reward (behaviourism) but encourages positive choices and decisions – fundamental is understanding the context.
We’d like to share a few assumptions as we engage in this discussion:

  • Academic staff have a responsibility to support our increasingly diverse body of students and need to be open to new tools and techniques such as data generated by our students’ digital footprints and opportunities offered by behavioural psychology.
  • Achievement differentials and attainment gaps exist for marginalised students. Disabled students, or students with executive dysfunction, may struggle with skills vital to independent study and content learning e.g., initiation, planning, organisation, etc. For disabled students, a product of being under-served by higher education institutions (HEIs) is that they often demonstrate lower levels of engagement which leads to disproportionate completion rates and, subsequently, employment rates and other outcomes. 
  • Behaviouristic approaches (rewards and sanctions) are at the heart of much of what we still do in education but there have been movements and trends challenging manifestations of this – from banning of corporal punishment in schools to rapid growth in interest in ungrading. 
  • LMS data are not indicators of students’ potential and merit. LAs are not impartial; they are creations of human design. By giving a voice to the data, we’re defining their meaning through our interpretations.

It is valuable to build in periodic or persistent nudges of and toward ‘both the goal and its value’ to empower all students to sustain their efforts (CAST, 2018). We advocate the implementation of nudges as something that can be useful for everyone using an LMS, as compared to a tool aimed directly at disabled students, who may feel singled out. We hold that nudging is less of an evolution of behaviourism but more of a challenge to its ubiquity and all the common assumptions about its effectiveness. We propose the employment of empathy, human connection (in contrast with carrot and stick approaches of education) and understanding to help effect small changes through supportive nudges. Nudging, prompted by LAs, is one way to approach improving achievement, narrowing gaps and offering connection and support for all students. 

Q1 – If nudging students is less about coercive practises (punishments and rewards) and more about ‘soft’, small-step connections towards positive change, what examples can you offer from your practice?

Q2 – What role does/could learning analytics (LAs) play in shaping our in-course interactions with students, particularly those from marginalised groups? 

Q3 – LAs risks profiling students and driving inequality. How might we address the weaknesses of LAs (such as the cognitive biases we may bring to its interpretation and/or some students being advantaged by extra guidance)?

Q4 – What role might nudging and/ or LAs play in personalising/adaptive learning?

Q5 – Regarding the complex issues in the nexus of student agency & subjectivity, privacy, consent, & vulnerability, how might we differentiate between LAs & surveillance in online HE?

Q6 – Can nudges assist students in overcoming ‘learned helplessness’ especially when breaking through cycles of negative thoughts and self-blame? If so, how might nudges support students in taking control of their educational experiences?

Join us on Wed, 2 Feb at 8p (GMT) / Thu, 3 Feb at 7a (AEDT)




Further reading:

Bayne, S., Evans, P., Ewins, R., Knox, J., Lamb, J., Mcleod, H., et al. (2020). The Manifesto for Teaching Online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. http://udlguidelines.cast.org

Commissioner for Fair Access. (2019). Disabled students at university: discussion paper. Scottish Government. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/commissioner-fair-access-discussion-paper-disabled-students-university/

Gašević, D., Dawson, S., & Siemens, G. (2015). Let’s not forget: Learning analytics are about learning. TechTrends, 59(1), 64-71. https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11528-014-0822-x.pdf 

Lim, L. A., Gentili, S., Pardo, A., Kovanović, V., Whitelock-Wainwright, A., Gašević, D., & Dawson, S. (2021). What changes, and for whom? A study of the impact of learning analytics-based process feedback in a large course. Learning and Instruction, 72, 101202.

Payne, A. L., Compton, M. & Kennedy, S. (In Progress). ‘Supporting and humanising behavioural change without the behaviorism: nudges and digital footprints.’ Human Data Interaction, Disadvantage and Skills in the Community: Enabling Cross-Sector Environments For Postdigital Inclusion. Springer.

Prinsloo, P. (2016). “Decolonising the Collection, Analyses and Use of Student Data: A Tentative Exploration/Proposal.” Open Distance Teaching and Learning (blog). https://opendistanceteachingandlearning.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/decolonising-the-collection-analyses-and-use-of-student-data-a-tentative-explorationproposal/.

Prinsloo, P., & Slade, S.(2015). Student privacy self-management: implications for learning analytics. In Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Learning Analytics And Knowledge (LAK ’15). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 83–92. https://doi.org/10.1145/2723576.2723585

Prinsloo, P., & Slade, S. (2016). Student Vulnerability, Agency and Learning Analytics: An Exploration. Journal of Learning Analytics, 3(1), 159–182. https://doi.org/10.18608/jla.2016.31.10

Roberts, L. D., Howell, J. A., Seaman, K., & Gibson, D. C. (2016). Student Attitudes toward Learning Analytics in Higher Education: “The Fitbit Version of the Learning World”. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 1959. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01959

Thaler, R. (2015). The Power of Nudges, for Good and Bad. The New York Times. Available at: https://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/-/media/faculty/richard-thaler/assets/files/goodandbad.pdf

Weijers, R.J., de Koning, B.B. & Paas, F. (2021). Nudging in education: from theory towards guidelines for successful implementation. Eur J Psychol Educ 36, 883–902). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-020-00495-0

Inclusive Assessment: Recognising Difference through Communities of Praxis – Review – CRADLE Symposium – 26 October 2021

Following a well-attended CRADLE symposium keynote from Prof. Penny Jane Burke, I reflected on the key points arising from the event. Read the summary on CRADLE News:

#100DaysofWriting Inclusive & Engaging Pedagogy

During our upcoming workshop on Thursday, 8/26 (6-7pm ET), we’ll be joined by Pascale Guiton and Eve Higby to discuss how to better engage students across different platforms, develop inclusive pedagogy, and nudge students toward success both inside and outside the classroom! There will be something for everyone to learn and we especially encourage students to join to share their experiences!
The session will take place Thursday, August 26, from 6-7pm ET.
Register here: http://tinyurl.com/100DaysRound6

Nudging in Online Higher Education

Economist Richard Thaler has studied how people are motivated and how they make decisions; he has been involved in research that connects persuasion with design principles to form the theory of behaviour economics.

A nudge is an approach ‘that changes the context in which decisions are presented to in order to encourage a particular choice’ (Einfield & Blomkamp, 2021). The greatest benefit of nudging is the shift towards good decision-making which is in the users’ interests.

As a Bachelor of Science (Business) graduate, I became familiar with Thaler and other behavioural economists. I was inspired to apply the concept of nudging in my teaching practice. Since 2019, I have been reframing non-engagement. Using learner analytics, I identify late or non-submissions of assessments. Then, I nudge students who have not yet submitted (but the deadline has not yet passed). I initiate with a message subject of ‘Need more time to submit? Do you have questions?’ I also send simple ’well done’ messages to students who have submitted prior to the deadline – as positive reinforcement.

I noticed you’ve not yet submitted Assignment 3, ‘Brand You’. Not to worry! You still have time to submit! It is due by 5p tomorrow – Friday 5 February. This message is a reminder that if you would like to request an extension, it’s not too late. I am approving all 48-hour extension requests. So, if you feel you may need one, please request one now via the Assignment Tab under ‘Request for Assignment Extension’. If you have questions, please post up on the Q&A discussion forum – between myself and your peers, we will be available to answer questions! All the best, Ameena

I have found nudging to be effective within the online environment. My student cohort are first year and traditionally under-served students who may be anxious to get started, may be unaware of the student support services available to them, and/or due to competing demands, may need to further develop their time management skills to accommodate their new academic endeavour.

Important – “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – EDU10024 Academic Skills for Success –
It looks like you haven’t yet had the opportunity to log in to Canvas, your online classroom for in Learning Group 01 of EDU10024 Academic Skills for Success. I understand there could be various reasons for this – from technical issues to a busy schedule. Regardless of the reason, I am touching base to help you get on track in your unit. The first couple of weeks tend to take off quickly as we build social networks, conceptual understanding, and knowledge of academic skills for success. My recommendation is to access Canvas and the skill building and assessment exercises as early as possible as it’s always harder to play catch-up than it is to do a little each day. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any queries.
“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” – Zig Ziglar

Sending messages to students who have not yet taken an action that will benefit their learning journey may assist learners in developing effective self-regulatory behaviour. The nudge should act as a call to action – e.g. a prompt to submit, request an extension, or review the learning materials to ensure a quality future submission. 

Deployed appropriately, nudges can steer learners to make better choices. However, we must consider student privacy and ethics. In The Manifesto for Online Teaching, Bayne and colleagues (2020) ask us to consider how can we may ensure values-based systems of monitoring student engagement.

Well-tailored digital nudges can help enable persistence, improve unit pass rates and retention. When thoughtfully written, they can also lead to increased student satisfaction with the unit and affect toward the instructor (it demonstrates care and may build trust)! 

What are your thoughts and experiences? How else might we nudge adult learners – gently pushing behaviors in the desired direction?

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