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K. Gole[edit]

Customizing Distance Learning Platforms with Google Analytics[edit]

Customizing Distance Learning Environments with Goolge Analytics
K-12 School Computer Networking/Chapter 25

Customizing Distance Learning Experiences With Web-based Metrics[edit]

At the epicenter of good instruction is the fundamental principle that assessment drives instruction. This truth endures in all good classroom environments. A seasoned educator will utilize a combination of student feedback and both terminal and ongoing assessments. Clearly, assessment’s relationship to instruction continues to affect distance learning environments. Most would agree that assessment affects distance learning to the same degree as an in-person classroom; however, a new form of assessment informs distance learning to an even greater extent than a traditional classroom setting.

With the advent of Web 2.0 multimedia tools, a new dimention has been added to the variety of Internet-based distance learning environments. Although both Web 2.0 and distance learning environments are ultimately in their infancy (so their destiny presently remains uncertain), many of the core principles of excellence in teaching and learning unrelentingly apply. Simply stated, a teacher must manage the classroom (virtual or otherwise). A distance learning instructor must acutely supervise her/his class similarly to the manner in which a good K-12 classroom teacher practices efficient management skills. Until recently, technological limitations inhibited distance learning instructors from easily monitoring many of the aspects of sound classroom management. The lack of first-person direct contact placed limits on the instructor’s ability to manage student collaboration, dialog, and scheduling issues.

The information gap among students and teacher which was created by Internet-based distance learning platforms has receded due to web-based metrics. Web-based metrics are a form of ongoing assessment used by website designers, marketing researchers, and, heretofore distance learning instructors to gauge the accessibility, efficiency, and the popularity of their website. More specifically, website metrics provide detailed statistics on a given website. Information includes: name, IP address, location (physical), browser and version, OS, date, time, accessing point, duration onsite, movement within a website, point of exit, and more. Melding lessons learned in the arenas of website development, marketing research, and instructional best practices, web-based metrics are an excellent means of gathering relevant information for customizing distance learning environments. Using web-based metrics, the instructor can view the frequency with which her/his coursework is being accessed. The instructor can better manage the dates for posting new instructional materials, and he/she can create more thoughtful due dates for discussion posting requirements. Moreover, the instructor can assess the efficiency of the platform; thereby, she/he can better decide if the platform is good, needs improvement, or should be entirely replaced.

The primary tool for evaluating website metrics is Google Analytics. Google Analytics gives the website designer, business owner, or distance learning instructor the ability to scrutinize website traffic data. Technologically speaking, Google Analytics is a java script that one embeds into the coding of his/her webpage or Internet-based learning platform. After the website designer signs up for an open source Google Analytics account, the java script is provided free online. Then, when a user opens that page, that users information is sent to Google, archived, and analyzed according to the account holder’s specifications. When the account holder wants the pre-analyzed information she/he can login to Google Analytics, or he/she can have that information automatically emailed to a designated email address. The java script that Google Analytics is based on creates a system of metrics that enables the account holder to view the history of Internet volume on a given website. Beyond simple measurements of volume, Google Analytics provides its administrator with the opportunity to view metrics including: bounce ratio, number of new visitors, average time on site, goals met, and percent change of the aforementioned statistics. Furthermore, Google Analytics provides the designer with the ability to organize each series of statistics by day (within an approximate three hour delay), week, month, and year.

Among the most powerful metrics provided by Google Analytics, is goal setting. Goal setting enables the designer to assign a website starting point endpoint, and pathway, or series of pathways, to actualization. The process begins by designating a starting point called a landing page. Channels are then created by assigning one or more suitable pathways. These pathways are referred to as funnels, and thus, multiple funnels can be assigned to a singular goal. For example, a person designing a website for a small business can view the frequency with which a visitor is finding her or his way to Paypal. Or, a distance learning instructor can view the efficiency with which students are locating online instructional materials. Google Analytics provides data on where traffic came from prior to opening the landing page, and it provides data on where those who exited the funneling process went next. Thereby, Google Analytics enables the designer to see the degree to which a site is being efficiently (or possible inefficiently) used. Conceptually, Google Analytics is a nearly instant feedback system of marketing research data in the context of website design that a distance learning instructor can assimilate into the body of knowledge requisite to manage an Internet-based classroom environment.

Using the time on site, goals, and bounce rate tools, a distance learning instructor can ensure that students are properly adhering to the distance learning class regulations. Consider this example: A teacher is creating an Internet-based distance learning platform; class will be taught on video to be streamed in its entirety each week, but according to the students’ schedules; the student must login, view the video, and conclude by authoring a posting. As long as the video is streaming, the time on site metric will guarantee that the student accessed the video in its totality. Although the instructor can’t be certain that the student is paying attention to the video, often that cannot be ascertained in-person either. The goals tool ensures that the students are able to find the discussion board, and it very quickly informs the instructor of the number of students who have completed the assignment.

Bounce rate is the number of users that opened the website, in this case a distance learning platform, and immediately left. So, the bounce rate further certifies that the student did not just login and leave. It is possible the student believed they could deceive the wary instructor by logging in, skipping the video, and posting later. Or, potentially the site is too confusing or misleading, and the instructor should amend it. Very often, users will immediately give up if they perceive a website as confusing. The degree to which users resign themselves to convoluted oblivion and immediately quit incontrovertibly applies to distance learning platforms. Additionally, the instructor views his/her students’ web traffic data and can change requirements and due dates accordingly. Given the prior example, the instructor uses Google Analytics finding that ninety percent of the class views and posts on Sunday nights just before the last possible moment that the work is due. The instructor wants to actualize the cumulative knowledge of the class by having students’ postings build upon one another. Since the instructor now knows the exact time, date and volume of postings, she/he could either move the group’s due date forward or could assign students individualized, differentiated due dates to each class member. Thereby, the instructor could utilize the data from Google Analytics to regulate peer-to-peer discussions.

Identifying trends in students’ Internet traffic is made easier with the Google Analytics graphic dashboard. The Google Analytics dashboard provides metrics represented in the form of a variety of graphing tools and data-based maps. Google Analytics provides flexible graphing tools to view number of visits over time as pie chart, list of percentages, or in linear graph form. A sliding tool further enables the instructor to highlight and compare usage trends over time, and the mapping tool provides data ranging across country, state, and locality. By using the information discerned from past trends, the instructor can then predict the future habits of students in a given distance learning scenario. Since Google Analytics is a powerful tool for instructors developing or simply using distance learning platforms, it can enable instructors to transcend the confines of an in-person classroom environment. Past limitations imposed on distance learning experiences can be minimal by studying web traffic data; moreover, Google Analytics can assist the instructor in flexibly grouping students in different ways that make it superior to in-person models. Using the aforementioned example, the instructor can combine students in groups based upon specific days and times relating to the confines of their work schedules. Or, by using the mapping feature from the dashboard the instructor may assign specific content organized by geographic region. Therefore, Google Analytics gives the instructor the opportunity to customize the class content and schedule around the needs and interests of the students.

In conclusion, many enduring principles of excellence in instruction continue to apply to distance learning. However, new evolutions in technology offer the potential for new types of educational experiences. Strong instruction is built upon pragmatic elements of classroom management. Student-to-student dialog, ensuring the thorough completion of activities, sensible scheduling, and self-evaluating the clarity of instruction can all be improved upon in the web-based distance learning environment by keeping a system metrics. Google provides this service free; and although it is typically used by webpage designers and marketing researchers, Google Analytics can empower educators with the ability to better supervise online classes.