The power of Learner Profiles for developing student agency

When learners are exposed to progress(ion) information, we can develop student agency as they will be better able to identify personal steps they can take to continue to grow. Learner profiles offer the opportunity for students to critically reflect on their progression and learning processes and how they might improve them, regardless of achievement levels.

When we work with schools generally they are after analytics dashboards which will help school leaders, teachers and parents make decisions to support the education of their students. On the issue of whether the analytics should be used by students themselves, many schools express a reticence. Why is that? 

If we consider other fields of work that are data-driven like sales or marketing, we can easily draw a link between objectives like increasing profitability and improving customer engagement and the data we collect and measure. The aims dictate what data is needed and the measures to be used. Are the aims of presenting analytics to students equally as clear?

Learner profiles and learner analytics can provide students access to understand their own learning processes and encourage sense-making, a range of metacognitive activities and critical reflection. Such practices are widely recognised as important in education and critical to developing student agency.

But what is agency and how should we understand the term in the educational context? To explain, I'll paraphrase the OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030 framework (OECD, 2019):

Agency empowers students to act with a sense of purpose. As they develop their agency, they rely on motivation, self-efficacy and a growth mindset to navigate towards well-being.

Perhaps any reticence school leaders experience when considering presenting analytics to students is justified. Rarely are analytics products geared towards analysing and expressing the learning process. Rather they are positioned towards school leaders and teachers and are concerned with risk identification, results tracking and benchmarking.


Reshaping analytics for learners.

When it comes to designing our learner profiles and learner-facing analytics, improved motivation, self-efficacy and a growth mindset are the objectives that help guide us. This forces us to reconsider:

  1. the ways in which summative and historical data will be used to inform what a student should do next and how they might approach challenges; and
  2. the shift from achievement to progress data.

The aim of the following brief example is to illustrate the ways in which we are thinking about learner-facing analytics, our Learner Profile and ways to better support students.


Progress, not achievement.

Comparing a student's results to cohort, level-expectation or the state average is necessary work for teachers and school leaders, but what should a student do next, in seeing that they are At Expectation for Literacy, or Band 7 for Reading? The trick in providing a student with what they need to build their self-efficacy and see their learning process is in the connection to curriculum frameworks.

While 'Literacy' encompasses too many assessments and too long a span of time to be useful for a next step, "Explore and explain the combinations of language and visual choices that authors make to present information, opinions and perspectives in different texts" is very specific. By presenting progress and proficiency at this level of detail, a student can see what to focus on for the next task; something particular to work at. 

A common technique used for the analysis of student strengths and challenges is a Guttman chart and consequentially, a student's zone of proximal development. In short, it's a process that calculates the point at which a student can no longer consistently answer questions correctly along a continuum of questions gradually increasing in complexity. This point represents the content that is a reasonable challenge for them. 

When we automate and align this methodology with the specificity of curriculum descriptors we can provide students with clarity on the skills they're demonstrating right now, and the skills which constitute a manageable stretch goal. It's highly specific and highly personalised.


Building practice.

Presenting students with their own data need not be considered a big leap. After all, many of our students will be accustomed to performance dashboards in games or fitness trackers and engagement metrics in social media. These services deliver information about progress and an action's impact on performance. It's compelling because this information is of core interest to users. In that same vein, learner-facing analytics in education should be geared towards helping students learn about their own learning processes, and how to improve them.

The extent to which this is a success depends on how analytics are presented to students and the ways in which schools build analytics meaningfully into their pedagogical and pastoral programmes. In order to support students in understanding, making use of, or even refuting the analytics, schools must also build their students' data literacy and make reflection on action part of the culture. 


How can I use analytics to develop student agency at my school?

Check out Albitros, Intellischool's advanced analytics tool designed specifically for K-12 schools. Albitros provides a suite of ready-made, easy-to-interpret and immediately accessible dashboards for schools.


Cover photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash.

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