A First Metadata Schema for Learning Analytics Research Data Management
In most cases, research data builds the ground for scientific work and to gain new knowledge. Learning analytics is the science to improve learning in different fields of the educational sector. Even though it is a data-driven science, there is no research data management culture or concepts yet. As every research discipline, learning analytics has its own characteristics, which are important for the creation of research data management concepts, in particular for generalization of data and modeling of a metadata model. The following work presents our results of a requirements analysis for learning analytics, in order to identify relevant elements for a metadata schema. To reach this goal, we conducted a literature survey followed by an analysis of our own research about frameworks for evaluation of collaborative programming scenarios from two universities. With these results, we present a discipline-specific scientific workflow, as well as a subject-specific object model, which lists all required characteristics for the development of a learning analytics specific metadata model for data repository usage.
Forschungsdaten bilden die Grundlage für wissenschaftliches Arbeiten und um neue Erkenntnisse zu gewinnen. Learning Analytics ist die Wissenschaft zur Verbesserung des Lernens in verschiedenen Bereichen des Bildungssektors, doch obwohl die Datenerhebung zum größten Teil mittels computergestützter Verfahren durchgeführt wird, besitzt die Disziplin zum jetzigen Zeitpunkt noch keine Forschungsdatenmanagementkultur oder -konzepte. Wie jede Forschungsdisziplin hat Learning Analytics ihre Eigenheiten, die für die Erstellung von Forschungsdatenmanagementkonzepten, insbesondere für die Generalisierung von Daten und die Modellierung eines Metadatenmodells, wichtig sind. Die folgende Arbeit präsentiert Ergebnisse einer Anforderungsanalyse für Learning Analytics, um relevante Elemente für ein Metadatenschema zu identifizieren. Zur Erreichung dieses Ziels führten wir zunächst eine Literaturrecherche durch, gefolgt von einer Untersuchung unserer eigenen Forschung an Softwareumgebungen zur Evaluierung von kollaborativen Programmierszenarien an zwei Hochschulstandorten. Aus den Ergebnissen lassen sich ein disziplinspezifischer wissenschaftlicher Workflow sowie ein fachspezifisches Objektmodell ableiten, das alle erforderlichen Merkmale für die Entwicklung eines für Learning Analytics spezifischen Metadatenmodells für die Nutzung von Datenbeständen aufzeigt.
Learning analytics and data mining methodologies for extraction of useful and actionable information became a trend during the past decades.Learning analytics is the science involved with the evaluation of produced data by learners, with the aim to reveal information and social connections by using analysis models for learning behavior prediction. These methods bear considerable potential for the higher educational sector. When research data is generated, a sustainable research data management is necessary that gives information on data provenance and makes data traceable and replicable. Data management of learning analytics data comes with several challenges that hinder the development of a learning analytics open science culture and prevent researchers from sharing their data so far. For a neighboring discipline educational data mining, a data repository exists for the community in the American area, but without matching all FAIR criteria. Currently, there is neither a data repository nor a metadata schema for learning analytics that fits the discipline-specific characteristics. Nevertheless, it is shown that with the existence of a research data infrastructure, researchers tend to store their data properly.
In our project DiP-iT, we use learning analytics approaches by evaluating collaborative programming scenarios for the development of an educational concept for higher education. To make our data reusable, we also focus on the development of research data management solutions for the generated data during the research processes. In a first step, we develop a discipline-specific metadata schema. For this, we follow Robert Allan’s lifecycle for e-research data and information. Initially, we conducted a literature survey to identify general learning analytics approaches and methods for data collection in the field of the evaluation of collaborative programming learning scenarios. In a next step, we analyzed the process around our first generated data and the data itself. From these findings, we deduced a scientific workflow specific to learning analytics. Finally, all findings lead to a model of objects, which maps all relevant criteria for the evolution of a metadata schema specific to learning analytics. In the future, library repositories can make use of this, and data librarians can give researchers assistance in terms of data management to make learning analytics data findable and reusable.
2. Information Lifecycle in Research Data Management
Our approach to develop a metadata schema and concepts for learning analytics research data management follow the e-research data and information lifecycle of Robert Allan (see Fig. 1). The lifecycle fits the DiP-iT data management purpose, because it focuses on metadata creation and data sharing. Driven by the idea that activities involved in conducting research leads to knowledge creation, the generated data comes from observations, experiments, and computation. Knowledge is gained from collected information and their relationships. When it comes to data sharing, especially in the context of collaborative research, the lifecycle meets the problems by creating metadata. The creation of metadata results first from finding resources to the proposed work area, in our case for learning analytics, and second by reviewing literature, whereupon follows the generation of new data. After this, data analysis and sharing takes place. Here, the lifecycle can be supported by the creation of a data repository, which accompanies the aforementioned steps, and makes data sharing possible. Additionally, research discussion about data and the created metadata become vital with a repository. Therefore, researchers can discuss metadata from a practical point of view.
Here, the lifecycle matches the idea of the knowledge pyramid. The pyramid is defined by the tiers of data, information, and knowledge. Data is generated by observation, but unusable until they get meaning by becoming information, in our case through metadata. Knowledge is the next tier and makes it possible to transform information into instructions; this is represented in Allan’s lifecycle by publishing reports or papers. The lifecycle claims furthermore for publishing the metadata, which allows future researchers to use, reuse, and to gain new insights upon them as well as extending the schema. Because of the tasks inside the information lifecycle, suitable metadata is a necessity for most tasks inside the lifecycle. Hence, an early creation of a metadata schema makes results reusable for other researchers, also by meeting the FAIR principles.
3. Requirements Analysis for a Learning Analytics
Metadata describe objects, they provide administrative information on rights and property rights and describe the structure of an object, which is particularly important when there are several files. Metadata are still essential when search engines seek for data sets or people want to understand the data. Hence, they are still an elementary part of the FAIR principles to make data findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable. Library infrastructure takes up these principles and plays an important role to adopt the metadata and give access to the information. In the following, we show the results of a literature review, with the aim to determine peculiarities that are to be developed for the learning analytics metadata schema and especially for the collaborative learning of programming languages. This will be incorporated into a research data repository later on in the project.
3.1. Requirement Analysis from Literature Survey
We executed a literature review along the same methodology used in Hawlitschek et al. They
have a quite similar research interest (the analysis of pair programming or collaborative programming
scenarios in higher education), but from a didactical point of view, while we were looking from the information technical side and with a specific focus on metadata. The search was carried out in databases for sociology and computer science – Web of Science, ScienceDirect, ACM Digital Library, IEEE Xplore, Springer-Link, WorldCat, JSTOR, Fachportal Pädagogik and SocioHub. Criteria for database search were the keywords “pair programming” or “pair-programming” and “collaboration” or “cooperation” in abstracts, titles and keywords. The finding period was limited to the years between 2010 and 2020 and only full text paper have been considered from studies within the higher education context. To identify requirements for a metadata schema, we took the corpus of 61 articles (see Appendix) and examined it regarding the question how the learning analytics data are collected, and which methods are used for data collection. This means on the one hand, which measuring instruments are used, and on the other hand, how researchers collect the data in detail. The last one includes the number of attributes measured and for the measurement instrument questionnaire, what scales are used. Furthermore, we examined the computations within the articles to get an idea how data are generated and predictions are made by the researchers. The analysis of the corpus was executed by hand for all relevant criteria described above.
Most studies examine more than one learning characteristic, accordingly the aggregated percentage of the result is greater than hundred. Hawlitschek et al. classify these characteristics into eight categories. The most examined characteristic is the effects of pair programming on students’ perceptions (N = 32; 52.5 %), followed by effects on programming performance (N = 25; 41.0 %), and learning outcome (N = 24; 39.3 %), plus the perceived learning outcome (N = 7; 11.5 %). A medium amount of research studies considered the effects of pair programming on learning behavior (N = 14; 23.0 %) or programming behavior (N = 11; 18.0 %). A small number of studies focusses on persistency
(N = 7; 11.5 %) and efficiency (N = 5; 8.2 %).
We found out that for measuring these learning characteristics, different measurement instruments are used (see Fig. 2). Here as well, more than one measurement instrument is used and accordingly, for the aggregated percentages, the result is greater than hundred. Questionnaires (N = 49; 80.3 %)
are used by the majority of articles as the method for data collection. Performance tests are made in 35 papers (57.4 %) and used as a variable and calculation together with the results from the questionnaires. Furthermore, although technical tools (N = 20; 32.9 %) like video recording apply as measurement instruments a few times, the ones mostly used are activity log files. In a few of the reviewed articles, interviews (N = 5; 8.2 %) and student reflection papers (N = 4; 6.6 %) are executed. As a result of the plurality of characteristics and measurement instruments given in learning analytics research, a discipline specific metadata schema should provide information about the used measurement instrument. The aim is that another researcher can see whether a secondary analysis with the data set is possible regarding a new research question and different methods.
Tests and questionnaires are the most common measurement instruments used for measuring items. An item is a task or a question within these tests, e.g., a psychological test. Items relate to one specific characteristic, such as programming experience. In the case of our literature analysis, we used the term attribute for all measured characteristics by all different measurement instruments. The chart in Fig. 3 presents on the x-axis the number of attributes measured within the number of papers on the y-axis. Depending on the research design, several attributes can build a dimension that groups the attributes into a common concept. For example, time needed for programming and lines programmed per hour build the dimension programming performance. Furthermore, every attribute can be a variable itself or counted together as a variable by using codes. These are mostly presented in charts as research results within a publication. Therefore, it is important to map the number of attributes as well as a definition about what was measured within a metadata model, in order that a third-party scientist can assess their suitability for a probable reuse case.
Every item in a test or questionnaire needs a measurement scale. Scale implies that the questionnaire or test has been scored. Several different scale types are found in the literature with different ranges. Some of the articles do not reveal all details about their research design. Therefore it was not possible to derive the scales used for their test or questionnaires. Mostly used is the 5 point scale and other point scales with different graduations. Among these scales, the Likert scale (N = 29; 47.5 %) appeared most often: a rating scale with different levels (points) that give information about frequencies and intensities that are stepwise graded and that possess an ordinal scale niveau. Besides the point scales, single choice, multiple choice, and open-end questions are used in the questionnaires. To know the exact form of scale in a metadata schema is quite important for the reuse. Third-party scientists can see whether the dataset fits their own, newly devised research questions and can be useful for pretests or whether they can even build their own research on the provided dataset. Furthermore, the variables which resulted from the research and the measured attributes become obvious and this can be described by metadata.
Once the measurement of attributes and characteristics is completed, learning analytics rely on a wide range of statistical methods to test the examined predictions. In our literature review, we found 27 methods. First, reliability is mostly tested with the Cronbach’s alpha (N = 7; 11.5 %) and two more statistical methods, which are attributed to an instrument like scales and measure their consistency. To measure the difference between measured variables mostly the t-test (N = 17; 27.9 %), Mann-
Whitney-U test (N = 16; 16.4 %), ANOVA (N = 14; 18 %), mean value (N = 7; 11.5 %), Chi-squared test (N = 4; 5.6 %), and ten more statistical calculation models are used. Relationships between variables are measured by two statistical computations models. One time a factor analysis is executed to capture the correlation between variables. Tests for normal distribution appears two times, frequency distribution one time and three more computations related to the aforementioned are used just a few times.
3.2. Frameworks for Evaluation of Collaborative Programming
In the DiP-iT project, we use learning analytics to assess the acquisition of programming skills by collaboration inside teams. To this end, we base our assessment on the personal characteristics of students (i.e., their demographic background, motivation, attitude) from questionnaires and combine these with their skill development in collaborative programming tasks.
While there is a considerable number of systems for devising questionnaires that assess the status and motivation of students, explicit frameworks are missing that allow for monitoring collaborative behavior of students when programming. To this end, a big challenge in collaborative programming supported by learning analytics is the identification and implementation of suitable frameworks to capture the interaction of students in collaborative programming tasks. Our current investigations in two universities are based on the usage of the SQLValidator and the usage of the version control system GIT.
The SQLValidator is an in-house development from the University of Magdeburg. It features a database backend that allows to run and check user-defined database queries (i.e., in the structured query language SQL). SQL is a technical query language to request, change, delete, and add data from database systems. Furthermore, we extended the system with a team functionality in such a way that collaborative tasks can be posed to a group of students. To assess the students’ learning behavior, the SQLValidator logs student interactions with the system (i.e., one action is the submission of a user query and stores the timestamp of the submission and the encountered error), which can be subsequently analyzed. As a result, this log data is needed to be stored and shared with other researchers to draw conclusions.
Similar to the SQLValidator, student interactions and their collaborative learning behavior can be assessed by their interactions with the version control system GIT, which is used at TU Freiberg to submit solutions of collaborative programming tasks in C. Using GIT, we log different actions, which are (1) issues that relate to student discussions on a given exercise task, (2) commits that represent an intermediate task solution shared among the group, and (3) pull requests that represent a task submission. In addition to that we designed a dashboard, which is integrated into GIT that visualizes student interactions and aims at motivating student groups to collaborate more.
Because of the two environments for collaborative learning of programming languages, the metadata model needs to capture different types and formats of data. Therefore, the metadata schema has to list metadata for the measurement instrument and the context of environment where it is performed including the software used. Additionally, the results in form of the measurements are defined as well as the variables used for later calculations and predictions.
3.3. Learning Analytics Scientific Workflow
The general research process for analyzing collaborative programming scenarios always follows a similar pattern: a researcher or a team of researchers are working on a project that examines the learning process within a teacher-learner scenario. In our scenario, learners and teachers come from the university sector, i.e. they are students and lecturers. As the practical survey about our research and the literature analysis has shown, data are mostly collected by using various measurement instruments such as interviews, questionnaires, performance tests, technical tools and student reflection papers.
In general, learning analytics adapt the idea of measurement, e.g., psychological, to collect results needed for improving the learning process. Psychological measurement incorporates a definition of a construct, then figuring out how to analyze and account for different sources of error by using a specified measurement model and a reliable instrument, to frame a valid argument for particular uses of the outcome at the end.
The learning analytics scientific workflow shown in Fig. 5 starts with initial conditions, where lecturers observe certain actions and behaviors of the learners to make the learning process visible. In the first step, learners are classified by questionnaires whereupon characteristics of the test groups become apparent. The next step is the measurement of learners’ actions with a measurement instrument, which, in our case, means to evaluate (1) the collaborative programming scenarios and (2) the use of technical tools like e-learning platforms combined with performance tests. When measurement instruments observe the learners’ actions, the first raw data sets are generated, which provide information about the actions of the learners.
Data Analysis & Publication
As third step, researchers conduct data selection and further processing according to the research question. In this step, data are aggregated by using different computations, transformations, mappings, or codes. These are not only part of the data aggregation, but also part of the final publication. For example, researchers include individual aspects from the questionnaires as variables or compare the measurement data with the results of the performance test. Afterwards the results are summarized in graphics and published in publications. Note that a considerable part of raw data from the measurement instruments are not used for research, as it does not depict the proper behavior or due to incorrect assumptions, sensor errors, misconduct of learners, missing data, inconsistencies, or outliers. This data cleansing is subject specific and thus also included in the data analysis part of the process.
Privacy issues are a further matter of data cleansing due to the learning analytics data generation from students and lecturers. To ensure data publication and archiving, an informed consent from the students is needed, in which they get information about the kind of data usage after data generation. The informed consent takes place bevor the data generation phase, and can be withdrawn from the students at every point in time. Accordingly, a trustful relationship between students and researchers is needed, while the researcher decides about the access to the data. Hence, data must be anonymized when used for a public use case and the used transformations on the raw data need to be documented. Storage of the raw data is possible, but only with regulations for access, because this data could allow a disclosure of identities even after proper anonymization.
In a project, several observations are usually carried out. Once the project has been completed, some of the data are stored on the institute’s data storage servers and often a considerable amount of the extensive raw data is deleted or stored in an archive system in the university data center. However, this does not follow a standardized protocol. An internal exchange of data within an institute would be possible in this way, but there is still no subject-specific learning analytics repository in which research data can be published for data sharing with the broader community. The evaluation of the literature used for the literature review has shown that none of the articles had a reference to any research data. Nonetheless, the specialist community of the learning analytics is constantly developing, which is also evident by the LAK conference, which started in 2010. The resulting data have a certain value because, based on a small group of examined learners, the results of different measurements could be combined to increase the plausibility of the examined objects. Older data does not lose its topicality very quickly. Accordingly, if a subject-specific data management plan is used and a sustainable data management is executed during the research process, the collected data can remain usable for a longer period.
Libraries and their service portfolio can play a crucial role in this process. When the metadata schema is derived from the following model of objects, already existing library infrastructure and staff can adapt the schema. Especially data librarians, embedded in the research process, can assist by managing data collection and files for primary and secondary analysis. Furthermore, technical assistance and reference services can be provided to reach an entire community of users. Therefore, open access data sets provided by the already existing library research data repository infrastructure can be used. Data librarians can also bridge the gap between the stored data sets and the learning analytics research community by providing education on access and use of the data sets to develop further researcher awareness.
3.4. Model of Objects
Based on the findings of the requirements analysis, we deduced an object model in UML (Unified Modeling Language) class diagram notation, depicted in Fig. 6. It is a first step towards developing a metadata schema. The model connects all relevant domain-specific characteristics of the learning analytics scientific workflow. Like the stakeholder, who represents the lecturer from the workflow; the learner and all domain specific entities like environment, measurement instrument, and measurement that could be derived from the data production phase of the scientific workflow. Descriptions of the measurements like variables and calculations result directly from the data analysis and data publication phase of the learning analytics workflow, while the entity file and their specifics are important in the phase of archiving.
The data set marks the result data after observation of the learner’s learning behavior. It is the central entity in the object model and consist of multiple files with file attributes. These are name and data type and furthermore a checksum per file and a persistent identifier for the data set, which is important for preservation. These entities are the technical metadata. Descriptive metadata like title, a date, a description, keywords, and a classification describe the data set in more detail. The last one classifies the data set into existing library classification systems. For example, considering the Dewey Decimal Classification, our project’s data would fit the class 300 for social science and the division 370 for education. Furthermore, in this context embedded is the stakeholder, who is the actor for the measurement instrument and observes the learner. Described with a name and a persistent identifier like ORCID, a related institution, he or she possesses access rights to the data set for repository usage. A role is also defined, which marks the position within a project which has a funding context, and publications is also related to this type of metadata. Administrative metadata as the license give information about the rights of use for the data.
Moreover, our object model focuses on the discipline-specific metadata. Considering the learner that possesses characteristics like the number and the attended educational institution and who has also as observed object demographic characteristics. This information already results from measurements made by the measurement instrument questionnaire. It marks mostly the first step of learning analytics data generation and builds variables for later transformation and research summaries. In the special learning analytics field that evaluates a collaborative programming scenario, the environment is the place of actions. The e-learning platform tracks learners’ actions and the stakeholder is observing them. A software entity describes the used version of the e-Learning platform. Results of the used measurement instruments within the environment are measurements. They represent the general activity exercised by the learners and in detail the measured attributes, which can also be a variable by using calculations, or variables are used for statistical calculation models in a publication. The raw data handling with data selection and processing takes also place here, which is described by the calculation entity and by the measurements in form of attributes and variables. Resulting aggregated data is then stored as files in the data set and defined by the file entity. Especially important in the learning analytics context are information about data protection. Here the kind and degree of anonymization is defined, which has been applied to the files.
The model of objects maps all relevant criteria for our research in the evaluation of collaborative programming scenarios. Moreover, the model of objects applies to other learning analytics research approaches and gives researchers a structure for their data. It matches the FAIR principles, depicted in Fig. 7, by taking community standards into consideration, to make data interoperable and reusable, but also findable with the help of persistent identifiers and library classifications standards. Hence, libraries can use the resulting schema within their repositories and make the data findable and reusable, especially by taking long-term preservation standards into consideration.
use of a persistent identifier, e.g. DOI
definition of access rights and roles for stakeholders
the model of objects refers in terms of standard vocabulary to the LAEP
use of domain specific metadata like learner, environment, measurement instrument and measurements to provide detailed information about data provenance
attached license to show what usage rights belong to data
use of data types that meet community standards
4. Conclusion and Future Perspective
In this paper, we focus on the development of a metadata schema for learning analytics, which is currently lacking for research data management solutions. For this, we executed a requirement analysis. First, we made a literature survey following the questions how data are generated and what methods are used in learning analytics. In a second step, we observed the research process of our own research in the evaluation of collaborative programming scenarios. These led us to a detailed learning analytics specific scientific workflow, which pictures all relevant steps of data generation.
The result of the requirement analysis is an object model that shows all relevant criteria of the learning analytics workflow and relates all entities by considering the FAIR Principles. Metadata can be seen as the key for third-party scientist to find, get access, and reuse scientific data. In a next step and derived from these findings, the metadata schema will be developed by using parts of already existing metadata schemas to increase the findability and extend it by adding discipline specific metadata. After the subsequent implementation of the schema in a test repository, a usability test of the schema will be executed within our project context. When the metadata schema is completed, it builds the ground for research data management of learning analytics data and can be recommended by Open Science specialists in libraries and implemented in already existing repository infrastructures. A final version of the metadata schema will be shared with the learning analytics and library community on the project website, and permanently published in a data repository.
Funding: This work was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research [grant number 16DHB 3008].
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