Use of Blackboard Retention Centre to monitor and improve student engagement

Use of Blackboard Retention Centre to monitor and improve student engagement

Dr Steven Tucker, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition tells us about the use of Blackboard Retention Centre to monitor and improve student engagement.


It is clear that retaining students is very much integrated with student engagement and monitoring of the latter provides a mechanism by which disengaged at risk students can be identified and earlier interventions offered. However, close monitoring of student engagement across large cohorts is laborious and typically involves a lot of time and manual labour. With this in mind, the Blackboard Retention Centre was piloted as a means of automating monitoring of engagement.


The Retention Centre uses relatively simple measures of engagement around student interaction with the virtual learning environment with thresholds that can be set to inform course staff when any students are demonstrating disengaged behaviours. This can then act as a trigger point for intervention at an earlier point, which perhaps offers a greater chance of reengaging the student with their studies. Table 1 illustrates a set of these criteria for a level 2 physiology course.


Table listing rules and consequences applied to the Retention Centre

Table 1: Monitoring criteria and consequences report for level 2 physiology course.


Since its introduction to the course in 2015, the Retention Centre has provided alerts relating to over 300 disengaged students and has led to large numbers of interventions that otherwise might have led to student withdrawal. Furthermore, the system can also be used to deliver positively reinforcing messages when students perform well, with that level of feedback deemed as an important feature by students. A consistent trend has seen engagement with the course increase as indicated by decreased numbers of C6 cases, fewer non-submissions or non-completions and an increased number of interventions when students are not engaging.


With the sector very much engaging with learning analytics and predictive algorithms, the Retention Centre provides a simple way of part automating monitoring of student engagement. While there are some significant limitations to the monitoring criteria e.g. using combined criteria to trigger an alert and some issues around Turnitin submissions, it provides an add-on for engagement monitoring and demonstrates a step towards more complex use of analytics. The study has led to ongoing use of Retention Centre across some courses, and has been presented at internal teaching and learning symposia and externally at the QAA Enhancement Theme Conference in 2016.