Diving into Canvas Data at the University of Iowa

Group of people studying charts and reports

Diving into data is not for the faint of heart. Just ask Sam Van Horne.

Working for the University of Iowa Office of Assessment and liaison to Unizin, Van Horne is surrounded by data all day–tables and lists, schemas and sets of it. As the University of Iowa nears the halfway point in its Canvas migration, Van Horne and his team have started exploring what kind of data the learning management system can provide. He hopes he can use the data to create a more complete picture of individual students and what they’re doing inside the course. But if that sounds simple, think again.

Data from different sources speak a different language. Data from the LMS speaks a much different language than data from the SIS. This means that teams, like Van Horne’s, must find common terminology in order to provide a guide for researchers and faculty trying to access the data. Along with his team and research assistant, Anna Smith, Van Horne has built a few programs that help them use Canvas Data.

“Like any database, the front has one structure but the backend doesn’t necessarily mirror that,” said Van Horne. “We’d like to be able to use grade information from Canvas, but those grades have time tables and submission tables and lots of different data linked to the same information. Figuring it out is like a puzzle.”

At the beginning of every semester, new students at the University of Iowa are asked to go into a course and fill out a module before orientation. Canvas Data capture the initial interactions of more than five thousand students. Van Horne says he would like to analyze the clickstream data to find out which students completed the module early and which students waited until the last minute.

“If we can use this data and compare it to that student’s outcomes after the first or second semester, we can build a picture of what type of student they will be moving forward,” said Van Horne.

Unizin has helped Van Horne and his team make sure they are seeing all the data from Canvas and other sources at the right time and in the right place.

“Sam and the University of Iowa team are doing impressive work,” said Brian Esham, Services Manager at Unizin. “By joining data from multiple sources, including Canvas and the SIS, they’re generating a more comprehensive view of a student or course. This ability is fundamental to analyzing data and should serve as a building block for future purposes.”

Van Horne says he hopes to collaborate with Unizin to share his work with Canvas Data. If several schools can learn how to use Canvas Data in meaningful ways, Unizin Members will be on their way to collectively becoming one of the largest learning laboratories in the world.