Learning analytics at “small” scale: Exploring a complexity-grounded model for assessment automation

Sean Goggins, Wanli Xing, Xin Chen, Bodong Chen, Bob Wadholm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


This study proposes a process-oriented, automatic, formative assessment model for small group learning based on complex systems theory using a small dataset from a technology-mediated, synchronous mathematics learning environment. We first conceptualize small group learning as a complex system and explain how group dynamics and interaction can be modeled via theoretically grounded, simple rules. These rules are then operationalized to build temporally-embodied measures, where varying weights are assigned to the same measures according to their significance during different time stages based on the golden ratio concept. This theory-based measure construction method in combination with a correlation-based feature subset selection algorithm reduces data dimensionality, making a complex system more understandable for people. Further, because the discipline of education often generates small datasets, a Tree-Augmented Naïve Bayes classifier was coded to develop an assessment model, which achieves the highest accuracy (95.8%) as compared to baseline models. Finally, we describe a web-based tool that visualizes time-series activities, assesses small group learning automatically, and also offers actionable intelligence for teachers to provide real-time support and intervention to students. The fundamental contribution of this paper is that it makes complex, small group behavior visible to teachers in a learning context quickly. Theoretical and methodological implications for technology mediated small group learning and learning analytics as a whole are then discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-92
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Universal Computer Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Assessment
  • Complex systems
  • Learning analytics
  • Small group learning

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