The OnTask project, which is funded through the Federal Government’s Strategic Priority Commissioned Grant, addresses the challenges faced by universities wanting to improve student’s experience and retention and completion rates.

The international project is led by The University of Sydney in collaboration with the University of Technology Sydney, University of New South Wales, University of South Australia, University of Texas and The University of Edinburgh.

OnTask gathers and processes data about student’s learning activities throughout the semester and allows instructors to design personalised feedback with suggestions about how a student is progressing in their course of study.

By providing frequent feedback about a student’s progress in specific learning tasks in the course, students are better informed to make adjustments to their approach to learning.

Project spokesperson Professor Shane Dawson, Director of the University of South Australia’s Teaching Innovation Unit, where the system is being built and trialed, said that in large lecture classes it is not possible for the course coordinator to provide all students with the necessary personalised and ongoing feedback they require to encourage them and direct them in their studies.

“By automating and tailoring feedback on how students engage when watching videos, completing assessments, reviewing electronic textbooks, or participating in discussion forums, lecturers can use the OnTask feedback system to provide students with automated yet personalised feedback so that teaching staff can use their time to provide detailed and intensive support in more complex situations,” he said.

“For instance, the system can be set up to distinguish if a student has misunderstood a vital part of the course that will impact on their ability to understand subsequent lessons. 

"The system can flag this for the student and the lecturer and ensure that the student gets the help they need.

“This system will lead to higher performance, more satisfied students who are progressing through learning pathways in an approach that is sustainable, and ultimately improving retention and completion rates.

"Similarly, if the student fails to complete a learning task or assessment, the system can prompt and remind them what’s due and when.

The OnTask learning system is effectively a student’s personal coach that supports all students in their learning progression.”

OnTask, is now being piloted at USYD, UTS, UniSA and UNSW in early 2017, and is also designed to provide evidence to management about what type of student support is most effective in making students enjoy and succeed in their studies.