Creating online tutorials improves the learning experience for students. Dr Vanessa Hughes, from the University of Sydney, pushes this concept to a whole new level. As well as giving theory real-world relevance, she uses the Smart Sparrow platform analytics from her tutorials to individually support her students and identify those at risk. The results are impressive: her courses are highly rated by students and their grades reflect this high level of satisfaction.

Dr Hughes coordinates the bioscience units of the Bachelor of Nursing (Advanced Studies) and Masters of Nursing at the University of Sydney. She has developed a series of case-based online tutorials tailored to both programs with the online case studies replacing an hour of face-to-face teaching.

The tutorials were created in response to observations that students were struggling to relate theory to real world nursing. By putting the theory into context within case-based Smart Sparrow modules, Vanessa created a way for the students to see the relevance of their work to their clinical practice, serving to enhance motivation to engage with the subject.

Sample screens: Integrating videos of “patients” within case studies gives bioscience theory relevance to nursing practice.

What stands out with Dr Hughes’s approach to online tutorials is how she utilises the Smart Sparrow analytics to keep track of the students’ progress. The analytics give her insight into each student’s understanding of the theory and can thus identify those at risk of failure. Students are categorised as No Risk, Low Risk, or High Risk. Based on their profile, a weekly email is sent either congratulating students for completing the modules or providing counselling and encouragement to those needing it most, along with links to additional resources addressing common misconceptions. As a result of this approach, the number of absent fails has dramatically decreased: there were approximately 10 absent fails in 2015 before the tutorials were implemented, dropping to zero after implementation in 2016.

For this strategy to work well, students need to complete the tutorials. Therefore, 5 marks are given as an incentive to complete all tutorials. Overall, students are now more prepared in class and more satisfied with the courses, with ratings improving from around 3/5 before the tutorials were developed to around 4.5/5. More importantly, completion rates and grades have also improved since Dr Hughes started. One student said they “…enjoy having the modules online to complement learning and find them really reinforcing the concepts [covered] in tutes and lectures.”

Overall, Dr Hughes’ experience shows that the Smart Sparrow platform analytics can become a tool to assess students early in the course and guide their learning process according to their individual needs.