Thursday, 15 July 2010

Using analytics to improve practice

I’m looking at a Cloudworks page I set up earlier this year, when I was creating resources for Open University research students in connection with a postgrad conference here at the university. Each of the presentations at the conference had its own cloud, and they have all received a fairly steady amount of visits each week since the conference. The most popular cloud, and the one I’m looking at here, is Skills Audit (currently with 199 views, according to the Cloudscape figures).

Students at the OU have to complete a Skills Audit at the end of the first year of their PhD – considering their progress in relation to a set of research skills identified and agreed by the UK research councils. Having done it myself, I’d say it was a valuable exercise, but I remember resenting having this chore imposed upon me.

Before I looked at Google Analytics, I was fairly pleased with this cloud and its performance. It’s aimed at first-year PhD students at the OU and it’s picking up around ten views a week at the moment. It links to complete lists of research skills and resources for developing and assessing them, it links to the actual skills adit that OU students have to fill in, and it links to the rest of the postgrad conference, and it contains a liveblog of a detailed conference session on the Skills Audit, as well as a biography of the speaker. Not only that, but the SocialLearn gadgets on the page point visitors to other related resources. All the links and info you need in one handy cloud.

I’m not so happy, though, when I get to the analytics. Visitors are spending an average of 43 seconds on the page, but only one or two have spent much longer there. More seriously, I have an 88.6% bounce rate, so visitors aren’t using this as a gateway to other resources on Cloudworks. This gets even worse (90.65%) when I look at the key words people used to get to the page.

Let’s take a closer look at a representative sample. That long line of zeroes represents time spent on the page, the 100%s represent the bounce rate and the exit rate. So people are arriving who should be looking for exactly this resource and, in less than a second, are consistently deciding that what I have provided is no good for them.

And, when I spend half a second on the cloud, I can see exactly why. The cloud begins with a long biography of the seminar presenter – that’s not what people are looking for. I know why it’s at the top – it was the only content I had available before the conference took place – but it shouldn’t be there now.

So the analytics have helped me to improve my own practice – now I need to think through how I can extend this finding in order to have a wider impact.

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