Blackboard Analytics at Saudi Electronic University: How to Face the Challenge of Teaching

Sebastián Pulido
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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Blackboard Analytics helps colleges and universities reduce student attrition and increase enrollment and engagement by extracting value from the data they already have.

Saleh Alsalamah has been working as a Blackboard Administrator at the Saudi Electronic University (SEU) for more than a year. He is in charge of the implementation of the Blackboard Analytics System, as well as of building new reports according to the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and collecting the requirements from the deans and directors of the University that will be used to build those reports. He talked to E-Learn about that institution’s experience with the platform.

SEU was founded as a government educational institution in 2011 through a royal decree from King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. From that year, the University established a new learning model in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with the implementation of blended learning, while most universities in the country are using traditional learning models. SEU offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in four different colleges, namely, College of Administration and Finance Sciences, College of Computation and Informatics, College of Health Sciences, and College of Science and Theoretical Studies.

The learning process at SEU happens within an information-based environment, with the help of communications technology and distance education. Most of that process is done through e-learning and the rest, face-to-face. Additionally, SEU has a good partnership with Blackboard and has the license for all government universities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Saleh Alsalamah, Blackboard Administrator at Saudi Electronic University. Photos by: AFP Abdallah Al-Shaikhi.
Saleh Alsalamah, Blackboard Administrator at Saudi Electronic University. Photos by: AFP Abdallah Al-Shaikhi.

Since SEU is a new university, few people blaknew about it when it started; however, year by year, more people have been asking about the institution and the new learning model. This implementation process, however, has not been without its challenges. Aside from the expected technical issues that may arise when dealing with these kinds of tools, there are some other deeper, more complex barriers. As Mike Sharkey, Blackboard’s Vice President of Analytics said, “A successful analytics implementation is a cultural challenge, not a technological one.” SEU’s case has not been the exception.

As several universities in Saudi Arabia make the transition to the blended learning model with increasing emphasis on e-learning, the main challenge for SEU, as for others, remains a cultural one. As Alsalamah puts it, “We have to explain the tools that we are using to all Saudi citizens and residents to make them realize that this is a global thing and we are not the only ones using it.”

Efforts to promote the use of e-learning tools in SEU were put into action as some instructors were having problems adapting to the learning methods and tools. For example, in some cases, instructors were leaving little or no activities on Blackboard, so the first step was to look at why they were not using the system and if they were having any difficulties. The next step was to provide assistance or training when necessary, and results were quickly noticed with instructors that started using the tools with great success. Training was carried out in two forms: face-to-face sessions and through online courses inside Blackboard Learn. The materials were built to describe the available tools and best practices for using those tools. Instructors were taught how to use the wikis, blogs, and journals in an e-learning environment for their courses.

As to why SEU chose Blackboard Analytics, Alsalamah commented, “We have most of our efforts focused on e-learning, so we went with Blackboard Analytics because it was already integrated with our LMS, which is Blackboard Learn. Also, it has a lot of features to build new Analytics Reports, which are better when clear requirements have been set by the deans and the SEU director.” The implementation process began more than a year ago, and SEU has enjoyed the benefits of the insight provided by those Analytics Reports ever since.

There was also a significant improvement in student enrollment. For context, we must consider that in Saudi Arabia, traditional universities will accept students up to about three or four years after graduating from high school; after that time, it is very difficult to be accepted. In SEU, however, students are given more time and yet, in 2017, more than half of the students that applied had graduated the year before. This shows that SEU is doing a big job at changing the mindset in the country towards e-learning.

The accuracy of the requirements, along with the KPIs, make for better reports, which let Alsalamah and the SEU directors know if they are doing their job right or if they are moving away from the trend that was set. Currently, some of the reports that have been built have shed light over good results, others, as expected, have brought the urgency of corrective measures. In any case, Blackboard Analytics is helping SEU improve across the board.

One key element to Blackboard Analytics’ success in SEU has been the Intervention Framework (IF). It is used to identify the rules for Blackboard Learn use, as well as providing support for instructors and students. They can describe their difficulties and receive training to solve doubts. All college chairman have their own IF, which allows them to review results and make sure the efforts are focused on achieving the KPIs, as well as to follow the usage of tools by instructors and students, and act according to the information provided. Every day, the moment the SEU Director gets into his office, he can see the instructors’ and students’ activities and can plan the next steps. At the end of the month, he can extract the reports from the system and send them to all the deans, who are also happy to evaluate the different activities and solve problems.

This kind of framework improves interactivity between those involved in the learning process as well because it allows the content to be reviewed and updated regularly. Instructors are content with the tools and are asking for more reports to be made so that they can improve in their activities. Alsalamah highlighted that the impact of IF and Blackboard Analytics as a whole is making at the University. That impact can be divided into four main points:

1. Making the right decisions at the right time
2. Increasing student retention rates
3. Enhancing cross contents
4. Improving faculty performance


*Saleh Alsalamah – Blackboard Administrator at Saudi Electronic University

*Photos by: AFP Abdallah Al-Shaikhi

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