OnTask: A Case Study

Feedback from instructors is an important component of students’ academic success. However, increasing class sizes and increased demands on instructors’ time make it difficult for instructors to provide timely, personalized feedback to students. One solution is to use learning analytics tools to provide higher quality feedback to students more efficiently.

Personalized feedback and OnTask

OnTask is a learning analytics tool that allows instructors to provide mass personalized feedback to students at scale. The UBC Learning Analytics Project is currently piloting this tool with several instructors, and so far the experience has been fantastic! 

OnTask allows instructors to use a variety of course data to craft ultra-personalized messages for students about their learning, using groups and conditions. The net result is that students only see messages that are particularly relevant for them. Here’s a very basic example. Let’s say an instructor wanted to:

  • congratulate students that received 86-100% on their midterm, 
  • offer encouragement and advice to students that received 70-85%, and 
  • direct students to more practice problems for those that received <70%.

To do this without OnTask, the instructor would first have to identify students in each of the groups, draft three different messages directed to each of the different groups, and then send out the messages via email. With OnTask, the software takes care of identifying the students in each group and sending each student a personalized message about their progress so far. All the instructor has to do is create the groups and write the messages each group should receive. 

OnTask is unlikely to save instructors too much time the first time they use it. However, the idea is to give higher quality feedback to more students, more frequently, and the templates that instructors create can then be saved for re-use in future course offerings. The video below summarizes the process for instructors:


Case Study: Physics 117

Simon Bates has used OnTask while teaching large first-year physics courses at UBC.

Over the past three academic terms, OnTask has been successfully piloted in a variety of courses. Simon Bates and his co-instructor Mateus Fandino used the tool in Physics 117 — a large introductory physics course. In the past, Bates sent his students a weekly digest with announcements, an agenda for the following week, and study tips. To try and engage with students a bit more, he decided to use OnTask to add personalized feedback for each student, based on their performance that week. 

The results were a resounding success! Students loved the personalized feedback and felt it helped them stay on top of the course material. In fact, many students provided very positive feedback via the course’s end-of-term teaching evaluations. For example:

  • “I loved the personalized emails! I found the following very useful: test scores, the class’s most common mistakes on tests, what to focus on in the readings, reminders for readings, quizzes, tutorials, etc.”
  • “He provides weekly feedback with respect to the assignment, test, and exam grades, as well as written feedback on particular areas of confusion. This has not only helped me keep up to date with the coursework, but it has also given me a chance to reflect on the past week’s topics and those of the week to come.”
  • “His weekly emails were a great way to gauge how I was doing in the course and what is coming up in the next weeks. He definitely has our success in mind.”
  • “I really like how they provide personal feedback every week to follow up.”

Throughout the course, Bates invited students to reach out to him if they have any questions or concerns. In previous years, he hardly received any replies in response to the digest. This year, he was receiving about 10 emails from students each week, either thanking him for the feedback or asking relevant questions about the course.

In his feedback about OnTask, Bates says he appreciated and enjoyed the increase in student interaction and that his workload did not significantly increase with this new approach. Now that his OnTask templates have been created for his course, re-using them next year will be a breeze, and he can focus on fine-tuning and tweaking his efforts to further improve the feedback that he sends to students.

Learn More 

Want to hear more about OnTask and how it can be used in your course? Let us know! We’re happy to schedule a meeting with you and your course team to see how student-directed feedback can be used more meaningfully in your courses. We also run workshops on OnTask and other learning analytics tools every few months.  


Fritz, J. (2017). Using analytics to nudge student responsibility for learning. New Directions for Higher Education, 179, 65-75.

Pardo, A., Jovanovic, J., Dawson, S., Gašević, D., & Mirriahi, N. (2017). Using learning analytics to scale the provision of personalised feedback. British Journal of Educational Technology, doi:10.1111/bjet.12592.

Vigentini, L., Kondo, E., Samnick, K., Liu, D., King, D. & Bridgeman, A. (2017). Recipes for institutional adoption of a teacher-driven learning analytics tool: case studies from three Australian universities. In H. Partridge, K. Davis, & J. Thomas. (Eds.), Me, Us, IT! Proceedings ASCILITE2017: 34th International Conference on Innovation, Practice and Research in the Use of Educational Technologies in Tertiary Education (pp. 422-432).