Designing in context: Reaching beyond usability in learning analytics dashboard design

June Ahn, Fabio Campos, Maria Hays, Daniela Digiacomo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Researchers and developers of learning analytics (LA) systems are increasingly adopting human-centred design (HCD) approaches, with growing need to understand how to apply design practice in different educational settings. In this paper, we present a design narrative of our experience developing dashboards to support middle school mathematics teachers’ pedagogical practices, in a multi-university, multi-school district, improvement science initiative in the United States. Through documentation of our design experience, we offer ways to adapt common HCD methods — contextual design and design tensions — when developing visual analytics systems for educators. We also illuminate how adopting these design methods within the context of improvement science and research– practice partnerships fundamentally influences the design choices we make and the focal questions we undertake. The results of this design process flow naturally from the appropriation and repurposing of tools by district partners and directly inform improvement goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-85
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Learning Analytics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 5 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, through grants 1719744, 1620851, 1621238, and 1620863.

Funding Information:
Our design team is embedded within a larger, multi-institution, multi-school district, improvement network called PMR2: Practical Measures, Routines, and Representations for Improving Instruction. The network began in 2016 and is currently active, funded by a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation. The PMR2 network involves four universities — University of Washington (UW), Vanderbilt University (VU), University of California, Riverside (UCR), and University of California, Irvine (UCI) — and three partner school districts in the United States. Our design team is led by a co-principal investigator at UCI (the first author) and a group of student user-experience designers and programmers who support the entire network. Each university institution is engaging in an RPP with a local school district. While each individual RPP attends to local contexts and problems of practice, the entire improvement network is focused on two common issues:

Funding Information:
We thank the network of collaborators and partners in the PMR2 team. We acknowledge the invaluable contributions of our peers at University of Washington, Vanderbilt University, UC Riverside, UC Irvine, New York University, and Stanford University. Our special thanks to all of the teachers, instructional coaches, and leaders from our partner-districts who, amidst the challenges inherent to school life, found time and energy to collaborate intensely with our team of researchers.. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, through grants 1719744, 1620851, 1621238, and 1620863.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, UTS ePRESS. All rights reserved.


  • Computer interaction
  • Data sensemaking
  • Design narratives
  • Human
  • Human-centred design
  • Improvement science
  • Learning dashboards
  • Learning sciences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Computer Science Applications


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