Visualizations & College Students’ Academic Motivation


This qualitative study focuses on capturing students’ understanding two visualizations often utilized by learning analytics-based educational technologies: bar graphs, and line graphs. It is framed by Achievement Goal Theory—a prominent theory of students’ academic motivation—and utilizes interviews (n = 60) to investigate how students at risk of college failure interpret visualizations of their potential academic achievement. Findings suggest that visualizations only containing information about students themselves (i.e., self-focused affordances) evoked statements centered on mastering material. Visualizations containing information about students and a class average (i.e., comparative information), on the other hand, evoked responses that disheartened students and/or made them feel accountable to do better. Findings from this study suggest the following guidelines for designing visualizations for learning analytics-based educational technologies: (1) Never assume that more information is better; (2) anticipate and mitigate against potential misinterpretations—or harmful alternative interpretations—of visualizations; and (3) always suggest a way for students to improve. These guidelines help mitigate against potential unintended consequences to motivation introduced by visualizations used in learning analytics-based educational technologies.


Aguilar, S.J. (2017). Examining the Relationship Between Comparative vs. Self‐Focused Academic Data Visualizations in At‐Risk College Students’ Academic Motivation. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. DOI: 10.1080/15391523.2017.1401498