This past week I had the opportunity to see the live launch of X-Ray Analytics down in Washington, DC, (the relatively new home of the Moodlerooms owner: Blackboard). Before the live event, I took the opportunity to review the brief demo of the service via webinar, but I was very intrigued to meet the creators and researchers in person.

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The live event was attended by over one hundred in-person participants. This number was dwarfed by the over 1000 registrants who had signed up to stream the live event. Here is the recording from the event in full:

What’s the big deal?

Learning Analytics is a broad term encompassing myraid initiatives worldwide to make sense of classroom data (such as that collected through your learning management system). For example, out of the box as a Moodler today, you can view all user reports to see if your student is viewing resources, the scores they’ve earned and whether their assignments are complete. Other analytical tools might leverage that same information to give you more insights about when, how or why the student learning is happening in the course.

X-Ray is a cloud-based enterprise product which integrates with Moodle. Importantly, Moodlerooms is not required to use X-Ray: non-Moodlerooms users can adopt the software for their own Moodle instance. X-Ray extracts data from Moodle and ‘crunched’ using Amazon Web Services to minimize any impact on your site speed or usability. That data is provided back to users in 39 visualizations (charts and graphs) focused on four areas: Activity, Risk, Discussion, and Grades.

The cost to current Moodlerooms clients is said to be around 30% of the current annual site license.


One point stressed in the presentation is that LMS use is unique to each course. So, as examples, the types of activity you might see in course A may look totally different than that of course B, and the frequency or type of use of forums in course C may be totally different than course D, and so on. Each course has its own profile when it comes to the four areas.

Having more data, whether you’re faculty or an administrator, is a great way to start to get a better pulse of what’s happening in your course. It can help identify flagging students or give clues on what improvements might benefit a course.

What’s tracked in X-Ray?

In Activity, X-ray helps to visualize all of the click data Moodle collects. This provides a snapshot of which students are active in the class over time and is a great way to quickly identify stragglers and high achievers on a week to week basis.

Tracking of Discussion provides much more in depth information. Dr. Aleksander (Sasha) Dietrichson, a Quantitative Linguist, has been working on X-Ray for several years and the analysis that X-Ray performs on discussion posts is very interesting. Each student’s posts are evaluated for originality among all posts, for critical thinking, uniqueness, and similar to SNAPP, the social network is also mapped (so you can see who are the mavens and which students are more disconnected with others). In my opinion, Discussion provides the most interesting insights from the X-Ray suite, especially in large courses with lively discussion.

When looking at Grades, grade data was correlated to help identify activities that are markers for success and which activities might not have that connection – which would be subject to change or optimization so that each quiz/assignment drives students toward successful course completion. One example given was that this might easily identify a poorly performing quiz.

The fourth area, Risk, is essentially driven by the other three areas and delivers a composite of social risk and academic risk (i.e. how, compared to the norm, each student might be behind). In practice, this rating could be used to reach out to students for interventions or to identify students who had withdrawn informally from the course.

Other thoughts

I got to meet John Whitmer, one of the presenters of X-Ray and one of Blackboard’s Data Scientists to talk about the efficacy studies and research that provide some of the foundation for X-Ray. That team now also includes Mike Sharkey of Blue Canary (a predictive analytics company from Arizona which was also acquired by Blackboard) and Dr. Aleksander (Sasha) Dietrichson.

From the amount of activity around X-Ray and the build up in staff, it’s clear that Blackboard and Moodlerooms are making a bet that institutional and faculty effectiveness will be important to their clients moving forward. Which makes perfect sense. The best way to improve client retention is to provide them tools that improve how they use the product.

It will be interesting to see what efficacy studies come from the first users of X-Ray and what improvements on a course by course or campus basis are being made. After all, exposing the data is only the beginning in Learning Analytics – what that data is ultimately used for, and how it effects change-for-the-better is the real holy grail.

Learn more here:

Interested in the product: 

Note: Moodlenews has no affiliation with Blackboard/Moodlerooms. Joseph Thibault is employed by StraighterLine, which is a client of Moodlerooms. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of StraighterLine.

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