Data Analysis

Project 2: Devices and Geographical Distribution

This project is part of the University wide Experimental Teaching and Learning Analytics group organized by Northwestern Information Technology.


  • Identify patterns in mobile and desktop usage by students and instructors
  • Show the geographical distribution of DL students [later?]


Findings listed here are based on MSGH courses offered in Fall 2015. These courses were chosen because a small set (5 courses) represents a complete program.  We also knew beforehand that these courses included non-US students, so we expected to find interesting geographical results.

Why Mobile?

For the purposes of this project, the category of “mobile” devices includes any device that does not register as a desktop.  For instructional design purposes it might be desirable in future to break out devices into type and screen size.

In general, non-desktop devices are used for different purposes and even at different times of day than are desktop devices —


In addition to knowing how instructors and students are seeing the pages we design, then, the question of which device a learner uses may lead to further questions about learner behavior.


Mobile Device Usage

In the Fall 2015 MSGH courses, we found the following patterns in mobile usage:

  • Mobile devices represented about 4% of usage overall
  • Mobile usage varied significantly by course
  • Instructors are much less likely than students to use a mobile device
  • Students who use mobile devices use different parts of the course from students who use desktops

Overall Mobile Usage

Overall, about 4% of courses accesses by both students and instructors came from mobile devices:

However, mobile usages varies significantly course by course:

A logical next step would be to determine why some courses seem to attract more mobile usage than others.

Mobile Usage: Instructors v. Students

If we break our hit counts down into students and instructors, we see that instructors were less likely to use a mobile device to access these courses than were students.
  This implies that instructors rarely see their course sites in a mobile device; in raw numbers, the MSGH courses saw over 25,000 hits from students, but just 119 from instructors. Going forward, it might be worth encouraging instructors to view their sites with a mobile device, especially if mobile usage grows over time.  

Overall Mobile Usage

  Students use mobile and desktop devices to access different types of resources.  

Next steps

  • Gather feedback from faculty and ID stakeholders on mobile stats
  • Provide visualizations of geographical distribution data
  • Work with NUIT to create dashboard permitting the comparison of current course data to historical data while course is in progress