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OnTask: Scalable, Personalised Feedback to Students

Scaling the Provision of Personalised Learning Support Actions to Large Student Cohorts

safariscreensnapz580Mission: to improve the quality of student learning in large cohorts by scaling the deployment of “Personal Learning Support Actions (PLSAs)”… [Project website]


This project has two aims. The first is to improve the quality of student learning in large cohorts by scaling the deployment of “Personal Learning Support Actions (PLSAs)” within Australian HE institutions.

We define PLSAs as any instructor led intervention that is designed to help students in their learning journey by recognising and acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses, and suggesting steps or mentorship interventions that are relevant to their particular situation.

This term encompasses actions such as:

  • providing personalised feedback on a student’s quality or quantity of work
  • personalising or recommending specific curriculum content
  • advice on more effective learning strategies

The data on which such actions can be taken is aggregated from one or more online platforms used by students. The outcome is that students in large cohorts can still receive frequent, personalised and relevant feedback.

The second aim of the project is to increase the maturity of learning analytics deployments in educational institutions by providing evidence‐based guidelines to move from pilots to business-as-usual.

What does this look like at UTS?

For the last decade, one of the UTS team (Jurgen Schulte) has provided weekly personalised feedback to hundreds of students. He crafts the messages he would personally give to a student if he sees certain kinds of work or other course behaviours, using the tone of voice and combining encouragement with challenge, that he has learnt works for this cohort. These feedback elements are then automatically combined into a personal email by a simple ‘rule-based engine’.

Example personalised email to a UTS student (Wk 1). Text highlighted in red shows dynamically inserted messages, depending on the student’s activity
Example personalised email to a UTS student (Wk 3)
The OnTask message editor where one specifies which message to give depending on whether the student has engaged in an activity (e.g. watched a video; passed a quiz; missed practicals; viewed assignments on UTSonline…)

The OnTask project gives us the chance to develop a UTS enterprise grade service, and to open up access to this kind of tool to all academics. It is now integrated with the Office365 email server, and is being piloted with a view to integrating it with frontline student platforms such as Canvas.

Get in touch!

We welcome approaches from UTS educators who would like to know more about any aspect of this.

OnTask may also have applications to both UTS professional staff and researchers who see the potential for customised messaging in other contexts.

To know more, email: Gabrielle Gardiner (CIC Senior Manager).

Project Partners


Abelardo Pardo (PI), Kathryn Bartimote-Aufflick, Simon McIntyre, Danny Liu (U. Sydney) • Jurgen Schulte, Simon Buckingham Shum, Roberto Martinez‐Maldonado (UTS) • Shane Dawson, George Siemens  (U. South Australia) • Dragan Gašević (Monash) • Lorenzo Vigentini, Negin Mirriahi (UNSW)