Visualising usage analytics: An evidence base for open texts

This post was written by Emilia Bell, Coordinator (Evidence Based Practice), University of Southern Queensland. Emilia can be contacted at or on Twitter @EmiliaCaraBell.

How can evidence-based practice inform how we approach open education practices (OEP)? At the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Library, the Open Educational Practice and the Evidence Based Practice teams have collaborated to collect data around USQ’s open texts on the Pressbooks platform. The result has been a Power BI data report to visualise the patterns of usage for these open texts. The data are collected as local evidence to support the continuous improvement of open education resources (OER) and OEP and to advocate for the value and values of openness.


Data visualisation, using Power BI, has helped support a greater understanding of the Google Analytics data model and its hierarchy. The visualisations are not static, and they allow open education practitioners to engage with the data by filtering or highlighting data points that are relevant to their own evidence needs and practice. The interactivity and design choices help to recognise the collaborative efforts in creating OERs and the varied evidence needs of authors. Using Power BI has enabled authors to access and interact with the data collected on their open text, furthering an evidence-based approach to OEP.

Power BI’s Google Analytics connector allows us to easily draw on the dimensions and metrics required for the data report. The initial metrics used to capture patterns of usage include:

  • Page views and user sessions,
  • Downloads and file type,
  • Sources of traffic,
  • Geographic distribution of users,
  • Link resolver statistics (Alma Analytics), and
  • Users’ browser and device types.

Visualisation of web analytics data for open textbooks can enable open education practitioners to engage in evidence-based practice. The report encourages further exploration of the data and critical reflection on its relevance to OEP.

Screenshot of USQ’s Power BI report showing the unique page views and downloads for the open text ‘Academic Success’ (2021).
USQ’s Power BI report page for ‘Academic Success’ (2021).
Screenshot of USQ’s Power BI report showing the geographic distribution of users.
USQ’s Power BI report page showing geographic distribution of users of USQ’s Pressbooks.

Questions and reflections

Communicating the why of openness, as a value, requires evidence to guide how we approach OERs and the practices surrounding openness. Before creating the report, we dedicated time to deciding which metrics would be important to track and communicate to authors. We started with overarching and values-driven questions, not immediately answerable with our data, but highlighting the motivations behind OEP.

Formulating answerable and data-driven questions is critical to determining the local evidence needs for OEP. These questions support the application of evidence to practice. They allow us to consider what is important to be collecting in our local context and the value behind adopting specific metrics.

Initially, questions are summarising the data: What chapters are being accessed the most? What percentage of users are referred to a textbook from a learning management system? Over time, more questions can be identified, especially as trends and patterns are recognised and require further interpretation. Further analysis will further inform how we approach openness and work with open texts, encouraging these new questions and further reflections.

Data visualisation represents one aspect of how we can take an evidence-based approach to OEP. It provides an interactive assessment of the usage of open texts, while also being accessible to authors and supporting a report design that highlights the collaboration behind OEP. As we continue to value, integrate, and assess many evidence types (local, research, and professional knowledge) to inform OEP, we can build continuous improvement and support advocacy for what openness can achieve.

Note: that the screenshots and corporate logos (such as the USQ Phoenix, and any other company represented) and branding are specifically excluded from the Creative Commons Attribution licence of this post, and may not be reproduced under any circumstances without the express written permission of the copyright holders.

2 thoughts on “Visualising usage analytics: An evidence base for open texts

  1. Thanks Emilia, It’s early days and I am interested to see how these rich analytics will shape our future practices regarding OER and OEP at USQ.

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