LASI@MK learning analytics summer institute

Event logoTogether with Bart Rienties, I hosted visits from Shaun Boyd (NMIT, Australia, Victorian Higher Education and Skills Group Fellow), Shreeharsh Kelkar (MIT), and Adam Cooper (CETIS, Bolton) on 8 July 2014.

We organised a Learning Analytics Summer Institute (LASI@MK) event in association with these visits. This formed part of the worldwide series of LASIs organised in conjunction with the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR). The event was also associated with the European-funded Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project.

LASI@MK included short presentations from:

  • Linda Price on the long history of learning analytics at The Open University
  • Avinash Boroowa on the development of an ethical framework for learning analytics
  • Doug Clow on the systemic implementation of learning analytics
  • Vicky Marsh on links with quality enhancement and quality assurance
  • Shailey Minocha on the use of learning analytics in virtual environments
  • Zdenek Zdrahal on predictive modelling
  • Adam Cooper on the LACE project

It also included more extensive presentations by

  • Denise Whitelock on the SAFeSEA project
  • Shaun Boyd on the implementation of analytics at his institution
  • Shreeharsh Kelkar on MOOCs, software and the study of learning.

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Understanding student mindsets

Title slide

At the beginning of July, working with one of our pro-vice chancellors, I presented to our vice chancellor’s executive (VCE) about understanding student mindsets.

We made the links between mindsets and learner persistence. Keeping students on board is a two-way process, universities retain and learners persist.

No matter how excellent a university course, students are likely to be distracted while studying it by significant life events. This is particularly true for part-time students, whose studies continue for longer. When the going gets tough for our students, it’s not good course design that gets them through, or good teacher support alone (though that certainly helps). Our students also need the resilience to carry on, and to cope with the extra challenges that life throws at them

This is where mindsets come into the picture. How can we help our students to develop persistence and resilience; how can we help them to understand that ability is not innate but is the outcome of focused work, and how can we help them to develop a deep approach to study? Research shows that it is possible to change mindsets, but to do so across a university requires systemic change.

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Learning analytics: answering the FAQs

The conference venue: Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow

The conference venue: Grand Central Hotel, Glasgow

At the end of June, I was invited up to Scotland, to talk about learning analytics at the Society of College, National and University Librarians (SCONUL) summer conference. I focused on some of the frequently-asked questions about learning analytics, with the emphasis on the role and perspective of libraries in this area. What are learning analytics? Why are they used? How can they be used to help produce desired learning outcomes? What different types are there? What are the ethical issues? How can they be used in libraries?

Learning analytics FAQs from Rebecca Ferguson

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What’s so great about massive?

We know the numbers of registrations for massive open online courses (MOOCs) are impressive. Ten thousand, fifty thousand, a hundred thousand – both universities and platform providers love to publicise these huge numbers. But what are the benefits of scale for those involved? Is this just a cheaper (on a per-person) basis) way of providing education? Does it offer any pedagogic benefits for learners and educators? Is there any benefit of learning in a MOOC that I wouldn’t get from one-to-one teaching?

Mike Sharples and I analysed MOOCs on the FutureLearn platform in order to identify the advantages and challenges of teaching and learning at scale, which need to be taken into account in learning design and from a platform perspective.

  • For learners, scale offers access to support from a wide range of other learners, to resources provided by those learners, and to a range of perspectives.
  • For educators, scale offers affective benefits, opportunities for increased access to resources, and a motivation to develop teaching practice.
  • For society, scale offers potential to develop tools and resources for use in other contexts, to change professional practice, to increase access to education and to achieve global impact.
  • The challenges of scale include the need to navigate, filter and make sense of resources, and for learners to be able to access good quality, trustworthy support. MOOCs offer the potential to open up education for those who were previously excluded but, in order to do so, must take on the challenges associated with disability and disadvantage.

More details in the attached pre-print of a paper by Mike and I, ‘Innovative pedagogy at massive scale’, which has been accepted for EC-TEL 2014.

Massive Pedagogy preprint


This paper looks at the implications for pedagogy of education at a massive scale. It begins by looking at educational approaches designed or adapted to be effective for large numbers of learners: direct instruction, networked learning, connectivism, supported open learning, and conversational learning at scale. It goes on to identify benefits and the challenges of teaching and learning at scale. A grounded approach was used to analyse data from 18 MOOCs run on the UK-based FutureLearn platform. This identified benefits and challenges for learners, for educators and for society as a whole. These need to be addressed in two ways, through learning design and through platform design.

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Digital Historians in Italy: a doctoral success

Claudia and I, with examiners Martin Weller and Tim Hitchcock

Claudia and I, with examiners Martin Weller and Tim Hitchcock

My EdD student Claudia Favero (co-supervised by Jan Parker) successfully completed her viva on 9 June. Claudia’s thesis was on ‘Developing digital historians in Italy’, a country where she has taught at university level for many years.

Claudia’s thesis showed that the training of future digital historians is an investment that the whole profession can and should make, not only for its future inside and outside academia but also for the future of the discipline itself.

Her study highlighted the need, and the marked absence in Italy, of a supportive, enabling professional and institutional environment. An environment like this makes digital history research and the education and training of future historians in digital tools and methodologies not only possible, but also effective and sustainable.

Claudia’s study contrasted the situation in Italy with the situation in the UK where there is a professional role specifically associated with digital history, where digital historians have access to funds/resources and incentives/rewards and where dialogue is pursued and valued with the adjoining field of digital humanities. In this environment, it is possible for digital historians to build sustainable educational and research frameworks.

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Digital pedagogy

I was invited to speak at ‘Digital pedagogy: How are new technologies transforming the interface between research and learning?‘ This one-day event was organised by the Hestia project and held at Senate House, University of London on 6 June 2014.

I talked about the ways in which augmented learning uses electronic devices to extend learners’ interaction with and perception of their current environment to include and bring to life different times, spaces, characters  and possibilities.

Given the date of the event, a topical example was D-Day as it happens. I also looked at projects such as Operation, @RealTimeWorldWarII and Gunpowder, Tweeting and Plot on Twitter, as well as the blogging Middle English poet Geoffrey Chaucer aka @LeVostreGC.

Anyone can engage in these informal learning experiences at any time, anyone can leave at any time, but a skilled facilitator can keep people engaged and actively contributing for weeks, months or years. Learning in this way requires a new kind of educator, one who

  • engages in educational outreach, based on long-term interests and personal enthusiasm
  • has the expertise, the time and the ability to act as a coordinator and a facilitator
  • can inspire and engage people, because no one is required to participate.

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Augmented Education

Augmented Education: book coverI’m really excited that our new book, Augmented Education is out now from Palgrave. Not only because it is great to see our work in print, but also because it is an interesting book on a fascinating subject.

‘Augmented Education’ explores the implications and challenges of augmented learning – learning at the frontiers of reality – and the ways in which we can understand it, structure it, develop it and employ it. It investigates what we can do now that we could not do before, and asks whether these new possibilities could fundamentally affect how people approach and benefit from learning. For example, can augmented learning create the social, affective and cognitive conditions that will allow individuals and groups of people not only to approach learning in a meaningful way, but also to engage with it more deeply?

The book provides a detailed overview of the newest possibilities in education and shows how technological developments can be harnessed to support inclusive and collaborative knowledge building through formal and informal learning.

In order to do this, we employ a broad definition of augmented learning.
“Augmented learning uses electronic devices to extend learners’ interactions with and perception of their current environment to include and bring to life different times, spaces, characters and possibilities. It offers possibilities for the transformation of learners and their learning contexts.”
Using this definition, the book extends beyond the augmentation of teaching, learning and schools to include informal subject-based learning, learning using social media, collaborative informal learning and educating the transhuman.

View a draft of Chapter 1, which introduces augmented learning and considers what augmentation can offer to education. This ScoopIt on Augmented Education pulls together a series of related links.

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