On 10 September, I was at the University of Southampton, talking about the evaluation of MOOCs to the FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN). This group is open to members of FutureLearn partner institutions who have an interest in researching MOOCs. If you fall into that category, and you’d be interested in joining, search for the group on Facebook. It’s a closed group, but straightforward to join, if you send a message introducing yourself.
The video shows the second half of the morning – start around 40 minutes in if you are interested in viewing my talk. There’s also an account of it on Sheila Webber’s blog.
On 16-17 September, I was in Graz with the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) . Before our consortium meeting, we held the 1st Learning Analytics Data Sharing Workshop. This brought people together from across Europe to discuss possibilities for data sharing.
The workshop was designed to act as a bridge between research and practical action. It also dealt with the technical, operational, business, policy and governance challenges involved with data sharing – with a particular focus on privacy issues.
The workshop was followed by a consortium meeting, and plans for developing this Europe-wide learning analytics community further.
Together 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.