One of my papers hit 1,000 citations today, according to Google Scholar.

Dimensions, on the other hand, says it has been cited 397 times by publications in the Dimensions database.

It has an Altmetric of 23. I’ve never investigated Altmetrics before, but they’re a measure of how much attention a paper is getting, not simply in terms of citations (it uses the Dimensions citation) but also in terms of social media and Mendeley. The higher the Altmetric, the more attention has been noted by the algorithm.

Ferguson, Rebecca (2012). Learning analytics: drivers, developments and challenges. International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 4(5/6) pp. 304–317.

It has been downloaded 18,246 times from our institutional repository, ORO.

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How to teach online

MOOC engagementAs schools, colleges and universities shut around the world, FutureLearn moved quickly to get a new How To Teach Online course up and running, free of charge, as quickly as possible. The lead educators on the course, based at FutureLearn, consulted a range of experts in online teaching from across the partnership, including me and my colleague Professor Martin Weller. We provided advice on content and then joined the course as mentors.

The course has proved very popular. By the end of the first week there were 20,000 registered learners. A week later there were 30,000, who had posted more than 35,000 comments between them. The diversity of learners was amazing. The map above, generated by FutureLearn, shows which countries were registered on the MOOC by the end of the first week.

Below are paraphrased details of a small fraction of those 30,000 learners. Together these snippets indicate some of the problems that educators are currently facing, and how widespread these issues are across countries and across different levels and forms of education.

  • Greetings from Ghana. I teach midwives at the diploma level.
  • I’m from Ukraine. I’m a teacher of English at a secondary school.
  • Online courses are a very particular way to teaching taekwondo for preschool children.
  • I am a cookery teacher in Spain
  • I teach languages in Mexico
  • I teach on a Fashion BA at London School of Fashion.
  • I’m doing my practice in a secondary school in Benin.
  • I am based in Khartoum, Sudan. I work as an Academic Coordinator for the Primary Years Programme
  • I’m in Bristol UK and I work in people development for a charity.
  • I am an Aboriginal Arts Development Officer from Australia.
  • I am a general Primary School Teacher In Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies.
  • I’m a physiotherapist instructor in private university in Thailand.
  • From Girona, Catalonia, Spain. I teach teenagers cookery and pastry.
  • I’m from Kazakhstan. I’m a teacher of the English language.
  • I teach physiology to undergraduate science students.
  • Working in Qatar, adult learning, Safety being the broad category of my teaching.
  • I teach toddlers and they do not use the internet yet. Some of them are not even allowed to watch tv by the parents.
  • I teach practical stained glass and glass fusing courses
  • I am a foundation phase teacher from South Africa.  i teach nursery kids aged 2 to 5yrs old
  • I  teach Animal Care to learners with SEN in the FE sector.
  • We can’t use any good tools for teaching online in Iran because all of these programs that friends say are filtered in our country.
  • Hi from Lomé in Togo, I’m teacher educator and curriculum specialist.
  • I am a high school teacher. In Côte d’Ivoire, not all students have access to internet connection


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Virtual viva

Screenshot 2020-04-11 at 13.43.20I’d been due to travel to Newcastle to examine the viva of Hanna Celina but the lockdown made that impossible. So we made the move online in a series of Zoom meetings. On Thursday, Hanna completed a mock viva in one meeting, and I met with her supervisor and the internal examiner for a virtual introduction to the lab she was working in.

On Friday, the internal examiner and I met to compare notes and to decide who would ask which questions. An hour later, Hanna joined us, gave a PowerPoint presentation of her  work, and then we moved into the viva proper. Once Hanna had acnasered all our questions we all went off to break for lunch. An hour later, the internal examiner and I met to agree on the result and our report, before Hanna and her supervisor joined us to hear the good news.

The pictures show the set-up. Supervisor Ahmed Kharuffa has an autumnal virtual background, while my ‘window’ is actually a photograph taken at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Meanwhile, internal examiner Jan Smeddinck is against a white wall, and Hanna is at home, where her husband is taking a photo to mark her viva success. On the right is the picture he took, showing Hanna’s viva set-up with Jan in the centre of her screen.

Congratulations to Hanna for negotiating her viva, and her PhD, so successfully.

Screenshot 2020-04-11 at 13.56.17

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LAK20: learning analytics under lockdown

The Learning Analytics and Knowledge 2020 (LAK20) was always going to be special. As the tenth in this annual conference series, it provided an opportunity to look back at a decade of work in the field, as well as a chance to look ahead.

However, Covid-19 gave it a whole new dimension. The conference was scheduled to run in Frankfurt in the week of 23 March, and planning had spanned more than a year. By the start of 2020 it was clear that this wouldn’t be a normal situation. First, the delegates from China and its surrounding countries dropped out. Australia was next to go, followed by drop-outs that spread quickly across the US and Europe. A face-to-face conference morphed into a blended one and then, as Germany closed down movement, went fully online. The conference organisers were on 24/7 alert, planning for the different possibilities. How could a five-day event with more than 600 participants be sustained?

In the end, it moved to Zoom without a hitch due to the almost superhuman efforts of a team including Maren Scheffel, Grace Lynch, Vitomir Kovanovich and Hendrik Drachsler. The conference ran over 12 hours a day, with people joining as their time zone began work and dropping out when it was the end of their day. Presentations were recorded so that attendees could catch up with the parts of the conference that happened in their night. Social conversation and activities went on in two purpose-built Zoom rooms – the Bench in the Sun and the Coffee Machine.

I took part in the Doctoral Consortium, which SImon Buckingham Shum had moved online. The PhD students who participated came from around the world, mentored by researchers from at least three continents. Between Google Docs and Zoom every element of the consortium was possible: presentations, discussions, feedback, poster presentations, and career advice from past doctoral students.

I also chaired a couple of sessions, handling the recording, keeping an eye on participation, ensuring presenters were prepared and confident, keeping events strictly to time, and facilitating questions and discussion. This went well – but only because the conference organisers had arranged training meet-ups for all session chairs.

You’d expect a virtual conference dinner to be sparsely attended but, in fact, there were around 350 people there. It was a sad moment for me because my second term of office as a member of the SoLAR Executive came to an end at this point and I had to step down from the committee. It was also a proud moment, as I received an award as best Senior Reviewer at the conference.

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Evidence Café: Accessibility on MOOC Platforms

Selfie taken by the evidence café leads after the eventEvidence Cafés are designed to bridge the gap between research and practice, enabling practitioners to explore how research could inform what they do, and giving academics access to practice-based insights on the research. Evidence Cafés usually run for two or three hours with participants discussing objects of interest, sharing expertise, and drinking coffee together. (Download a guide to Evidence Cafés here.)

This was the plan for our Evidence Café, which was designed for knowledge exchange around the accessibility of MOOC platforms such as FutureLearn. However, as the Covid-19 lockdown came into force, it became clear that a face-to-face meet-up wasn’t feasible. It was time for the world’s first online Evidence Café.

Tina Papathoma explains how she organised and ran the event in her blog post Virtual Evidence Cafés amid COVID-19; guidance on how to run one.  The discussion went well, bringing researchers and practitioners from Spain and Ireland together with UK experts. Among the participants were students, teachers, accessibility researchers, production staff, administrators, and platform representatives.

The discussion was recorded for analysis and will lead to a report on how technology and pedagogy can be designed to support access for learners and teachers alike.

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Cyber security microcredential goes live

Cyber Security microcredential area on FutureLearn platformSince last August, I have been working as Academic Lead on The Open University’s microcredentials. This is a new type of accredited learning, designed to fit between massive open online courses (MOOCs) and more substantial offerings such as a graduate or postgraduate certificate (60 UK academic credits – 600 study hours), a graduate or postgraduate diploma (120 UK academic credits – 1,200 study hours) and a full degree at Bachelor or Master level.

The OU, like other microcredential providers on the FutureLearn platform, is following the Common Microcredential Framework agreed by the European MOOC Consortium. This means that OU microcredentials:

  • Have a total study time of 100-150 hours (10 to 15 UK academic credits)
  • Are offered at undergraduate or postgraduate level
  • Provide a summative assessment that enables the award of academic credit.
  • Operate a reliable method of ID verification
  • Provide a transcript that sets out the learning outcomes, total study hours, level on the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), and number of credits earned.

It has been a rush to get a whole new type of accredited learning ready for launch in the first tranche of FutureLearn microcredentials. Teams across the University, including academic, production specialists, and Academic Services (which handles a wide range of areas, from initial inquiries to registration and assessment) have worked hard throughout the winter, and our first postgraduate microcredential went live to learners on 16 March.

Microcredential launch


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Learning analytics at NYU

Tweet about the event

At the beginning of March, I visited Alyssa WIse and Xavier Ochoa at the Learning Analytics Research Network at New York University (NYU). I had the opportunity for individual talks with many doctoral students, post-docs and faculty members. I also gave a talk on some of the challengers posed by learning analytics.


Learning analytics: facing up to the challenges

The aim of learning analytics – according to the definition agreed by the community ten years ago – is to understand and optimise learning and the environments in which it occurs. This work involves the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts. The value of these datasets to entrepreneurs, political groups, opinion shapers and scammers has become increasingly apparent, and the opportunities for misuse, for bias and for harm are growing rapidly. The learning analytics community has been aware from its formation of the need to develop and apply a clear set of ethical guidelines for learning analytics. In her talk, Rebecca Ferguson will outline six ethical challenges that face those working in the field. She will outline ways in which these are currently being tackled and open up conversations about how the NYU Learning Analytics Research Network can take on these challenges.

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