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What’s the Problem with Learning Analytics?

The latest edition of the Journal of Learning Analytics includes a new section – an invited dialogue on a relevant subject. In this case, the discussion leads on from a keynote presentation by Neil Selwyn at LAK18, a conference at which I was one of the program chairs. In fact, the discussion goes back even further – I first heard Neil talking about related issues when I was invited to Uruguay for an event on new metrics for evaluation, run by Plan Ceibal.

The LAK18 keynote is available on YouTube and is well worth watching. Neil was invited to talk about ‘outsider’ perspectives on learning analytics – especially the some of the key concerns that are being raised as learning analytics becomes more embedded in education settings.

Following the keynote, Neil was invited to extend his ideas in a paper for the Journal of Learning Analytics, and his paper ‘What’s the problem with learning analytics’ appears in the current issue. Alongside it are four responses from members of the learning analytics community: Carolyn Penstein Rose, Paul Prinsloo, Al Essa and me.

It was good to have the chance to follow through on ideas, and to relate them to different strands of work – and to see how very differently we all approached the same subject. I took the opportunity to expand on work done with the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project on ethical challenges for learning analytics, which resulted in a special issue of the JLA. Although the original challenges remain relevant, the ideas presented by Neil provided an opportunity to flesh them out further.

Challenge one: Use data and analytics whenever they can contribute to learner success, ensuring that the analytics take into account all that is known about learning and teaching

Challenge two: Equip learners and educators with data literacy skills, so they are sufficiently informed to give or withhold consent to the use of data and analytics

Challenge three: Take a proactive approach to safeguarding in an increasingly data-driven society, identifying potential risks, and taking action to limit them.

Challenge four: Work towards increased equality and justice, expanding awareness of ways in which analytics have the potential to increase or decrease these.

Challenge five: Increase understanding of the value, ownership, and control of data.

Challenge six: Increase the agency of learners and educators in relation to the use and understanding of educational data

 

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Learning analytics – how not to fail

Screen Shot 2017-08-03 at 11.07.44At the LAK17 conference, a group of us held a Failathon workshop and brought its findings to the main conference as a poster. We asked conference-goers to help us to identify ways to avoid failure, and they responded enthusiastically with comments and conversation and sticky notes.

Back at The Open University, Doug Clow and I carried out a lightweight analysis of all the contributions, investigating how experts from around the world proposed to avoid failure.

We pulled the findings together into an article published in Educause Review on 31 July: Learning analytics – avoiding failure.

The article is full of suggestions, but the headline news is presented at the beginning: ‘In order not to fail, it is necessary to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve with learning analytics, a vision that closely aligns with institutional priorities. ‘

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Introducing learning analytics

image of the online articleAfter talking about learning analytics at the BETT show, I was invited to write about them for the Public Service Executive magazine. The hard copy of PSE goes out to 9,000 subscribers, while the online version goes out to a database of 50,000.

This article provides a short introduction to learning analytics for people considering introducing analytics at their institution. It introduces six areas for action, and briefly outlines what needs to be done in each of these:

Areas for action

  • Leadership and governance
  • Collaboration and networking
  • Teaching and learning
  • Quality assurance
  • Capacity building
  • Infrastructure

 

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Developing a strategic approach to MOOCs

german-refOur introductory article for the JIME special issue on MOOCs focused on the research work carried out in the area by UK universities who are FutureLearn partners.

‘Developing a strategic approach to MOOCs’ uses the work carried out at these universities to identify nine priority areas for MOOC research and how these can be developed in the future:

  1. Develop a strategic approach to MOOCs.
  2. Expand the benefits of teaching and learning in MOOCs.
  3. Offer well-designed assessment and accreditation.
  4. Widen participation and extend access.
  5. Develop and make effective use of appropriate pedagogies.
  6. Support the development of educators.
  7. Make effective use of learning design.
  8. Develop methods of quality assurance.
  9. Address issues related to privacy and ethics.

Ferguson, Rebecca; Scanlon, Eileen and Harris, Lisa (2016). Developing a strategic approach to MOOCs. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2016(1), article no. 21.

Abstract

During the last eight years, interest in massive open online courses (MOOCs) has grown fast and continuously worldwide. Universities that had never engaged with open or online learning have begun to run courses in these new environments. Millions of learners have joined these courses, many of them new to learning at this level. Amid all this learning and teaching activity, researchers have been busy investigating different aspects of this new phenomenon. In this contribution we look at one substantial body of work, publications on MOOCs that were produced at the 29 UK universities connected to the FutureLearn MOOC platform. Bringing these papers together, and considering them as a body of related work, reveals a set of nine priority areas for MOOC research and development. We suggest that these priority areas could be used to develop a strategic approach to learning at scale. We also show how the papers in this special issue align with these priority areas, forming a basis for future work.

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You teach me, and I’ll teach you – Pokémon

Picture of the OU News story‘You teach me, and I’ll teach you’ goes the Pokémon theme tune, and you can see the tv series as the learning journey that the central character, Ash, makes from complete novice to Pokémon master.

As ed-tech social media fills up with rapid-response pieces on what Pokémon Go could mean for education, I thought it was time to refer back to work with a more solid basis. And what could be a better starting point than our 2014 book on Augmented Education?

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?

To encourage people to read the book, I wrote a piece for the OU News and OpenLearn on Pokémon Go, and how the game aligns with the four approaches to augmented education that we identify in the book.

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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Ethics and privacy in learning analytics: special issue

JLA coverAlong with other members of the LACE project (Tore Hoel, Maren Scheffel and Hendrik Drachsler), I co-edited a special section of Journal of Learning Analytics Vol 3, No 1, which focused on ethics and privacy in learning analytics.

The section contained eight papers:

The volume also included our guest editorial:

Abstract

The European Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project is responsible for an ongoing series of workshops on ethics and privacy in learning analytics (EP4LA), which have been responsible for driving and transforming activity in these areas. Some of this activity has been brought together with other work in the papers that make up this special issue. These papers cover the creation and development of ethical frameworks, as well as tools and approaches that can be used to address issues of ethics and privacy. This editorial suggests that it is worth taking time to consider the often intertangled issues of ethics, data protection and privacy separately. The challenges mentioned within the special issue are summarised in a table of 22 challenges that are used to identify the values that underpin work in this area. Nine ethical goals are suggested as the editors’ interpretation of the unstated values that lie behind the challenges raised in this paper.

Ferguson, Rebecca, Hoel, Tore, Scheffel, Maren, & Drachsler, Hendrik. (2016). Guest editorial: ethics and privacy in learning analytics. Journal of Learning Analytics, 3(1) 5-15.

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Learning analytics don’t just measure students’ progress

Tore TweetMy article ‘Learning analytics don’t just measure students’ progress – they can shape it‘, appeared online in The Guardian education today, in the ‘extreme learning’ section.

In it, I argue that we should not apply learning analytics to the things we can measure easily, but to those that we value, including the development of crucial skills such as reflection, collaboration, linking ideas and writing clearly.

I also link to the #laceproject – Learning Analytics Community Exchange – a European-funded project on learning analytics.

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