Journal of Learning Analytics

Journal coverIn March, my time as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Learning Analytics came to an end.

The Associate Editors were appointed when the journal was first created. At the point when the journal is about to begin publishing its fifth volume, and is preparing to be indexed in the major databases, it was time for a refresh of the organisation. The loose group of Associate Editors has been replaced with an international Editorial Board.

I’ll be maintaining my connection with the journal by working on a special section on human-centred design, due for publication in the first half of 2019.


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FLAN at Exeter University

FutureLearn logoThe spring meeting of the FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) took place at the University of Exeter on 28 February. The broad topic of the meeting was on the relationship between MOOCs and other courses run by the university. As Academic Coordinator of the network, I was involved in planning the event, though I was not able to attend on the day due to industrial action. The agenda gives a flavour of the variety of work presented and the reach of the network.


10.00 Coffee and welcome

10.30-11.00 FutureLearn & the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Nigel Smith (FutureLearn Head of Content) & Christoffer Valenta (FutureLearn Legal Counsel). On 25 May the new European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force. This means FutureLearn is reviewing all its data protection and privacy policies. Nigel will explain the GDPR’s implications on partners’ research and Chris Valenta will join remotely for a Q&A.

11.00-11.20  China’s model of integrating MOOCs in the university. Zhu Yingxi, Shanghai Jiaotong University (by Skype)

11.20-11.40 Integrating MOOCs into on-campus modules. Nic Fair and Manuel Leon from the Web Science Institute, University of Southampton

11.40-12.00 How does a MOOC impact on-campus student engagement? Sarah Cornelius, Colin Calder and Peter Mtika, University of Aberdeen (by Skype)

12.00-12.20 Bristol Futures: Using open courses to provide extra curricular activities for students. David Smith and Suzanne Collins, University of Bristol

12.20-13.00 Lunch

13.00-13.45 Students as MOOC facilitators; the benefits of worldwide MOOC engagement. Damien Mansell, Sarah Dyer and student facilitators, University of Exeter. This workshop presents a unique student/staff partnership developed to facilitate the delivery and support of the Climate Change MOOCs at Exeter. The student facilitator model engages taught and research students to become co-creators of learning experiences, facilitate discussion, share stories, answer questions and monitor engagement.

13.45-14.30 Questions & Answers – how to survey learners? Reka Budai – Strategy & Insights Analyst, FutureLearn & Lisa Perez – UX Research Lead, FutureLearn. In this interactive session we will be sharing with you our survey vision – what, when and how we would like to ask from learners to get better insights and make course evaluation more efficient.

14.30-14.50 Coffee break

14.50-15.10 A blended course in Haskell Programming that includes a FutureLearn MOOC: Learner & Teacher Experiences Jeremy Singer & Vicki Dale, University of Glasgow (by Skype)

15.10-15.30 The Quality Approaches to MOOCs and the Influence of the University Culture. Ahmed Al-Imarah, University of Bath

15.30-16.00 General discussion of terms of reference, funding opportunities, next steps


16.00 Meeting ends

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Perfect Storm Utrecht

Sound sculptureWhile in Utrecht in February I also keynoted at the Perfect Storm. This innovative educational event is a collaborative conference designed to kickstart projects and ideas.

The organisers describe the event in this way: ‘The PerfectStorm 2018 is a unique concept called collaborative conference. Bring your team to kickstart your own innovation. Design Thinking, Learning Design and Leading Creativity collide in this energizing event where you work on your own goals, guided by international experts. Enjoy sharing learning journeys in campfire sessions where you experience a broad range of best practices, new tools and innovative insights.’

The Perfect Storm took  place in a working art school, with sculptures and art works to explore during the breaks (see picture for a sound sculpture by Dianne Verdonk that I enjoyed – sounds in the megaphone are transformed into vibrations in the body of the sculpture and thus transferred to the body of anyone lying on top of it.)

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Keynote abstract

Design thinking involves the creation of innovative solutions that address people’s needs. In the case of education, what are those needs? Are we educating people to be workers, citizens, good members of the community, rounded individuals or lifelong learners? Rebecca Ferguson, lead author of the Innovating Pedagogy series of reports, will talk about the challenges facing our learners, the problems we need to solve, and some of the pedagogies that offer a starting point.

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Utrecht: ATEE Winter Conference

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Utrecht, with conference venue in distanceIn March, I enjoyed my time as keynote for the Association for Teacher Education in Europe (ATEE) Winter Conference in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The conference was held on February 15th and 16th and was organised by the Archimedes Institute from the HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht.

Keynote abstract

From educational radio and television, through virtual learning environments, to mobile devices – when we think of innovation in education, we tend to think of the technology used to deliver it. This technology has helped to extend access to education, but technology alone cannot bring about deep and sustained improvements in the quality of learning. The Innovating Pedagogy reports shift the emphasis towards innovations in pedagogy: identifying new forms of teaching, learning and assessment to guide educators. These innovations can be used to help learners deal with a changing world in which they need to make sense of increasing amounts of data and information, and make the most of their opportunities to make global connections. In her keynote, Rebecca Ferguson will talk about new pedagogies that can be put into practice in the classroom, the ideas that connect them and the skills that support them. Some of these approaches extend current practice, some personalise it, some enrich it and others explore new possibilities that have opened up in the past decade.

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SoLAR Executive

SoLAR logoMy first term of office on the Executive Committee of the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR) came to an end early this year. I have spent the last year working for the society by acting as one of the Programme Chairs of its annual LAK conference, attending monthly online meetings, and contributing to debate about the society’s initiatives.

I was nominated to stand for election as president-in-waiting of the society, but chose not to put myself forward for this demanding post. However, I did stand for the executive once again and was delighted to be notified on my birthday that I had been re-elected by members of the society as a member at large.

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South American visitors

Presentation slideIn conjunction with the BETT Show in London, CISCO sponsored over 50 educators and educational leaders from Brazil, Columbia and Peru to visit the UK and find out more about research and practice here.

The CISCO delegation spent the day at the OU on 26 January, finding out about subjects including teaching science at a distance, teaching teachers using social media, and learning analytics.

I gave a presentation on future directions for pedagogy and education, drawing on work on the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project and the Innovating Pedagogy report series.

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Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology

Book coverEnhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology: What the Research Says was published by Institute of Education Press on 24 January 2018. The book was inspired by a seminar series run at the Institute that focused on research findings about educational technology. It was officially launched at the BETT Show in London.

Our chapter focuses on MOOCs and was based on the research-based publications of UK-based partners of the FutureLearn platform.

Introduction to the chapter

Free online courses that provide learning at scale have the potential to open up education around the world. MOOCs now engage millions of learners.  For example, FutureLearn, the UK’s largest MOOC provider passed 6m registered learners in 2017, 75% of these outside the UK.  Coursera, the world’s largest platform, claimed 24m learners worldwide in March 2017, of which over half a million were UK learners.

In this section, we explore what the research tells us about how MOOCs need to be developed in order to help provide education for all. This research was carried out at UK universities partnered with the FutureLearn MOOC platform. When it was carried out, FutureLearn had 64 university partners, including 29 within the UK, all linked by the FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN).


Ferguson, Rebecca; Herodotou, Christothea; Coughlan, Tim; Scanlon, Eileen and Sharples, Mike (2018). MOOC development: priority areas. In: Luckin, Rosemary ed. Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology: What the Research Says. London: UCL IOE Press.

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