Penetrating the fog #LAK12

I really enjoyed this paper which summed up many of the current concerns about higher education in a time of increasing external pressures and the need to somehow provide an improved, more efficient (and more appropriate) service to students. The authors discuss the value of learning analytics in helping us to get a better grasp of what makes students drop out and a better understanding of the learning approach itself. What made this interesting for me was the recognition that there is so much information out there that we now need to think about how we manage it in new ways.

This paper discussed the phenomenon of data abundance, or ‘big data’ and the need for institutions to make best use of it to clarify intention and act in more intelligent ways. It lists a number of ways in which big data can be used to generate added value, for example, by facilitating the use of what-if scenarios to model the potential impact of changes to learning design.

So far, so straightforward. But the authors talk also about the complexities of ensuring that we have captured all of the relevant data – for example, we may think that we know how a student engages online by tracking their work within our institutional VLE, but we may be unable to track equally valid or developmental engagement that goes on outside of our networks, via Twitter or shared blogs, such as this one on the #LAK12 mooc. If we are to make fuller sense of the data out there, we’ll need to look beyond our own immediate institutional boundaries too.

Further, the authors argue, it’s not enough to use learning analytics to simply predict student behaviours. We ought to exploit what it tells us to adapt both learning materials and delivery design. The impact of this approach is potentially revolutionary, with different students experiencing differing content delivered in different formats, as the teaching system takes note of the student’s profile and on-study behaviours.

I really like the ideas presented here, although find the idea of providing almost tailored curricula to be more than a little daunting – in order to get anywhere near this, institutions would need to make sufficient efficiency gains to justify the investment as well as be able to demonstrate that any tailoring had a beneficial impact on a student’s learning and understanding. There is an explicit recognition that none of this is easy and that there are a lot of questions yet to be answered, not least our tendency to try to create overly simple models which we may then be tempted to apply beyond their useful (or reliable) lives. In trying to adapt and change our teaching and support models for the better, are we in danger of simply replacing one inappropriate design for another?

About sharonslade

Dr Sharon Slade is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Business and Law at the Open University in the UK working to support both tutors and students on Open University distance learning modules and programmes. Her research interests encompass ethical issues in learning analytics and online learning and tuition. Project work includes the development of a student support framework to improve retention and progression and the development of a university wide tool for tracking students and triggering relevant and targeted interventions. She led the development of new policy around the ethical use of learning analytics within the Open University, UK.
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5 Responses to Penetrating the fog #LAK12

  1. Glenn Behenna says:

    Hi Sharon,

    Thanks for an interesting article. This rings bells for me with both my working hats i.e. a Business School lecturer at Trinity Saint David (Wales) and a consultant in amongst other things, Knowledge Management. The challenge of information overload and organisations being able to identify, share and grow knowledge, which is only in part underpinned by their information management is an ongoing one. Some organisations and consultants are going in a good direction, whilst many are struggling. The culture and perception of organisations is a key aspect and is certainly the case within higher education.

    Hope you are well. Time often seems to fly. It’s been getting on four years since I worked with you for the OU Business School (online Cert. People Management).

    KInd regards,

  2. Pingback: Week 2 of LAK12: defining analytics « Vapor de hojalata

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