Friday, March 11, 2016

Learning Analytics - Big College is Watching You #296

Image Source: NMC.org.
The 2016 Horizon Report for Higher Education makes for interesting reading. It breaks down emerging technology and its time-to-adoption for "One year or less", "Two to three years", and "Four to five years". It doesn't always get its predictions right, but nevertheless it is a fruitful resource for third-level educators like me to review. One of the "One year or less" time-to-adoption technologies is "Learning Analytics".

The Horizon Report defines Learning Analytics as "an educational application of web analytics aimed at learner profiling, a process of gathering and analyzing details of individual student interactions in online learning activities". The goal is to "build better pedagogies, empower active learning, target at-risk student populations, and assess factors affecting completion and student success". There is now so much data in the form of learning analytics available to colleges that many are searching for ideas as to what to do with these data and how to add value to education. Could this be used to deliver truly personalised learning to students? Some colleges, such as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga are already using analytics to determine potential problem areas related to students dropping out of college. The Open University in the UK is using learning analytics to monitor the amount of effort by students in their studies.

Image source:
Trac├ęs - Revue de Sciences Humaines


Learning Analytics are still in the early stages of development - many colleges don't yet use them in any meaningful way. One interesting study mentioned in the Horizon Report found that of "2,600 college students surveyed, 87% report that having access to data analytics concerning their academic performance has a positive impact on their learning. Analytics are not just for College authorities and Faculty - students will obviously benefit too. 

There is the "Big Brother is Watching You" consideration - should we be collecting data on students? I am emphatically opposed to tagging College students for attendance at class - they are responsible for their own learning. I am fully aware that a student in one of my modules might learn more reading a book in one hour in the Library than in one of my two hour classes. But what about their engagement with systems like Moodle? For example, I can check when a student last accessed Moodle - is this an invasion of privacy? I can see who regularly accesses Moodle and who doesn't - should this influence my opinion of student effort and their assessment? 

From my point of view it would be great to have unlimited access to all data on my students and classes - perhaps I could "build better pedagogies" and "empower active learning" as suggested by the Horizon Report. But somehow - I would not feel comfortable doing this.

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