22 online learning enthusiasts from 11 countries took part in the LACE workshop on learning analytics which was part of the agenda of the annual EDEN conference being held in Barcelona this week. Led by LACE partners Tore Hoel, Dai Griffiths and Sally Reynolds, this 90 minute journey began with an overview from Dai where he raised lots of pertinent questions about the nature of learning analytics and its position as a new field of interest for the online learning community.
Participants then worked largely in groups to first discuss and debate the source and nature of learning data and then to consider how such data might be used. A quick brainstorm amongst the groups revealed the variety of potential data sources that exist. This ranged from the more obvious sources like LMSs, social media channels and information provided by teachers and faculty to student records and information provided through funding and administrative systems. It also included less obvious sources like wifi usage and purchasing practices amongst students which led to plenty of discussion about the nature and purpose of data collection and the importance of knowing why data is being collected rather than collecting data simply because it is possible. Several workshop participants stressed the value of asking the right questions when collecting data and to knowing what these questions are BEFORE starting to gather data.
The next topic up for discussion was the benefit of capturing and using data in a learning context. Participants broadly agreed that the effective use of such data can and should lead to greater insight into the individual’s learning experience and to a better use of resources allowing for preventative actions to support learners experiencing difficulties and a far more personalised learning offer. One participant argued that one of the key purposes of LA was to make informal learning tangible by making visible the digital traces left behind in informal learning environments.
This discussion naturally led everyone to sharing their thoughts about the likely obstacles that lie in the path of anyone seeking to harvest learning data to improve learning in their institution. Apart from the obvious challenges related to interoperability and the fact that much of the available data simply cannot be integrated in its current state, discussions in the participating groups ranged from issues to do with informed consent and the current state of play in many of the organisations represented to a wide ranging discussion about the overall purpose and nature of learning analytics.
The final round of discussions took the group back to the fundamental question underpinning the workshop – what data could tell us if we were willing to share information. Participants were asked to put themselves in the shoes of learners and to agree what they would expect from a learning institution in return for their data, i.e. what deal would they be willing to make? This led to lots of broad-ranging discussions, all interesting of themselves however probably due to the limitations in time available, no-one reached a clear agreement as to what an acceptable ‘deal’ might be. Along the way several significant concerns and recommendations did emerge though, like the importance of always making clear to learners the purpose and extent of data collection and usage as well as the benefits. People agreed that learners should always enjoy the same access to their data as the people, institutions, organisations that are collecting it.
Workshop participants included seasoned researchers like Paul Prinslo (UNISA, South Africa), Sharon Slade (Open University, UK), Azim Roussanaly (University of Lorraine, France), Thomas Richter (University of Duisberg-Essen, Germany) and Graham Attwell (Pontydysgu, Wales) as well as several people directly responsible for dealing with learning data in their own universities. There were also a number of people from organisations with a keen interest in this topic like FIED in France, IPTS and INDIRE in Italy along with several relative newcomers to the topic which made for a good debate and a significant level of engagement. At the end everyone involved was invited to take part in the LACE community by joining as an associate partner, contributing to the evidence base and submitting blog posts. Thanks to everyone for taking part!