Learning analytics is better when…..?

Trying to capture some thinking that arose during an institutional meeting re: learning analytics. The meeting was somewhat positive, but – as is not uncommon – there seemed to be some limitations around what learning analytics actually is and what it might look like. Wondering if the following framing might help it draws on points made by numerous people about learning analytics and some strong echoes of the (P)IRAC framework

Learning analytics better when it

  1. knows more about the learning environment;
    (learning environment includes learners, teachers, learning designs etc.)
  2. is accessible from within the learning environment;
    i.e. learners and teachers don’t need to remove themselves from the learning environment to access the learning analytics.
  3. provides affordances for action within the learning environment;
    If no change results from the learning analytics, then there is little value in it.
  4. can be changed by people within the learning environment.
    i.e. learners and teachers (and perhaps others) can modify the learning analytics for their own (new) purposes.

The problem is that I don’t think that institutional considerations of learning analytics pay much atention to these four axes and this may explain limited usage and impact arising from the tools.

All four axes tend to require knowing a lot about the specifics of the learning environment and being able to respond to what you find in that environment in a contextually appropriate way.

The more learning analytics enables this, the more useful it is. The more useful it is, the more it used and the more impact it will have.

A few examples to illustrate.

Data warehouse

  1. What does it know about the learning environment? Limited
    Generally will know who the learners are, what they are studying, where they are from etc. May know what they have done within various institutional systems.
    Almost certainly knows nothing about the learning design.
    Probably knows who’s teaching what they’ve taught before.
  2. Accessible from the learning environment? Probably not
    Access it via a dashboard tool which is separate from the learning environment. i.e. not going to be emedded within the discussion forum tool, or the wiki tool.
    A knowledgeable user of the tool may well set up their own broader environment so that the data warehouse is integrated into it.
  3. Affordances for action? NONE
    It can display information, that’s it.
  4. Change? Difficult and typically the same for everyone
    Only the data warehouse people can change the representation of the information the warehouse provides. They probably can’t change the data that is included in the data warehouse without buy in from external system owners. IT governance structures need to be traversed.

Moodle reports

  1. What does it know about the learning environment? Limited
    Know what the students have done within Moodle. But does not typically know of anything outside Moodle.
  2. Accessible from the learning environment? Somewhat
    If you’re learning within Moodle, you can get to the Moodle reports. But the Moodle reports are a separate module (functionality) and thus aspects of the Moodle reports cannot be easily included into other parts of the Moodle learning environment and certainly cannot be integrated into non-Moodle parts of the learning environment.
  3. Affordances for action? Limited
    The closest is that some reports provide the ability to contact digitally students who meet certain criteria. However, the difficulty of using the reports suggests that the actual “affordances” are somewhat more limited.
  4. Change? Difficult, limited to Moodle
    Need to have some level of Moodle expertise and some greater level of access to modify reports. Typically would need to go through some level of governance structure. Probably can’t be change to access much outside of Moodle.

“MAV-enabled analytics”

A paper last year describes the development of MAV at CQU and some local tinkering I did using MAV i.e. “MAV-enabled analytics”.

  1. What does it know about the learning environment? Limited but growing
    As described, both MAV (student clicks on links in Moodle) and my tinkering (student records data) draw on low level information. In a month or so my on-going tinkering has the tool including information about student completion of activities in my course site and what the students have written on their individual blogs. Hopefully that will soon be extended with SNA and some sentiment analysis.
  2. Accessible from the learning environment? Yes
    Both are analytics tools are embedded into the Moodle LMS – the prime learning environment for this context.
  3. Affordances for action? Limited but growing
    My tinkering offers little. MAV @ CQU is integrated with other systems to support a range of actions associated with contacting and tracking students. Both systems are very easy to use, hence increasing the affordances.
  4. Change? Slightly better than limited.
    MAV has arisen from tinkering and thus new functionality can be added. However, it requires someone who knows how MAV and its children work. It can’t be changed by learners/teachers. However, as I am the teacher using the results of my tinkering, I can change it. However, I’m constrained by time and system access.

2 thoughts on “Learning analytics is better when…..?

  1. Pingback: This Week in Learning Analytics (Jan 31 – Feb 6, 2015) | Timothy D. Harfield

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