Thursday, 29 January 2015

Learning Analytics: White Rose Learning Technologists' Forum - 28th January 2015

I had the pleasure of 'crashing' the White Rose Learning Technologists' Forum yesterday, tempted by the focus on Learning Analytics.

Martin Hawksey led the main session of the day, talking about Learning Analytics: Threats and Opportunities, followed by Patrick Lynch from Hull talking about the work he's been doing. In this post I'll try and explore some of the themes we looked at. Twitter activity used the #wrltf hashtag if you want to take a look at that.

What is Learning Analytics?

Martin talked about it being important to see the links between Learning Analytics and more mature fields and disciplines such as Network Analysis. We looked at a couple of definitions which you can read in his slides. The definitions talked about using data and analysis to understand and optimise learning, and to develop "actionable insights". We took part in discussions where the need to consider the differences between business and learning analytics become clear.

Threats: 'The Absence of Theory', 'Visualisations', and 'Ethics, privacy and data sharing'

Mike Caulfield wrote about how Big Data is usually used in a Behaviouralist way and how it "asks us to see entire classes of people as sets of statistical probabilities". He argued that we need theory to guide us as to what we are looking for.

Caulfield also argues that "it is actually “small data” — data that can live in a single spreadsheet — that paired with local use has the greatest potential". This is an aside in his article, but is probably the main thing that I took from this event.

Martin led us through some other thoughts on why decontextualised data is not useful, before moving on to the dangers of taking dashboards and graphs as neutral things, when really they are almost always designed to tell a story in a certain way.

We then looked at ethics, with InBloom used as an example of an educational initiative that many thought was unnecessarily collecting user data that all sorts of people could then access.


Learning Analytics can help start conversations, and act as a feedback loop between students and instructors. Martin Cooper has done work on how it might be used to help disabled students.

An important quote from a Simon Buckingham Shaw presentation is used "What kind of learners are we trying to create? This should drive our analytics".

Tools we can use

Both Patrick and Martin demonstrated tools that we can use to collect, manage and use data.

Martin talked about the various ways in which Twitter is used by teachers and then demonstrated his TAGS (Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet) tool as a way of archiving Twitter activity. When planning to use this it is worth knowing that currently the Twitter API limits Tweets to those posted in the last 7 days, and to the last 18,000 Tweets in a series.

This tool takes 5-10 minutes to set up for yourself, and I used it to archive/collect the tweets related to the event.

Patrick demonstrated the use of Tableau as a tool that he uses along with the 'R' language to explore data, looking for oddities that might reveal an interesting story. For example using Tableau to present data from a course they noticed that lots of students were accessing a resource after the module had finished. They asked questions and found that the students were finding it useful in another module, and the resource was then embedded in that other module too.

For those interested in exploring these things further, Patrick recommends engaging with the Apereo Foundation community and keeping track of how JISC is promoting and investing in Learning Analytics on our behalf.

In his experience it is important to work with students from the beginning. Some students see it as Big Brother and others as something useful. In the future he thinks the collection of data is likely to change from opt out to opt in, and if that is true we will need to ensure that students both see and receive a benefit from it.

Personal Reflections

Previously my perspective on Learning Analytics was that it was something that would only be useful in online courses where you could collect huge amounts of data about all a student's learning activities. Yesterday's event introduced me to smaller scale ways that we could collect and use data to benefit student learning, and a convincing case was made as to the smaller scale very focused work potentially being more effective.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

MELSIG Event: Creative Lecture Capture, Webinars & Screencasting

I attended the MELSIG event called 'Creative Lecture Capture, Webinars & Screencasting' yesterday at the University of Nottingham. It's a long journey, so even the early train didn't get me there for the start, but the sessions that I did attend told some interesting stories about the use of things like webinars, lecture capture, and iTunes U. I've written up notes on a few of the sessions, and I apologise for any errors.

Webinars: Inside and outside the institution

Helen Whitehead spoke about webinars at the University of Nottingham. They've been using Adobe Connect generally, but chose to use Google Hangouts for their MOOCs, and they sometimes use Lync when working with staff. She advised to think about who your audience are before choosing which system to use, for example if they are in China or the NHS they may be limited in what they can access.

She had some tips for the use of webinars

  • Use a countdown timer and/or welcome music before the session
  • Ideally leave the speaker with as little else to do as possible. It's a good idea to have a moderator who welcomes people, starts the recording, reads the chat, etc.
  • Webinars should be short, simple and interactive. If they are not interactive you might be better just creating a recording and making that available.

In Google Hangouts students can watch the sessions if they are not logged in, but they can log in to interact. She noted that Hangout sessions need a clear purpose if people are to attend them.

We had a discussion about why attendees usually engage using the chat tool, but not their microphones. It was put forward that they might be attending in a busy office, or a public space. Someone thought that students should be told in advance that they might be expected to speak, and perhaps asked to prepare something short to share.

Using lecture capture technologies to support peer-to-peer
feedback among first-year Fashion students in a studio-based learning

Ann Draycott, Rob Higson, and Glenn McGarry from the University of Derby presented on media enhanced feedback and their Flexible Feedback Project. In this project first year fashion students gave each other feedback on their creations using Panopto.

The benefits to using this institutionally provided and supported system were it was scalable, peer support and central support was available, and data protection and governance has been thought through. Challenges were related to using a system beyond its intended use, and finding workarounds.

iTunes U Special Focus Panel

Peter Robinson from Oxford told us about their long running iTunes U project. They have 6000 episodes on there now, and have put the same content on the web too. At first they didn't want to put full sets of lectures up, but they do now, with 50% of it CC licenced. A lot of what they have learned was written up in the JISC Steeple project wiki.

Terese Bird from Leicester talked about their smaller iTunes U project which linked in with their OER and lecture capture projects.

They got staff on board by having a meeting with a free lunch, emailing key people, and sharing success stories. Terese spent about a month working 4 days a week on this to get it launched, but then maintaining it took about a day a week.

Leicester find iTunes U to be a way to showcase their work around the world, as iTunes U is blocked in very few countries.

Graham McElearney from Sheffield talked about their more recent project from 2013. They have a commitment to public engagement, and saw iTunes U as part of this rather than a marketing tool, although it does raise the profile of academics, disciplines and the institution.

In discussions it was noted that it's important to consider your audience when making resources available. iTunes U might be great for an international audience, but for 15-17 year olds in the UK you might be better having resources on YouTube. However iTunes U allows you to put audio versions on and many people appreciate the ability to download audio versions of the lectures, and listen on mobile devices.

Running Video Assessments

Ellie Kennedy and Helen Puntha from Nottingham Trent told us about their work on an extra curricular module about sustainability. In this module students created videos as part of their assessment, and the best videos are being used as learning resources for future students.

Exploring the value and use of recorded student presentations

Alex Spiers talked about Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine's use of work recording sessions using Panopto. For a first year module with 15 students they recorded all lectures, presentations and other sessions and found that no students had issues with being recorded, and most viewing of recordings occurred during assessment periods although different students accessed the recordings different amounts. Student response was positive and they wanted similar provision in other modules.

The event was a good opportunity to see a range of activities that are taking place. If you want to know more there is the Twitter activity from the day, and Padlet was used to record webinar tips from attendees, and ideas for using video for student work.