On Thursday 8th December, the National Forum hosted our first national symposium on Learning Analytics, entitled Bringing People Together; Exploring LA in Irish HE. The national interest in this new and exciting area was evidenced by the terrific turnout we had from across the sector. There were seventy-four attendees, representing nineteen Universities, Institutes of Technology and Colleges of Education across the country, as well as a number of organisations linked to the area.
The symposium was designed as an event where colleagues with an interest in Learning Analytics could come together as a community, introduce each other to their relevant work and collaborate to identify opportunities, challenges and solutions that could benefit us all. To this end, the main content of the day was composed of 3-4 minute micro-presentations which each attendee was invited to prepare in advance. These presentations outlined each person’s work in the area, the challenges and opportunities they’ve identified and the next steps they would either like to take or are planning to take.
On the day, we had twenty-eight micro-presentation which were grouped together under the following headings:
- First Principles
- Enhancing the Student Experience
- Applications of Learning Analytics
- Original Research
- Existing Platforms
- IT Integration and Collaboration
In the table below, I’ve compiled the major themes arising from these excellent and highly informative presentations. You can (nearly!) see from the key (click the image to enlarge it) that the green sections were flagged as challenges, the yellows show perceived opportunities and the blues list the next steps our presenters would like to see. You can also see that most of the topics were listed as a combination of challenges, opportunities and next steps.
What I find interesting from this graph is how few of the most-referenced topics are about data. Initially this seems odd in relation to a discipline which is ‘about’ data analysis but I think it shows that the field of learning analytics is far broader than the Analytics part of the name suggests. If we’re looking for impact (and if we’re not, then what’s the point?!), really thorough data analysis and modelling are only part of the picture. No matter how interesting and insightful our predictions are, unless they are translated into action which not only can but does help students, they remain purely interesting and insightful.
This meaningful action is dependent upon a whole spectrum of ideal conditions which have to be in place for analytics to be fruitful. We need policies and codes of practice which ensure that our use of the data is ethical, legal and informed by models of good practice; we need dynamic, joined-up datasets which give a full picture of what’s happening; we need an institutional culture in which data-enabled decisions are not only normal but expected; we need buy-in to this approach from our management, colleagues and students; we need the means to present the findings of our analysis in an intuitive way which empowers and invites users rather than confusing them; we need to set our sights on enhancing the students’ experience by prioritising teaching, learning and welfare rather than limiting ourselves to improved retention. Finally, we need to know that what we’re doing is working. If we’re endorsing an evidence-based approach, we need to ensure that the spotlight of analysis reflects upon itself as well as on the world around.
So, what else did we learn from the presentations? What’s happening in Learning Analytics around Ireland?
Taking the institutions present as representative, it’s clear that a genuine enthusiasm about Learning Analytics exists across the sector. There is a palpable desire to explore and implement the principles, methodologies and technologies of an analytical approach.
In addition to this interest, the depth and breadth of the expertise that exists across Ireland is truly remarkable. We had presentations on every aspect of the Learning Analytics journey, from establishing the infrastructure and data modelling approaches right through to using dashboards to enhance student welfare and student-directed learning as well as the ethical considerations of the entire process.
A large number of institutions have been active in this space for some time, with a quarter of the presentations referring to analytics systems and approaches which are already up and running. A further quarter described original Irish research which is either being undertaken or has been completed.
For my money, however, the most encouraging aspect of the day was the sense of community which is already evident. The hubbub of conversation permeated the day as colleagues old and new from across the country shared their interest and expertise. ‘Collaboration’ was referenced in almost every presentation as we look to work together, across institutions and provinces, to build on the foundations laid on the day.
In order to keep up this momentum, we’ve created an online collaborative space where these conversations can continue. Mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you haven’t already been given access to it. We’ll also shortly be issuing the call for expressions of interest in joining one of the Advisory Panels which will give participants the chance to help shape the remainder of the project by contributing to the content of ORLA, our impending Online Resource for Learning Analytics. ORLA will act as a good-practice roadmap for institutions and individuals who wish to develop their understanding and use of an evidence-based analytical strategy in Higher Education.