Learning analytics – a bridge to the middle space? #lak13

It’s not quite a chicken and egg situation, but there is a always a tension between technology and pedagogy. A common concern being that technology is being used in education “just because it can” and not because it has a sound pedagogical impact. Abelardo Pardo’s keynote at the recent #lak13 conference described how learning analytics could potentially sit in the middle space between technology and teaching.

Learning analytics could provide additional bridges between each community to help make real improvements to teaching and learning.  Analytical tools can provide data driven insights into how people interact with systems, activities and each other and learn, but in turn we need to have the expertise of teachers to help developers/data scientists frame questions, develop potential data collection points and contextualize findings. Abelardo’s personal story about his own engagement both with pedagogy and analytics was a powerful example of this. The bridge analogy really resonated with me and many other of the delegates.  I’ve often described, and indeed hope that, a large part of my job is being a bridge between technology and teaching.  

On the final day of the conference  there was a healthy debate around what the focus of the LAK conference and community should be.  On the one hand learning analytics is a relatively new discipline. It is trying hard to establish its research credentials, and so needs to be active in producing “serious” research papers. On the other, if it really wants live up its own hypothesis and gain traction with practitioners/institutions, then it needs to not only to provide insights but also accessible, scalable tools and methodologies.  The “science bit” of some of  the LAK research papers were quite challenging to put into a real world context, even for the enthusiastic data amateur such as myself.

However we do need valid research to underpin the discipline and also to validate  any claims that are being made.  Extension of action research projects could provide one solution to this which was encompassed by a number of papers. I’m a strong believer in action research in education, it seems a natural fit with how most teachers actually work, and also can provide real opportunities for students to be involved in the process too.  ( As an aside, like last year, I did get the feeling that what was being discussed was actually teaching analytics – not learning analytics, i.e it was still about teacher intervention understanding and what could be done to students). 

Part of what we have been trying to at CETIS with our Analytics Series, is to try and provide a bridge into this whole area. The set of case studies I’ve been working on in particular are specifically aimed at illustrating applications of analytics in a variety of real world contexts. But they are not the kind of papers that would be accepted (or submitted ) to the LAK conference. One suggestion my colleague Martin Hawskey came up with during the final day of the conference was the idea of a more “relaxed” stream/session.  

Perhaps something along the lines of the lightning presentations we used at both the UK SoLAR Flare meeting and the recent CETIS conference. This could provide a bridge between the research focus of the conference and actual practice, and give an opportunity to quickly share some of the exciting work that many people are doing, but for a variety of reasons, aren’t writing research papers on. Maybe that would  bring a bit more of an experimentation/what’s actually happening now/fun element to the proceedings.  

If you want to catch up on conference proceedings, I’d thoroughly recommend reading some of the excellent live blogs from Doug Clow, Sharon Slade and Myles Danson, which Doug has rather handily collated here. 

I’ll also be following up with a couple of more posts in the next few days based on some of the really exciting work I saw presented at the conference. 

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