If you’ve been working in higher education (HE) for a while, you’ll know that the latest Higher Education Commission (HEC) report ‘From Bricks to Clicks: the Potential of Data and Analytics in Higher Education’ is welcome research. It brings into the spotlight the conversation about the strategic role that data and digital can play in HE.
I was pleased to be involved in that conversation at the parliamentary launch of the report today, and reflect on the report’s recommendations, and some of the exciting opportunities it outlines that come with greater engagement with data and analytics.
Yesterday on WonkHE, Andy Youell observed that the report
“takes the data conversation out of the nerdspace and to a different level.”
The report is unusual in that, aside from a brief section on the Freedom of Information Act, it has no recommendations for government. Instead, there’s a clear message that this opportunity is in the sector’s own hands to shape.
Developing digital leaders
Like me you probably read the report and reflected that the sector is already doing a lot of what is recommended. But there is a great difference between ‘best practice’ activity and embedding that practice as something that happens every day in every organisation. That move is not going to happen by itself. Digital leadership is needed, the report says.
This means vice-chancellors and senior leaders truly understanding the potential of digital and data, and grasping the opportunity to use digital to transform functions right across the university, well beyond the IT department – from planning to research to teaching. Many of the institutions featured in this report have already recognised this.
Realising the recommendations
You may have already read our initial response to the report. I’d like now to draw attention to some of the recommendations and explore what we can do together as a sector to see them realised on the ground.
These actions could result in powerful change - helping UK universities to differentiate themselves in an increasingly global market, and maintain their market share of students.
Leveraging learning analytics
Firstly, the report highlights the importance of learning analytics, going as far as recommending that all universities consider introducing an appropriate learning analytics system. Personally I am extremely enthusiastic about organisations doing this because of its obvious benefits.
Learning analytics data enables students and tutors to keep an eye on progress and diagnose problems amidst an information deluge. That gives the organisation as a whole the tools they need to provide an ever better student experience. Such data also offers benefits for universities looking to deliver rich, individually-tailored learning anywhere in the world, making them more competitive globally as digital learning providers.
Our learning analytics service
At Jisc we are working with 50 UK universities to set up a national learning analytics service which will be the first time such an initiative has been introduced on a national scale anywhere in the world.
Doing this at a national level opens up a raft of opportunities, including a powerful dataset that helps us figure out what works well in HE teaching, and a better understanding of student pathways, especially for those from non-traditional backgrounds. But again, realising the potential of analytics is not going to happen by itself. The sector will need to come together to drive forward the use of learning analytics in the UK and ensure we don’t let this opportunity slip through our fingers.
Finally, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), Universities UK and Jisc all agree with alacrity on the recommendation to develop a sector-wide excellent and innovative data management strategy. Indeed, we’ll be meeting later this week to discuss the recommendation that the Commission has made.
So let’s all grasp this opportunity. Let's make sure that 'Bricks to Clicks' doesn't end up being just another report gathering dust on the shelf. Let's make the publication of this report a key moment - when the sector really grasped the opportunity that digital and data can bring, and took action to make it happen.
The prize here is enormous. At Jisc, we are here to help you to unlock it.
Please do come and talk to us. Get in touch with our customer contact centre.