With Jisc’s learning analytics service going live last summer, we caught up with some of the people who are part of the community of practice shaping the service, to find out how implementation is going and what learning analytics is adding to their university.
“We were one of the first universities to get involved when Jisc started to put together a group of institutions to work together on learning analytics,”
says Mike Hughes, education research and enterprise services manager at City, University of London.
“We wanted to get in ahead of the curve and help shape a shared solution. Sometimes it’s a tortuous journey but it’s worth it when you’ve been involved in creating something that’s designed around your needs.”
The development of a learning analytics service for the sector was one of Jisc's first co-design projects and has now reached a key point where institutions are in the early stages of implementation or gearing up to get started.
The learning analytics community of practice is driving developments and it has grown to around 20 universities and colleges, meeting every couple of months to talk about common issues and work with our development team on an analytics solution. The University of Greenwich joined four years ago and Dr Christine Couper, director of strategic planning, explains why:
“We were aware of learning analytics’ potential but we also knew there were many different approaches and we had so many questions. We wanted to explore it carefully in a supported way.”
Each community member is working at its own pace and with a particular focus on its own key concerns. The University of South Wales’s (USW’s) first priority involved its student experience plan, giving staff insights into student engagement and progress so they can tailor the personal academic coaching programme.
Each student at the university has a member of departmental staff who is responsible for mentoring and wellbeing. Martin Lynch, learning systems manager in IT services at the university, says the data should open up more meaningful conversations:
“The analytics data will help staff to prepare for meetings. It tells a story but it’s not the whole story. It’s just a really good place to start the conversation.”
And, as he says, this doesn’t mean gathering more kinds of data. It simply means pulling together what already exists, albeit in disaggregated form. Bringing it together and presenting it clearly allows patterns to emerge.
After more than two years of what Martin calls ‘pipe-laying’ to clean the data and get it flowing into the cloud-based learning data hub efficiently – and extensive piloting – USW kicked off a learning analytics project in earnest at the start of the autumn 2018 term. It’s one of the first members of our community of practice to do so.
At the same time the learning analytics team at City, University of London has been on a three-year programme to explore the potential of learning analytics.
They are asking questions such as what the university wants to get from analytics, laying the groundwork with staff and students and exploring the privacy and ethical implications using our code of practice as a guide.
Development and implementation
The co-design process is designed to make sure we stay focused on what matters to members and that every participant can make faster, more effective progress than they could alone.
The institutions have worked in partnership with us to shape the architecture and tools at the heart of the service. Together, we’ve ironed out glitches so that student records and data can flow automatically into the cloud-based learning data hub, for example, and individual institutions have taken particular interest in developing particular tools – Abertay University has been instrumental in developing the student app study goal, which they’re using to monitor attendance. As Greenwich’s Christine Couper says, “we’ve all done a bit and been prepared to share what we’ve learned”.
What have they discovered?
For one thing, worries about staff and student reactions to learning analytics often melt away when consultation and communication are done openly and well.
At USW this has initially targeted staff, promoting learning analytics and providing training to 350 key people this year alone. Students are the next priority and the university is prototyping a set of custom-built student-facing dashboards so they can share access to the data and ultimately get more involved in learning design.
At Greenwich, the initial focus has also been on staff and they are already giving positive feedback about data explorer, a tool that provides them with visualisations of VLE usage, attendance and assessment results. The university intends to deploy the study goal app for students before Christmas. Christine Couper says this is an important step because it’s university policy for students to have access to their personal learning analytics data; this will put it at their fingertips.
Interestingly, she says, feedback from students to the students’ union indicates that students expect the university to be using student data to improve the student experience. And, she says, “far from being overly cautious, students may well prove to be an ally in this new space as they see the benefits that analytics can help us to provide.”
Over the next few months, several members will start measuring the impact of their first forays into learning analytics. At the University of Greenwich they’ll be exploring the kinds of patterns that they are seeing in the data and thinking about how these might tie into wider institutional agendas including the timing of assessments to minimise stress and reducing the attainment gap for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students.
At City, University of London, senior educational technologist Mimi Weiss Johnson says they plan to make their final decisions about what kind of analytics service to offer and what they need to put in place to make sure it happens. This includes considerations such as support needs, technical infrastructure and institutional policies.
The City Learning Analytics Project team are working on developing a learning analytics recommendations report, based on their findings, to put to senior management next summer. Part of this work includes a market review of commercial learning analytics solutions alongside the Jisc service. Mimi explained:
“We’re exploring the various learning analytics solutions so that we can choose the right one for City, University of London. Working as part of the Jisc community of practice has been a unique opportunity to collaborate with a service provider and I can’t imagine anyone but Jisc offering that opportunity. It demonstrates a real commitment to meeting the needs of their customers. It’s a great model and I hope Jisc continues to use it in future.”