It was SLATE’s privilege to host Rebecca Ferguson, one of Europe’s leading researchers in learning analytics (LA), both as a guest lecturer and as a keynote speaker at LASI-Nordic 2017.
Need to Have a Vision
Although her guest lecture was entitled, Learning Analytics – an Action Plan, Ferguson’s lecture stressed that before there can be an action plan, there must be a vision. A vision provides activities with structure and ensures their longevity. She gave examples of projects that did not include a vision and which, sadly, ended up not having lasting impacts.
Ferguson’s remarks to SLATE took into consideration SLATE’s mandate to be an R&D unit that contributes to national competence and knowledge development within learning analytics.
Ferguson underlined that providing national leadership means that it is particularly important for SLATE to reflect and undertake long-term goal setting. She referred to some of the ideas and good practice that have been implemented at The Open University.
Building a Vision
According to Ferguson, a vision provides a framework for action plans. Having a vision for anything related to Education, she says, is challenging because education an extremely complex system with many levels of leadership, stakeholders and paradigms. However, a vision can be a way of providing focus across the complexity.
Although learning analytics (LA) have been around for some time, interest in this research area has really exploded in the last decade. Ferguson cautions, however, that it is a young field and research results thus far have lacked impact and staying power. She says that the focus is still on the micro-level, while macro-level visions and action plans are needed to generate the evidence-based decision-making in LA stakeholders are demanding.
In her talks, Ferguson referred back to the current SOLAR accepted definition of LA:
Learning analytics refers to the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs.
Ferguson bolded the second half of the definition in her talk to underline that, while LA research has made progress in the activities involved in the first half of the definition, there needs to be more research relating to the second half.
Need to think ahead
Ferguson highlighted the need to plan long-term. In particular, she reminds us that the world we are preparing LA for is not today’s world. Things can and will change. As part of her work with the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project, Ferguson was a member of the team that undertook a Policy Delphi study focused on the state of LA in 2025. The study centred on eight visions of the future, which were rated and commented on by experts in terms of their desirability, feasibility and requirements for action.
Highlights of the findings include:
There is a lot of enthusiasm for Learning Analytics, but concern that its potential will not be fulfilled
Policies and infrastructure are necessary to strengthen the rights of the data subject.
Interoperability specifications and open infrastructures are an enabling technology.
Learning analytics should not imply automation of teaching and learning.
Issues of social and political power, ethics, and ownership are central factors to the future of learning analytics
There is some disagreement between educational sectors, raising the possibility should be considered that a socio-technical elite is proposing systems and methods that are not entirely welcomed by practitioners in the field.
The necessary underlying technology is already available, and will continue to develop.
Ferguson underlined the need for reliable, evidence-based, decision-making. She feels that the field of LA thus far, lacks results showing concrete benefits of LA. Research needs to focus on getting this data.
Some provocative questions for future research:
Road Map for an LA Action Plan
Research and Development