“the eye of Sauron”

Or Learning Analytics – the point at which montoring becomes the price for education.

From the the title and first sentence of this blog the controversy surrounding learning analytics comes to the fore.  Coupled with ‘big data’, the idea of Big Brother always watching becomes ever more a reality.  Like a lot of the discussion on the openness and exchange of information enabled by Web 2.0, ideas with a socially-responsible and community-building ideology can often reveal a darker more insidious side once money and control are added to the mix.  Because, make no mistake, big data is big business.

We willingly sign up to Facebook and Instagram to enjoy the benefits of easy connection forming, sharing ideas and ceating our online personas, even though we know these sites are funded by the selling of our personal information.  Be it access to our photos, offering a captive and targeted audience to advertisers, or selling our personal data onto interested third parties.  However, this is our choice.  We can choose not to sign-up, login or ‘follow’.

But when reading the many definitions re. Learning analytics on Wikipedia, there is one similarity through all.  The use of social connections to predict success or influence decision making.  Suddenly how our children work, study, access material becomes part of their required educational commitment.  Students no longer choose when to come to their teachers with problems, but rather may be ‘approached’ by teachers based on their interaction with the LMS.  In principle, this is a useful tool to ensure all students receive the support they need regardless of their physical visibility in a large institution.  However, at what point does supporting students extend to censoring students.

CAEhIRoUMAE3ptm.jpg largeAs the next generation replaces face-to-face interaction with online conversations, how should social connections be monitored for organisational policy?  And is it really a tool to benefit students or to protect or enforce organisational policy?  As seen last year in the States, providing big data collection services is big money – and for publishers, can act as the ‘watchdog’ to ensure material is protected and paid for.  This seems almost a complete contradiction to the openness and collaborative intentions of web 2.0 and learning communities.

Learning analytics does have a place – it can be used to determine what methodology students respond to, which materials students spend more time on, as well as identifying patterns of learning, development and interaction during a course.  However, as Mike Sharkey points out, institutes must be careful in how they define ‘success’ – the data may show that all students have completed a series of online exercises successfully, but real success comes when the students can demonstrate that learning in a productive manner.





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