The benevolent big brother

In my last post, I expressed concerns about the use of learning analytics as a tool to micro-manage student and faculty behaviour.  A tool to benefit administrators and the big publishing houses, rather than one that could benefit students.  As a parent, I do have concerns about the amount of visibility there is of my child’s activities online, but as schools get bigger, catchment areas more spread and teachers overwhelmed with the amount of paperwork they have to do, I’ve started to consider analytics from another point of view.  The utopian dream of education is the teacher who understand your child, who nurtures what is special about them and recognises that there is more to a child than what can be seen in the class.  A sort of Little House on the Prairie ideal (though hopefully without the bloodshed and tears).  Can this be supplied through learning analytics?

With this in mind, and as a requirement of H817, Week 22, this blog looks at three of the pedagogies of Sharples et al (2016), and how their goals could be realised through learning analytics.

Crossover learning.

Goal: to connect formal and informal learning.  This can also be seen as an extention of blended learning when formal in-class learning is combined with field trips, but can also include the learning that can occur in after-school clubs or internships.  In an era where 21st Century Skills are increasingly valued, crossover learning can be a move towards competency based learning, focusing on achieving goals and acquiring skills outside of the formal curriculum.

In the example of a museum trip, learning analytics data can be used to show the amount history site screenof time spent browsing, returning to, following links on external sites.  Such as, the museum’s own site, historical information sites, or specific information sites.

In an after-school activity (such as a wearable technologies class), data can be collected on how often students look at, pause, or repeat a YouTube instructional video, or do students prefer step-by-step instructions and pictures such as those provided by

Learning through argumentation

Goal: to prepare students for real-world skills of discussion and defending arguments.  Critical thinking skills, required for good argumentation, require a certain level of knowledge, as well as the ability to see both sides.  Students are often not critical enough in their assessment of the papers they read, which can often be restricted to those recommended by tutors or required by the curriculum.  By using data of student’s search patterns, links clicked and followed, and repeat visits, it may be possible for course developers and teachers to have visibility of how argumentation evidence is searched for online.  Do students know how to use search engines effectively?  What source material do they value and revisit; be it the relevant press websites, academic sources, personal opinion pieces or blogs?  And once they have done their research, do they share links, or engage in discussions – either required or self-initiated.

Incidental learning

Education has often tried to make use of personal interests of students to help students engage with learning or simply to keep their attention.  Gamification is a buzzword in education circles as a key tool in supporting learning that can occur outside a structured curriculum or formal setting.  OU uses Second Life, whilst Minecraft is busy making inroads into education.  Whilst the results of these projects are still being debated, there is still an argument for using learning analytics to gain insight into what activities students are engaged with online outside their formal learning.  However, one issue with gamification (and other incursions into private learning spaces) is that often by the time course designers have caught up, their target audience had moved onto something else?  Is this year’s (or month’s) fad: Minecraft, World of Warcraft, or Pokemon Go?

However, fast responses to big data can hep to avoid spending large amounts of money and time on activites which are no longer relevant to students.  Activities which build on asynchronous discussions via social media can be replicated on either Facebook, Twitter or Whats’ App with a minimal of tweeks.  Learning analytics can give insight into whch medium is the flavour of the month and course material can quickly be adapted to suit.  Over the long term, user online patterns can also be used to decide whether resources are being effectively targeted.  Why set up an internal blogging facility, if students prefer to use an external site, which offers them a bigger audience and the potential for larger communities to be created.

However Incidental Learning can also throw up differences between age groups and assassin creedgender.  For students who typically don’t perform well in a subject area,  e.g. History, gaming outside the classroom can be a useful tool to be encouraged.  The incredibly accurate maps, city layouts and historical back stories of the Assassin’s Creed stories could be used to support history lessons: The Medicis or the French Revolution.  Even inaccuracies can be a useful teaching device – students can be asked to find and discuss those that exist in the games.

However, whilst this can be a support for students, making incidental learning a core element of a classroom could mean there is a risk of alienating sections of a class or group.

These are only a few of the innovations in pedagogy proposed by Sharples et al, but the potential is there.

Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.

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