What We Learned at the Open Learning Analytics Summit

“Open learning analytics” may not be the hot topic at your next cocktail party, but it was the cornerstone of passionate engagement for a group of academic technologists who gathered in Indianapolis last weekend for the Open Analytics Summit. And it is a vitally important element in many next generation learning initiatives. Learning analytics holds forth the promise of using learners’ actions online to determine points where they are having problems and need help, ensuring that problems are addressed and students receive immediate support. It’s true that the range and sophistication of learning analytics systems in the marketplace has increased dramatically in the last few years. But making learning analytics systems open – that is, making it possible for those other than the original developers to see, share, add to, and thus improve the underlying code - holds out the further promise that open systems can be more useful, and perhaps even more affordable, if the work of developing them is divided among and shared by multiple institutions.

The goals of the meeting included determining specific areas where work is needed, beginning to discuss initial project ideas in those areas, and forming an ongoing network to carry the planning forward. Since NGLC supported Marist College’s Open Academic Analytics Initiative (OAAI) as one of its 2011-2013 building blocks for college completion, NGLC staff attended to stay in tune with the needs and next directions for this promising field of effort. (Marist’s OAAI was the recipient of a 2013 Technology Innovators’ Award from Campus Technology, indicating recognition in the field of the importance of their work. Project leader Josh Baron’s blog post on OAAI’s findings is available here.)

The two-day meeting set out to determine those directions by engaging 40 technology leaders from across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Marist’s project leader for OAAI, Josh Baron, was a primary organizer of the meeting, as were Kim Arnold of the University of Wisconsin - Madison and George Siemens of the University of Texas at Arlington. Siemens’ recent work on learning analytics includes co-authorship of the discussion paper “Improving the Quality and Productivity of the Higher Education Sector: Policy and Strategy for Systems-level Deployment of Learning Analytics.” The organizers took advantage of the fact that many community leaders they wished to engage as collaborators had come to Indianapolis to attend the 4th International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK).

Funding is a key consideration for those determined to press forward in an emerging area of research and action like open learning analytics. Accordingly, the innovators who organized the OLA Summit had invited Edith Gummer of the National Science Foundation to provide, via conference call, an overview of relevant funding possibilities within NSF. Following Dr. Gummer’s presentation, the participants divided according to their domains of interest to discuss gaps in knowledge and begin to frame projects that might address them. Some questions the groups considered:

  • Open Source Learning Analytics Software and Open Standards/interoperability
    How can we advance acceptance and use of common standards for important elements of learning analytics systems, such as the dashboards on which results are displayed?
  • Open Datasets and Open Research
    What do those leading learning analytics efforts know about researchers’ primary needs for open access to data? Could we design a survey of institutional practices to learn more about the state of open learning analytics across higher education institutions?
  • Strategy and Policy
    How might the culture of higher education change to become more clearly evidence-based and cross-institutional, given the valid concerns that surround the issue of student privacy?
  • Open Learning Designs
    Do today’s learning analytics designs focus too exclusively on the single outcome of retention? How do we educate and engage the broader teaching and learning community in considering how learning analytics fits into that community’s priorities and efforts?  

To learn more about NGLC-supported work in the area of learning analytics in higher education, please see our paper from last fall on the design and implementation of the six learning analytics projects among the Building Blocks for College Completion. Readers interested in learning more about the issues discussed or becoming involved in the project development of one or more of the domain groups should drop a note to nmillichap@educause.edu. I’ll put you in touch with the organizer of the discussion in which you’re interested.

 

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