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sábado, 11 de junio de 2016

Collecting digital data to improve learning designs


I am suddenly reminded of that moment at the end of a course when everything is done and all that are left are final comments. As a teacher I know that far too many times I am left with the feeling that I have learned more from my students than what I could have taught them in the course. The activity of collecting digital data, as part of blended learning, feels to me as just that scenario; of learning more from our students from what they do to improve course content and general design.

For teachers, it is standard practice to reflect on a course that was given, check notes that were written on the lesson plans, and look think how the content and method can be improved for the next cycle. Aside from a survey that may be applied at the end of the course, much of the improvement relies on how well notes were taken by the teacher on what worked and what did not, availability of new tools and resources, and the teacher's memory.

When talking about blended learning it immediately thought about the integration of technology and enhancing of learning experience, however, that tracking student's data generated from an LMS or application is a new notion for me. With the readings and videos provided in activity two, data analysis of student's usage and behavior is coming into light.

The above video provides a useful and easy to understand introduction to learning analytics. The video provides a wonderful definition of this new term:

Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their context, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs.

Impact on student education

Although learning analytics is a new concept for me, it is apparent that it holds many benefits regarding course design and learner's experience. With precise data on learner behavior on an LMS or application, it becomes easy, and factual, to identify which activities have had a significant impact on learners and which have not. Data from the software combined with survey data can surely paint a complete picture of learner's experience in the course.

With this kind of data available, learner's experience may greatly improve for the simple reason that teachers would know which areas of their course were functional and which needed to be improved; this, of course, correlated with the expected outcomes as well.

Steps to increase data usage

With no specialized software to track students behavior during the course activities, it becomes a matter of teacher creativity to find out what can be tracked and the sort of data that is generated. This is important so schemes for later analysis may be developed.

I believe that if there is no prior experience of using learning analytics the best way to take that first step might be with a spreadsheet with what may be identified as essential data for later improvement of the course. Taking the example of an LMS, things like log times and frequency of log ons may be quite useful. Also, frequency of forum participation may yield valuable insights. In addition to this, structured surveys may be applied at key points during the course to help register the experience of the learner, answers which may also be stored in a spreadsheet.

At this point I am mainly referring to quantifiable data so it may be easily categorized and graphed for analysis.As the novice teacher becomes familiar in using this data for the purposes of course improvement, new data registry methods may be implemented later on which may also include qualitative data.

Learner's benefit

Learning analytics brings an intriguing new element to the mix as it calls upon the teacher to put his or her thinking cap on and reflect on course performance in a deeper way with precise facts.

This has clear benefits to learner's experience as it will help the teacher create environment of learning which are more engaging for learners. Furthermore, tasks and activities may be designed in a more targeted way to spark critical thinking skills as well as combine multiple learning styles, ultimately helping learners achieve the expected learning outcomes in a more profound way.

Learning analytics in my context

Upon discovering this new concept an data analysis, derived from blended learning, I have taken a few moments to think about and click around the software I use; this to help me get an initial impression of how achievable it is for me to track my student's activity in a course for the purpose of optimizing the learning environment.

My initial findings are that I am able to apply this but to a limited extent.The LMS I use in my context is Blackboard. While it does generate reports of learner's activity, it does not seem to have the option to export data as a spreadsheet. Also, the functionalities for generating reports are not immediately accessible and there is a bit of a learning curve to get the right data on the report.At first glance, it seems that there is a lot of manual work the teacher needs to do in order to obtain the necessary data.

What may be more flexible for data gathering is using online surveys. Structured surveys can easily be made with Google Forms. The data from this can be saved into a spreadsheet and, once there, sorting formulas can be used and graphs can be generated to better understand the data.

At this point in time these are the two primary sources of data that I have access to. I would need to develop a data gathering scheme to in an upcoming course and, with that experience, start working learning analytics from there.

The ethics of it all

Tracking and saving learner's activity immediately raises ethical concerns for everyone involved. It cannot be overlooked that the institution, teacher, and learners need to be well-informed on the data that is being tracked and how it is being used. Further considerations may include scenarios where some learners decline being tracked, even if it is for internal purposes.

Some steps that may be taken to ensure privacy are stripping the saved data of learner's name and school registry numbers, or any other data that may directly link a specific learner to data entries. Another step may relate to transparency of data usage by allowing learners access to consult the data that is saved and include reports of how that data is being used and the improvements that have been made to content, courses and learning environments.

Final thoughts

Learning analytics is an intriguing idea that could bring a lot of benefits to the learning environment a teacher creates. Of course, there first needs to be the data gathering process and the subsequent period of analyzing the obtained data so targeted choices may be made to enhance content, methods and learner experiences.

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