Fitbit, learning, and why my wife is right

A couple of weeks ago, I helped host the Jisc Change Agents Network meetup, where we welcomed over 170 delegates. It was a very busy and intense day – from setting up in the morning to making sure the entire venue was returned to its correct configuration for the following day’s teaching.

stairwell-690870_1280When I got home and slumped on the sofa, feet aching and ever-so-slightly dehydrated, I opened up my Fitbit app to bask in the glory of my step-based achievement. To my horror, my Flex battery had run out halfway through the day. The potential 25,000+ steps was ripped from me, leaving just a paltry 8,000. All that effort, and what did I have to show for it?
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Jisc Summer of Student Innovation 2016 now open

Student innovation competition now open

Our innovation challenge: could your students make an impact?

digital-catapult innovationJisc’s Summer of Student Innovation competitions are an opportunity for students to have an impact on life and study in work based learning providers, colleges and universities across the UK.
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A to Z of Digital Education

When people think about digital education (or technology-enhanced learning – TEL) they often think of new bits of software, a website service, or a mobile app. However, these are just the tools to enable some interesting delivery, collaboration or assessment methods. We like to think about the underlying pedagogies, but sometimes it is right to bring the two things we love most in the world: ed-tech and lists.

In this post, you will find most of the cool apps and tools that may help your learning and teaching. We will provide links to their websites or app store pages. In time, we will look in more detail at some of these, and will keep this list updated as technology moves on.
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Jisc Innovation Event

PANO_20150521_144932At the end of May, Jisc invited Dan Derricott and I to attend an innovation workshop at the University of Birmingham. In University of Lincoln student engagement spirit, we brought along a University of Lincoln student, Sam Biggs ( @SLBiggs1993) to act as an expert in the student experience.

There were very few details about the workshop, so we didn’t really know what to expect. Jisc were vague in their description that there would be “no agenda, no presentations, just a few primers… bring people together to talk about what is possible, what the trends are and see if there are any potential projects in amongst the ideas.”

Once we had arrived and settled, Lawrie Phipps ( @Lawrie), Senior Co-design Manager at Jisc explained the aims of the workshop were to get key people from the education sector in a room and to see what we came up with. It was a chance to be really radical with our thinking and push the boundaries of our thinking about the education system.

After two days of idea seeding, pitching, group forming, discussions, and an earth-shattering number of Post-It notes, it became clear that being innovative is really hard. Even though we were given a blank slate, to be truly radical posed many more questions than we were able to answer over the two days. Most of the suggestions were incremental improvements of existing systems.

Now, that is not to say that incremental changes do not have their worth. The iterative process of development is incredibly effective in creating excellent systems and products, it is how the likes of Facebook and Twitter update their websites and apps with new services and features. However, a true revolutionary shift would need a complete rethinking of Higher Education.

IMG_20150520_114733A particular interesting topic was the removal of structure from education. It was proposed that Higher Education should move away from certainty and agreement, and operate on the edge of chaos. Peter Reed from University of Liverpool discusses these ideas in more detail here. This shift would lead HEIs towards a more problem-based approach to teaching, greater flexibility for students, and increased student voice and participation; this is a direct correlation with our own Student As Producer ethos.

Other important topics of discussion included:

  • The student voice – involving students in the decision-making processes (something we are a sector leader in)
  • Being more technology agnostic – allow greater freedoms to use the best software for a task, rather than the institutionally-supported one
  • The development of digital literacies and capabilities will become more and more important
  • The understanding that learning doesn’t just take place within a lecture hall or seminar room – flexible spaces, including virtual, are vital in the learning processes of students
  • Student feedback – this focussed around the ideas of anonymous crowd-sourced comments, like YikYak

In conclusion, it is really difficult to be innovative! However, it was reassuring that the problems we have identified here are replicated across the country, and that we are further along in dealing with them than many institutions. Sam, our student, was really involved in the discussions and his insight and perspective was particularly valuable.

Analytics: a report from the sector

I was working with a colleague the other day and overheard a discussion between students on a nearby table, they couldn’t work out how well they were doing on their course and if they were doing enough work. They were able to access their assignment feedback, and their tutors provided opportunities for formative assessment, but it still wasn’t enough to alleviate their worries. They wanted more information.

So how can we put information in the hands of the students? The answer could be a data analytics, something that is gaining traction in the education sector, where it is normally called learning analytics. Learning analytics can be defined as ‘the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs’ (Siemens, 2011 in: LACE, 2015). As an institution we already capture and store lots of information about our students, but the learning analytics movement focuses on the actions that comes out the analysis of that data. Analyses move from descriptive to predictive, and maybe to prescriptive.

Empty lecture hallThese analyses can be quite simple, for example: if attendance monitoring indicates that students don’t turn up to Thursday 9am lectures, then it would make sense to reschedule the lecture for another time. Comparing student attainment with library resource access may throw up interesting patterns; this may help tutors target students for support. With all the interest from the sector, Jisc have commissioned a project to develop a learning analytics solution for UK FE and HE institutions.

Using this data to predict or generalise raises a number of ethical and legal issues. A group of interested parties are working to define and find solutions for these issues, led by Jisc, LACE and the Apereo Foundation. In November 2014, Jisc published a Code of Practice for learning analytics detailing the key ethical and legal considerations for institutions. Since then, they have hosted a number of events where colleagues from institutions across Europe have been able to discuss them in more detail, leading to the publishing of A taxonomy of ethical, legal and logistical issues of learning analytics v1.0.

The Jisc learning analytics project has 5 strands:

    Learning analytics architecture

  • the ethical and legal issues,
  • institutional infrastructure,
  • choosing suitable analytics tools,
  • a staff dashboard, and
  • a student app.

I have been lucky to be involved with the Jisc learning analytics project since last summer and was invited to attend a scoping meeting for the student app project in London at the end of February. It became clear that the scope of such an app was unlimited, so it initially focussed on delivering the key information a student needs to their devices in a way they can intuitively understand when they need it. With an ambitious time-scale to get a beta version in students’ hands by October 2015 for a pilots, soon students will have access to pertinent information about their academic performance.

That overheard conversation will be changed dramatically. The students will know their progress and engagement in their own education at-a-glance. Learning analytics really puts the student at the centre of education.