Welcome to NEXUS: A learning analytics blog!

It’s a pleasure to welcome you to Nexus, the new blog from SoLAR — The Society for Learning Analytics Research!
Keywords: Algorithms, Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Feedback, Learning, Teaching, Visualization
Target readers: Software Designer; Educator; Learning Technologist; Instructional Designer; Researcher; Leader

Author: Simon Buckingham Shum

Positions: Chair of the SoLAR Education Working Group, and Professor & Director, Connected Intelligence Centre, University of Technology Sydney;

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Author: Melanie Peffer

Positions: Research Faculty/Instructor, University of Colorado Boulder

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Picture by Jairo del Agua on Flickr

Teachers and students, you don’t have to fly blind

Why are we doing this?

Nexus: an important connection between the parts of a system or a group of things. From nectere (Latin) — to bind.

It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the new Nexus blog, from SoLAR — The Society for Learning Analytics Research! This is just the latest channel to join our podcasts and webinars, as we get the word out about Learning Analytics to our diverse audiences.

Learning Analytics? This is a broad banner for software and analytical methods you may have run into under different guises — including “learning dashboards”, “visual analytics”, educational data science, and the myriad educational technology products claiming to be powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

In a nutshell, we’re talking about the implications of “Big Data” for learning and teaching. Having transformed so many aspects of our lives, how will this impact schools, universities, professional training and lifelong learning?

Nexus? As the name signals, this is meant to bring people together from across the diverse community interested in these questions — including educators, learning technologists, instructional designers, researchers, data scientists, user interface designers, educational leaders — hey, even students who are curious to know how these systems come into being!

We decided to start a blog to present key insights from the field in a shorter more disgetible form. When something catches your eye and you’d like to dive deeper, we’ve included links too.

Why now?

Educational Technology is exploding and it’s important to know what questions to ask

It’s estimated that the educational technology (Ed-Tech) industry is growing at a rate of 18%. Ed-tech vendors are keen to show you their technology and associated shiny dashboard, jumping to make claims that you can now see if your students, staff, or children are learning. Or students can now get instant feedback in the classroom. But, how do we make sense of the data? Is it really meaningful?

But while computers are great at logging page views and clicks,
we know that counting clicks ≠ learning.

So what to do? Nexus will share what we’re learning about these critical questions:

  • What should be counted?
  • How should it be displayed?
  • To whom?
  • To give them insights into what precisely?

Teachers flying blind (and now locked down)

The learning experience has shifted to technology use for a while, but the COVID-19 pandemic has added an extra edge. Suddenly, students are not in front of teachers, and any educator worth their salt needs to know How are my students doing?

Perhaps you feel like you’re flying blind, with poor visibility of your students. But the fog you’re in may have a silver lining. Increasing student activity online — when done well — can mean that you have far greater digital footprint of student activity. Given the right tools and the skills to use them, it is possible to have higher resolution, more timely information about students than you had when they were in your class.

Students flying blind (and now locked down)

Learners need good feedback, and they can never get enough. Students need to know that someone’s on their case, in a good way. But teachers in schools, colleges and universities are invariably stretched to breaking point, and giving personal, timely feedback is time-consuming.

One of the most exciting outcomes from good Learning Analytics is the ability to close the feedback loop to learners, by using automation to assist the teaching team to stay connected with their students in ways that would otherwise be impossible.

So, we invite you to hang around here for a bit

Even without a global pandemic to shock the system into jumping online, Learning Analytics have been exploding in a perfect storm of drivers: the emergence of mobile computing, the platform economy, political accountability, the ‘datafication’ of the education system, changes in teaching methods, and advances in data science/AI to analyse all this data.

This opens huge opportunities to improve learning, but comes with new risks. We need to talk about this, and urgently.

  • We’ll be reviewing examples of great design — and not-so-great design. We’re not talking about pretty colours and cool interfaces (nice as those are), but more about how viewers make sense of the information they’re shown.
  • We’ll be discussing what skills educators need to use learning analytics effectively. All too often, ed-tech products fail to deliver because there was little thought given to training, and the time to incorporate new tools into teaching practice.
  • In fact, maybe the information being shown isn’t the right information. Did anybody actually ask the teachers or students what they would find helpful? We’re interested in how we give a meaningful voice to the people we hope will use these tools.
  • We’ll be considering the ethics of Learning Analytics. Post-Snowden and Cambridge Analytica, post-Brexit and US 2016 Election, citizens are quite rightly concerned about ‘black box’ algorithms in online platforms. What does this mean for Learning Analytics?

But it’s also up to you what we cover: let us know what you’d like to see stories on, or if you have a story you want to tell.

Nexus: add your links to the chain, and help us connect people and ideas!