JISC Learning Analytics

There was recently been at a one day conference run by JISC on Learning Analytics (namely, the collection and analysis of data on student learning patterns). The event was the culmination of a pilot study involving the Universities of South Wales, Gloucester and Greenwich, the focus of which was to explore the use and benefits of learning analytics to higher education institutions.

To this end, JISC and the project partners have developed a “Data Hub” repository to collect data, a “Data Explorer” dashboard for staff to explore student progress and a “Study Goal” app to help students understand their own progress.

The system collates data from various sources, including in-class attendance registers, VLE interaction (tracking data from Moodle and/or Blackboard) and usage patterns of learning resources (such as computing facilities, lab equipment, library resources etc.). This data can then be made available to both staff and students in order to improve aspects of the teaching and learning process.

In what kinds of scenarios might such data be useful ?

  • Imagine knowing exactly what each of your personal tutees have been up to (instead of having to ask them the usual speculative “so how are things going” type questions).
  • Imagine the annual revision of unit content with the aid of detailed insight into which lectures and materials had been most popular (and which had been overlooked or ignored).
  • Imagine being able to predict which students on your unit were on track to get first class grades (and which students are likely to fail) … even before you have actually set the assignment !

Sure, there are a myriad of challenges and issues to be overcome – not least of which are: technical problems of development and deployment such a system; The Orwellian dystopia of constant monitoring (there was even talk of attendance tracking using geolocation !); The difficulty of performing analysis on partial or inaccuracy information.

But in these times of growing cohort sizes and increasing emphasis on student well-being, perhaps this could be a positive step forward in terms of awareness of engagement and insight into student learning patterns and progress ?

New collaborative design studios in the school of CAME

By Thea Morgan, March 2019

Our Engineering Design students have been trialling out our two new collaborative, technology enabled design studios this teaching block. The brain-child of CAME’s Sean Lancastle and Joel Ross, this introduction of the very latest in technology enhanced learning has been eagerly awaited by both students and teaching staff. The two studios together have capacity for 72 students.

The exciting new spaces contain ‘pods’ for group design work, with each pod featuring a leaf-shaped table for six students, a large display screen, and a Microsoft Surface Studio. Each pod is linked to the main lectern, which itself has a Surface Studio and main display screen behind. From here you can control all six pods, which can either be in ‘teaching mode’ for lecturing (all pods show the lecture slides), or ‘collaborative mode’ for group work (each pod displays its own Surface Studio content). The Surface Studios are installed with digital sketching software (Autodesk Sketchbook), allowing students to sketch directly onto the screen.

Early feedback from students on the new spaces has been excellent. They love the Surface Studios, and the possibility they provide of group interactive sketching and design work. The Surface Studios also enable the keeping of group digital design logs, where all project information can be recorded, manipulated, displayed, and accessed easily as a group. The leaf-shaped tables also help facilitate this collaborative work, by allowing groups to sit facing each other, whilst still having a good view of the pod’s display screen, Surface Studio, and the main lectern.

From a teaching perspective there seems a noticeable difference in how groups are interacting. When working in previous, more conventional lecture-style spaces, groups have had a tendency to splinter into pairs or individuals to work on their own laptops, or to leave the space altogether to use the computer rooms elsewhere in the school. The new pods enable the groups to stay together in one place, and to work-on the same material together. There certainly seems to be more group discussion going on!

Whilst these initial observations are anecdotal, they are promising, and there are plans afoot to carry out formal studies of collaborative learning in these spaces by members of our very own EERG. Watch this space!

UK & IE Engineering Education Research Network’s Annual Symposium

A few of the members of the EERG recently attended the UK & IE Engineering Education Research Network’s 6th Annual Symposium. This research network is a rapidly expanding group of engineering educators who see the value of sharing not only best-practice, but also new and innovative approaches to engineering education.

The annual symposium is an opportunity to present results of research work, get feedback on works-in-progress, meet new collaborators as well as develop new skills in a number of short workshops. Keynotes talks this year included the engineering engagement and out-reach opportunities offered by the Mary Rose project. Also of particular relevance was a talk on the experiences of establishing an engineering education research group.

Paper presentations at the conference consisted covered a wide variety of topics, including the impact of attendance monitoring, automated analysis outreach activities, performing systematic research reviews and phenomenology. Unusual and interesting ideas presented included the use of industrial espionage in group work to provoke the discussion of ethics in engineering. There was also a fascinating talk from the Open University on remote/telematic access to electro-mechanical lab equipment by distance learners.

Papers from the workshop are soon to be published in the symposium proceedings