Western culture is littered with tales of unbound scientific progress that brings with it profound ethical challenges. In Prometheus, Frankenstein and every third episode of Doctor Who, we have examples of visionaries seeking to answer humanity’s problems or make a quick buck without really considering the consequences.
In Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum berates the corporate scientists for being so “… preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should”.
Educational technology, particularly the current wave of big data/learning analytics, offers potential solutions to some of the challenges of teaching and supporting students. While less dangerous than a resurrected T-Rex, there are important scientific, data, managerial, pedagogical and, most importantly, ethical considerations for us as we work at NTU to develop learning analytics to support students and their personal tutors. We hope to use this fantastic opportunity presented to us by Advance HE in the form of the CATE 2019 to explain how.
Our team works with a wide range of colleagues, to not only deliver learning analytics, but to ensure that it improves the learner experience in an ethical and pedagogically-appropriate way. It is impossible to fully explore the potential benefits of learning analytics or dissect the ethical issues that may arise in a single post. Instead we will aim to provide a small insight into who we are as a team, the work we do, and how important we believe it is to work together to reflect on current and developing practices in higher education.
We are a small professional services team that has led the design, delivery and ongoing development of a learning analytics platform called the NTU Student Dashboard, in partnership with our external technology partner Solutionpath. The Student Dashboard is sector-leading and was the first learning analytics resource implemented in a large physical UK university accessed by both staff and students. We’re really proud of what we’ve done so far.
We haven’t done this alone. Our team of four works collaboratively with end users: students, personal tutors and other academics, professional services, IT specialists and with our external vendor, Solutionpath. As a team, we have co-produced the initial resource and subsequent versions with Solutionpath, which has to date been accessed over 1.7 million times by our students and over 145,000 times by our staff.
Collaboration is fundamental to our work, and it is critical in ensuring that we have a shared approach and a goal that benefits our staff, students and the sector as a whole.
We are fortunate to be surrounded by inspiring individuals, to be part of a passionate department (The Centre for Student and Community Engagement), and to work within an institution that genuinely cares about the outcomes of its students. We have also had the pleasure of collaborating with project partners across Europe in two previous Erasmus+ funded projects (ABLE and STELA projects) and an ongoing project (OfLA). We have hosted over 90 European and international colleagues visiting to learn from our experiences of delivering learning analytics, and we believe that this sharing of ideas and knowledge is fundamental to collective success.
The Dashboard uses big data to illustrate student engagement, both at an individual level and in the context of their peers. We can see which students engage with their studies more or less than others, we can see patterns throughout the year of how our students learn, and we can identify when an individual student disengages from university and may need help.
A key aspect of our work relates to those students who our platform identifies as individuals that may need further support. How do you identify and reach out to a student in need, without ensuring you don’t have a further detrimental effect? How do you change student behaviour in a way that is effective but also fair?
Our most recent research partnership, the Erasmus+ Onwards from Learning Analytics (OfLA) project, is investigating how staff can use data identify students who are at risk of withdrawal and failure, and how they can best support those students in order to get them back on track. We collaborate in order to better understand the problem, identify the risks and come to a solution that works for the student and staff. Most importantly, we collaborate in order to enable others to work better with students. By conducting research, providing data, developing policy and listening to feedback, we facilitate staff across the University in improving practice and their ability to improve the student experience.
We would like to hear what you think, consult and collaborate with you in future, contact us at SET@ntu.ac.uk