A poor metaphor where I obliquely compare the VLE to a dinosaur

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One of my concerns about learning analytics has been the potential for ‘feeding the beast’ to become a goal in and of itself. Where you end up constraining the systems that can be used to teach in order to make sure that the analytics are being captured (a thing I have heard suggested already). I have an ambivalent relationship with the VLE at best, which is ironic considering my team run so many of them (another story, another time). It’s a convenient way to administer student information, to shovel some content, and to stitch systems together to take the pain out of account creation and navigation. Sometimes they are even a good place to work with students, when a walled garden is what you need.

However, the idea that a single VLE can encompass all the activities that we need is hogwash and has been for a long time. How many of us have TurnItIn plugged in, maybe a cheeky wee peer assessment tool, a media repository, and probably the odd subject specific assessment tool as well? We’re already using a halo of tools around the VLE to deliver the complexity that we need.

That’s why I was really excited to see Kirsty Kitto talk at #LAK16 about the Connected Learning Analytics Toolkit that’s been developed as part of the ‘Beyond the LMS‘ project. She talked about how some of the most innovative teaching in her institution is happening with tools like WordPress and Twitter. “The CLA toolkit harvests data about student participation in specified learning activities across standard social media environments, and presents information about the nature and quality of the learning interactions.” (Kitto et al. 2016 – #LAK16 paper here) Using xAPI as the format to extract and store the data allows a extensible data set to be constructed. I also reflected back on the conversations that Tanya Elias and I had been having about her excellent work on personal ownership of data. I played around with the Known platform a while back and whilst I love the ‘push’ idea, I think that this kind of ‘harvesting’ approach to create your own archive has more possibilities in the longer run.

Overall I came away feeling really hopeful that there were real, practical things that can be done now, or in the near future that will make sure that teaching and learning can continue to be innovative and that learning analytics can be a positive part of that innovation, rather than a constraining factor.

('T-Rex at Te Papa' by Ammienoot CC-BY 4.0)

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