This week I am starting the Learning Analytics and Knowledge open course.  The course is offered by the Society for Learning Analytics Research in advance of their yearly conference in late April, at which I am presenting.

My day job involves using education data to improve the experience of students.  Specifically I am working on a predictive model that will serve as an early warning system when students begin to have problems in a course.  The idea is that there are a LOT of resources out there that students don’t use because either they are unaware of them or they are so tied up with their own issues that it never occurs to them.  I want to change that by spotting signs of trouble while the student is still taking the class and proactively offering them help.

This conference is an ideal tie-in to this work, and an area where I could easily see myself forming a research agenda as well as a satisfying work life.  We collect so much information; everything we do is tracked electronically and recorded somewhere.  There have to be ways to use this information for something other than selling us another book on Amazon.  I want to work on finding those other uses.  (Frankly this may be the perfect field for me; I have 20 years in IT prior to getting my PhD, almost all of it in databases and data management.  Now I can apply those skills to a real problem.  Very appropriate.)

The goal of the course itself is to provide context and background to the learning analytics field. In many ways it is a small, emerging field, and while there are some things we know there is a lot more we need to know.  The course helps develop people and bring awareness to the field.  Here is the course description:

Capturing and analyzing data has changed how decisions are made and resources are allocated in businesses, journalism, government, and military and intelligence fields. Through better use of data, leaders are able to plan and enact strategies with greater clarity and confidence. Data is a value point that drives increased organizational efficiency and a competitive advantage. Simply, analytics provide new insight and actionable intelligence. Companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Google, and Amazon are investing heavily in technologies and techniques in helping individuals and organizations makes sense of, and unlock the value within, big data.

In education, the use of data and analytics to improve learning is referred to as learning analytics. Analytics have not yet made the impact on education that they have made in other fields. That’s changing. Software companies, researchers, educators, and university leaders are starting to recognize the value of data in improving not only teaching and learning, but the entire education industry.

This course will provide an (generally non-technical) introduction to learning analytics and how they are being deployed in various contexts in the education field. Additionally, the tools and methods, ethics and privacy, and the systemic impact of analytics will be explored, presenting a broad overview of the current state and possible future directions of the field.

I invite any of you who are interested in how we can use data to inform and improve our teaching to join the class.


I’ll be posting over the next few weeks my thoughts and observations from the class, so you can certainly follow that way as well.  You can also follow me on twitter (@protoscholar) or the conference as a whole by following #lak12