Monday, 9 February 2015

White Rose Learning Technologists' Forum 28th January 2015

White Rose Learning Technologists' Forum 28th January 2015

On January 28th we were very fortunate to host the most recent meeting of the White Rose Learning Technologists' Forum, here at the The University of Sheffield. This was the eighth meeting since the group's inauguration on 2011, and was attended by approximately 40 delegates from across the Yorkshire and Humberside region.

Most of the meetings we have held in the last four years have been comprised of presentations from our members, normally focusing on work they have been doing at their member institutions. For this meeting we decided to try something a bit different - a recent survey of our members suggested that some of our meetings should be based around specific themes, as well as allowing our members to showcase our work. The survey generated a list of themes we will pursue over the coming meetings, and for this one we decided to look at Learner Analytics - I suspect like many of us, I know I  an awareness of the existence of analytics, had seen the field discussed in various Horizon Reports, and had some very loose preconceptions of what they were, but no real understanding beyond this. To this end we were very lucky to have Martin Hawksey, Chief Innovation, Community and Technology Officer, from the Association for Learning Technology, who led the majority of the session with a fascinating worksop and presentation that gave us an overview of this seemingly huge discipline.

Martin Hawksey presenting to the group - image courtesy of Danny Monaghan

Rather than paraphrase Martin's presentation here, he has very kindly allowed us to create a screencast recording of the session, available here

Martin has also written an article reflecting on his talk for the LT Newsletter, here

Some of the key messages for me from the session were that it is a huge field, and one that draws from a number of complementary disciplines. Like any field that involves complex analytical procedures, there is always a need to be cautious of not losing sight of the real questions we are trying to address, and that these questions have their root in theory - so there really is no theory-neutral analytical technique - an approach that for me was very reminiscent of my studies on the use of Geographical Information Systems and archaeology. Even the very process of putting data onto a graph or map has its own underlying theoretical assumptions.

After a whirlwind tour of some of the underlying concepts behind analytics - including drawing attention to some important ethical dimensions - Martin introduced us to some very practical applications of analytics we could use for ourselves. Martin has himself done much work on looking at he analysis of Twitter usage. In addition to those 140 characters we know and love, Tweets leave many other footprints in terms of associated metadata which allow them to be analysed. Martin has produced some freely usable tools, based around some clever Apps Scripting in Google spreadsheets. In fact one of our colleagues in the team here, Pete Mella, has been able to put this to good use already, by analysing Tweets generated by students at our two recent Achieve More events - where students come together for large cross faculty  interdisciplinary research projects.

After demonstrating some other tools, Martin wrapped up his fantastic presentation by bringing us back to some fundamental questions - what sort of learners are we trying to analyse, and what are we really trying to understand?

Patrick Lynch conducted another presentation after the break, in which he looked at some application of analytics he's been involved in at Hull, and the Aprero open source projects on analytics. Patrick's work has focused on starting to look at data from VLE usage - and in particular to start trying top understand how analytics might be used to inform learning designs - something that would have wide interest to many of us. Patrick showed us the importance of understanding the link between students behaviour and his analytics data, and how for example a student who prints off all the course material at the beginning of the course to read from paper, may superficially appear not to be engaging with the course, on the face of the data alone.

By analysing the data himself and using i nightly dump of data from the VLE, Patrick is able to have effectively live information, which is always up to date. The datasets he obtains are very large - with over 14.5 million records, and Patrick has used a combination of tools to analyse this, including Excel, and also the powerful Tableau analytics software - the latter f which can be run as a free trial before purchase. Their guiding principle throughout this has been to tray and produce visualisations that will ultimately be helpful to students themselves.

Our final presentation came from Jamie Lepiorz, who presented a short "thunderstorm" style presentation on the Zooscope project, from the School of English at tHe University of Sheffield. The Zooscope is an online database of film reviews, written by students, focusing on the portrayal of animals in cinema. It follows the success of the award winning All About Linguistics module, and develops the students' skills by giving them the opportunity to contribute to an authentic online resource that can be used by their peers.

The idea of the "thunderstorm" style presentation is one borrowed from our  experiences running the Media Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group events. The idea is to give people an opportunity to give a very short (seven minutes or less) talk that enables them to showcase their work, and for our colleagues to find out what each other is up to. We are hoping to carry on using this format, alongside our more substantial themed events.

We hope that this new blended approach to our events will work well for our members - having a specific theme gives us a real focus to the meeting and will hopefully enable members to attend events that can address needs that they can still define for themselves. 

If you wish to get involved with the White Rose Learning Technologists' Forum, you can join subscribe to our mailing list:

We have also just set up  a Google+ Community page  at the link below:

Date of next meeting - 21st April at York St John

We have also created a Google Form to select the theme for our next session - if you wish to come to our next meeting and want to have a say in what theme we choose, please fill in the form below:

We look forward to seeing you at future meetings!

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