Challenges in learning analytics

Access to data creates all sorts of new challenges, whether we want them or not. The art of the possible demands a response. Simon Welsh posed many intriguing questions about how schools and universities approach the data that is available to them. How do new learning spaces represent knowledge? What sort of learning can be measured? How do teachers and students feel about having their data monitored in online spaces? What controls are in place and who makes value-laden decisions in the data selected to capture?

As educators, we make decisions every day about the sort of subjective information we keep about our students. Data is contextual, a “critical value layer” (Long & Siemens, 2011) There is an inherent assumption that we are doing what we can to enhance learning, therefore the decisions made are in that context. Any qualitative data can only complement learning experiences and we should take advantage of its potential. We do assume in schools that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons. Equally, the importance of focusing on collecting the right sort of data, so that we gain valuable insight into what is actually happening in learning (Long & Siemens) and nor just counting the clicks. Quantitative data tempts us to count what we can measure, but not all of that is worth counting. The LMS is a case in point. As Simon suggested, what happens if we are locked into a system that “doesn’t play nicely” with other tools? This is a particularly annoying scenario, as the standard LMS requires a degree of cognitive input that would be demanding for the brightest of IT whizzes. Mine certainly makes me want to take my bat and ball and go home. Please don’t use Google apps for Education, Edmodo etc – the LMS can do all those things and more…but usually in in a clunkier way. Another challenge then, is to remain open and flexible, and not fixed in considering what is possible.


Siemens, G., & Long, P. (2011). Penetrating the Fog: Analytics in Learning and Education. EDUCAUSE review, 46(5), 30.


Evaluative Report

Today’s learners seek meaning, as they are bombarded with media and content. We the teachers, who are similarly overwhelmed, are meant to move students from what they need to know for the test, to what they need to know for their lives. (Wesch, 2010)

The image of teachers as learners is slowly impacting education. The solution is in taking control of one’s environment as a learner. Information use is personal, it’s social, it’s ubiquitous and it’s constantly changing. The learning hierarchy is flattening.

There is hope in change, say Thomas and Brown (2011). The required shift in thinking however, is disruptive. Disruptive to current thinking, disruptive to the information network as it exists, and as the network deniers would have it exist.

Our technological tree is outgrowing our cultural roots (Floridi, 2009) Understanding the conceptual and cultural roots is vital to the global and connected information society, and this means understanding that new information and learning environments require transforming the old way of doing things. Being connected is the new black.

This is the new reality for schools. Thomas and Brown show us the new arc of learning, with peer-to-peer collaborative learning permeating online and classroom environments. New media have afforded opportunities for connection that didn’t exist previously. It has become a question of where we pay attention.

Howard Rheingold (2010, 2012) emphasises the value of understanding where we pay attention, how networks work, and what the opportunities are for consumers who are now creators in online spaces. We form new associations with ease, as the networks and connections have allowed us to do, and we can all see the capability of the network to afford social interaction.

We are shifting from an analogue, isolated, generic, physically bounded set of spaces to one which is much more personal and open, laden with creative possibility, (Couros, 2010) digital and mobile are asking learners and teachers to focus on the bigger questions. (Parker 2010, Mitra 2013) What does learning actually look like? What are the features of the new ecosystem? Is knowing anything obsolete, or do you just have to know where to look?

The challenge for educators is that standards of school-based literacy have not really changed. Whenever policy makers feel challenged, we go “back to basics”. We get stuck in particular modes of activity, in the content, in the curriculum but we need to broaden our concept of school-based literacy. That doesn’t mean, “insert technology here”, the mistake that schools often make in making the attempt to rethink learning in the connected environment.

The pedagogy for a different concept of learning is one that lets go of teachers telling, of having all the answers, according to Prensky. (2010) Students must become partners in learning, critical thinkers in the new ecosystem, which is based on challenge and openness. The teacher is a guide, a learning designer and goal setter, and technology is the enabler.

But what about the teacher? asks Gregor Kennedy. Are we designing this very important part of education out of the design of the learning experience?

Educators then, living life in perpetual prototyping (beta, says Jarche, 2011) no longer have the right go back to basics. It’s all changed and there is now no longer a hierarchy in learning. Where we are now demands knowledge management; seeking out the information we need, sensing what is good for our students, then sharing our synthesis of that knowledge, personalizing it. This changes us. Learning changes us. All connection changes us (Kastelle, 2013) We need an information vegetable rich diet, not a junk food one (Pariser, 2013)) To do this, to enrich the lives of our students, we must manage the information. Admit firstly that it’s not possible to keep up!

Building personal learning networks, managing the flow of information through aggregation feeds, relying on the sharing of others, becoming a filter for the info overwhelm is the task for connected educators. People will embrace clarity and we must choose our “digital clothing” (Rosenbaum, 2011) carefully. We engage in, and pay attention to, what we value. Schools have a social responsibility to grow communities of practice, and for the dominant culture to be network literacy.

Schools should support and encourage the establishment of their teachers’ Personal Learning Networks as “mirrors of networked knowledge” (Pegrum 2010)), encouraging teachers to turn the lens both inwards and outwards (Mundkur & Ellickson 2012) Reflection is important in the learning process. In considering the future of networked learning, rich technology integration brings multiple issues to the fore. Deliberate design (an oxymoron?) requires us to imagine the future and then plan for it.

Design is important because it is transformative. If we design online environments for future learning, things will inevitably change. New paradigms such as the flipped classroom, blended learning taking place in online learning environments, all require good connections in learning. All these connections are relational, whether within the classroom walls or across the world. The concept of repurposing time at school is, as Jonson (2012) illustrates, we understand and use the strong connection that exists between online and offline working, while guiding students to become more connected and self-efficacious in their learning,





Bawden, D., & Robinson, L. (2009). The dark side of information: overload, anxiety and other paradoxes and pathologies. Journal of Information Science, 35(2), 180–191.

Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (2002). Limits to information. In The social life of information (pp. 11-34). Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Couros, A. (2010). Developing personal learning networks for open and social learning. In Veletsianos, G. (Ed.), Emerging technologies in distance education (109–128). Athabasca University: AU Press.

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Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media Literacies. Educause Review, 45(5), 14.

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How do you design for aliveness?

An excellent question from Etienne Wenger et al. They suggest a community of practice needs something alive in them to keep them buoyant, and, just as space design encourages a certain type of interaction, so a well-designed  community of practice allows for a particular ecosystem to thrive. What does drive teleological organicity in an ecosystem? Wenger et al have described 7 principles that embody thoughtful design, design that works, that focus on the value derived from a network of practice. Such communities exist within many areas of social networking, but particularly in Twitter. Therein exists different levels of participation, there are both the familiarity of followers, as well as enthusiasm for new people, and there is an inherent rhythm. It is a living thing, a network that acknowledges the importance of relationships. The value lies within the sharing, the common goals, but also in the commonly held belief of network users that there is learning in collaboration, the “social co-participation” (p.295)

(Preaching to the converted.)

Howard Rheingold understands the importance of our social media literacies. We need to counter the entitlement students feel to direct their attention wherever they want, so that they learn to exercise “mindful deployment” in order to be a critical consumer. Where we give our attention is central, along with how we participate, with whom we collaborate, and what new literacies are demanded in the changing information landscape.


Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media LiteraciesEducause Review, 45(5), 14.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Seven principles for cultivating communities of practice. In Cultivating communities of practice : a guide to managing knowledge. Boston : Harvard Business School Press.

Wenger, E. (2012). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved from

Network literacy

What does it mean to be literate? McClure’s paper of 1993, both perceptive and ahead of its time, could be throughly innovative for some of my colleagues in 2015. The information literacy definition ” the ability to locate, process and use information effectively” (p.117) still underpins mission statements in school libraries today, many of whom still believe this is innovating into the 21st century. The question is then, is this definition timeless, or are information specialists just not prepared to let go of analogue thinking?

McClure’s proposition that the gulf is widening between the “elite few” who do understand the power of networks, and the rest of the population who are illiterate. His concerns are for equity and focusing on the issue from a policy perspective, where governments – those in control – find ways to educate individuals so that they live productive lives in society, emphasising taking seriously the challenges of the information age.

Rheingold says humans have been creating networks since they evolved into homo sapiens. This is not new. He focuses on the freedom of the internet, which is open to all through networking groups of people. It is only under the control of government when they agree, vis the Netflix syndrome. The international downloading of films. The control of networks is impossible.

Maybe there’s a dawning realisation that government is less in control than it thinks it is.(cf China – can block Twitter, control ISPs. ) The technical architecture of the internet, says Rheingold, reserves innovation for the users, not the controllers. This presents a challenge for those who would like to control (Learning Management systems in schools anyone?) and seek not to have diffused and decentralised networks. When people can organise themselves without organisations, this is threatening for hierarchical models.


control freak

Social capital, says Rheingold, is the capacity to get things done as a group, without the direction of government.

McClure focuses on the role of government in driving network literacy, while Rheingold focuses on the capacity of the individual nodes to connect around mutual interests.  McClure says we can’t make predictions about how the networked society will evolve. (p.119) but that the characteristics of the networked society may change.

Literacy has never been any different. We just see it through different perspectives. We learn to look at it through different lenses, that of our time and context. Literacy is the capacity to share, and it is only relevant in the context of its time. Without literacy there is no sharing and on this Rheingold and McClure are in harmony.