Avoiding getting caught in the data slick: thoughts from Analtyics and Institutional Capabilities session, #cetis13

Data, data everywhere data, but what do we actually do with it? Do we need “big” data in education? What is it we are trying to find out? What is our ROI both at institutional and national levels? Just some the questions that were raised at the Analytics and Institutional Capabilities session at #cetis13 last week.

Is data our new oil? asked Martin Hawksey in his introduction to the session. And if, as many seem to think, it is, do we we really have the capabilities to “refine” it properly? How can we ensure that we aren’t putting the equivalent of petrol into a diesel engine? How can we ensure that institutions (and individuals) don’t end getting trapped in a dangerous slick of data? Are we ensuring that everyone (staff and students) are developing the data literacy skills they need to use and ultimately understand the visualisations we can produce from data?

Bird in an oil slick
Bird in an oil slick

Ranjit Sidhu (Statistics into Decisions) gave an equally inspiring and terrifying presentation around the hype of big data. He pointed out that in education “local data” and not “big data” is really where we should be focusing our attention, particularly in relation to our core business of attracting students. In relation to national level data he also questions the ROI on some “quite big” data national data collection activities such as the KIS. From the embarrassingly low figures he showed us of the traffic to the UniStats site, it would appear not. We may have caused a mini spike in the hits for one day in March 🙂

However, there are people who are starting to ask the right questions and use their data in ways that are meaningful. A series of lightning talks which highlighted a cross section of approaches to using institutional data. This was followed by three inspiring talks from Jean Mutton (University of Derby), Mark Stubbs (MMU) and Simon Buckingham Shum (OU). Jean outlined the work she and her team have been doing at Derby on enhancing the student experience (more information on this is available through our new case study); Mark then gave a review of the work they have been doing around deeper exploration of NSS returns data and their VLE data. Both Jean and Mark commented that their work started without them actually realising they were “doing analytics”. Marks analytics cycle diagram was really useful in illustrating their approach.

screen shot of analtyics cycle
screen shot of analtyics cycle

Simon, on the other hand, of course very much knew that he was “doing analytics” and gave an overview of some the learning analtyics work currently being undertaken at the OU, including a quick look at some areas FutureLearn could potentially be heading.

Throughout all the presentations the key motivator has, and continues to be, framing and then developing the “right” questions to get the most out of data collection activity and analysis.

More information including links to the slides from the presentations are available on the CETIS website.

More steps towards wysiwyg widget authoring

One of the problems with being part of an innovation centre like CETIS is that we suffer a bit from the Dory complex. For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, it is based on the character Dory in the movie Finding Nemo who is rather easily distracted by new things. Sometimes we find that “stuff” drops off our radar as we have moved on to the next shiny thing. So it is always great when we get a chance to be involved in development for a sustained period of time. An example of this for me is the WIDGaT widget authoring tool and its development team at the University of Teesside.

The WIDE project was part of the Jisc DVLE programme which I supported, and developed a number of fully accessible widgets. The team then got further funding and were able to develop their methodology and practice into an authoring tool for widgets.

Earlier this week I joined the team and about 25 others for a “WIDGaT in Practice” workshop. We had a chance to see some examples of widget from both the HE and FE sectors and were able to get hands on and create our own widgets. Having taken part in their design bash day about 18months ago to help the team scope the design for the authoring tool, it was great to see and have a play with a useable tool which pretty much covered all the design elements the “expert” group came up with.

There are a number of pre-built templates to chose from or you can start with a blank canvas. One of the common designs for widgets from practitioners has time/task management widgets to help students be more independent in their studies/life. We were shown a number of examples including a really nice simple visual reminder of key steps for each day for a student with autism and another with key stages for final year projects. The editor also includes a number of components such as embedding youtube videos and images, and social network components such as Facebook likes and comments. Examples of using these features included a widget which embedded a number of videos with a Facebook comment link so that students could share comments on content directly into their course Facebook group. There is also a simple quiz component which is proving also proving popular.

WIDGaT authoring stage
WIDGaT authoring stage

The interface is pretty straightforward but I did find manipulation things a bit tricky and the team are working at improving layout options. However as a quick and easy way to develop and share resources online it does have a lot going for it. It also has a lot of design support functionality built in to help users think about what they are creating and who they are creating it for.

WIDGaT Personna description function
WIDGaT Personna description function

At #cetis13 next month the team are also running a workshop at the end of day 1 where they will be actively looking for new components to add to the tool as well as any other ideas for enhancements. As the tool is open source, it is a great example for the Open Innovation and Open Development session on day 2 .