Where Sheila's been this week – Engaging with learning analytics and Blackboard

Another week, another workshop on learning analytics. This time hosted by Blackboard, in the University of Salford’s rather fabulously shiny MediaCity building in Manchester.

As GCU is a Bb customer we are obvioulsy exploring the Blackboard Analytics solution, however yesterday wasn’t just a sales pitch, a large part of the day was given over to discussion and finding out what “our” priorities are. It isn’t lost on Bb colleagues that many of their case studies are from North America, so although of interest are very skewed the priorities of the educational system there.

Retention is of course high on everyone’s list, but I’m more interested in seeing how, and if, learning analytics can help make improvements in the wider student experience.  We seem to be obsessed with the bottom 20% and top 5% (Nb these are just made up numbers) but what about the forgotten middle who make up the majority of our student population? Improving their educational experience is probably more important isn’t it? Aren’t they the ones who are the key to getting all our NSS scores up?

Although many people are interested in learning analytics, getting started is quite difficult. Not least because it’s difficult to know where to start. Last week at #cetis14, we were looking at creating an institutional learning analytics policy, and I think everyone there agreed that senior management support was vital. In some ways, yesterday was more about bottom up approaches /needs, but again senior management buy-in was identified as key for any developments.However, it is crucial that everyone, including senior management, do understand the implications of taking a more data driven approach. Developing data literacy has to be part and parcel of any learning analytics work

During our discussions, the notion of “academic embarrassment” came up as a possible barrier to adoption. This was said in the context of sometimes work/projects being blocked because someone (perhaps quite senior) doesn’t understand the full implications of that piece of work, and often doesn’t (a) admit that they don’t know what everyone else is talking about , and/or (b) take/ or have the time to find out. This little doodle of mine seem to strike a chord with a few folk on twitter.


The Blackboard product does offer a lot, but of course at a price. But any serious work on analytics will have time and cost implications.  Identifying and selling those internally is the tough bit for many of us. The Bb product (and indeed, any analytics product/package) is just part of the overall solution.  However as I’m discovering just starting the conversations with some key stakeholders such as Information Services is a great way of starting new collaborations.


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