Is War a Racket?

American military helicopter in flight

The legitimate purpose of a government is to protect you and your property and keep an eye on infrastructure so that we aren’t drowning in floods on the way to our bullshit jobs where we work to buy stuff and pay for services that keep other people in both real and bullshit jobs and pay taxes so that we get those supposed protection and infrastructure services. But, that’s all supposed to be internal. You pay taxes for your own protection and your own infrastructure.

Of course, a long time ago, governments started to work out that you could use those taxes to pay for armies to open up new markets and secure new cheap resources and labour to make rich people and politicians richer at the expense of the newly subjugated and exploited foreign populaces. But imperialism all got to be a bit too politically incorrect for the populaces at home who benefitted from the aforementioned subjugated and exploited foreign peoples and ate and got fat and read books that helped them believe that far-away funny looking tribes were people too, just like them.

So the overt imperial actions weren’t right and proper anymore. So, they had to work out how they could still grow their corporate empires, open up new markets and secure cheap resources. And, with the help of politicians that were either family, businessmen themselves or easily bought poorly paid public servants, they fostered plutocracies, oligarchies and later corporatocracies. These were fantastic because the public paid taxes and thus externalised the costs of opening those markets and securing those resources while they could reap the rewards. Good old lemon socialism of socializing costs while privatising profits.

However, you need a pretext to get around that sticky issue of why those armies are going abroad to do all this. So you drag media institutions into your corporate empire to control the narrative and get some spooks on the ground to do your bidding in exchange for some nice kickbacks and well-paid security jobs once they’ve had enough of getting government salaries. This lot fabricate global scenarios where the army’s needed as a sort of global policeman to control those pesky foreign uneducated savages that haven’t civilised quite as much as we have with our iPads and our Dunkin Donuts and our Strictly Come Dancing.

Now, if you’re a smart businessman you can also make the guns and the lovely helmets and the uniforms and supply the food that an occupying army eats. And again, the great thing is that this is all funded by taxes paid by Joe and Sally Bloggs that never see the receipt and the guy doing the procuring is also open to a nice kickback so you can charge whatever you bloody want. What a coup. Sometimes quite literally.

So, you’re now a diversified corporation with media, military arms and equipment, food and beverages, and a hundred other diverse business interests. Even when you think the original markets you were targeting have been saturated and you’ve secured the maximal volume of resources you were looking for, you still have these other wings of your business. And that tax money will stop rolling in and actually possibly be spent on what it should be being used for at home if you don’t quickly find something else for the army to do so you can keep clothing, arming, and feeding them at fabulously profitable prices.

You’ve also got in your employ politicians and spooks that aren’t happy with making 50K a year and want to remain relevant. A few of those politicians also get voted in by people that either work for the military, have worked for the military, or whose living depends on the military, so they won’t be voting for your politicians if they lost their jobs.

You’ve therefore  got a heady mix of factors creating an inexhorable force lurching from one conflict to another. Sucking up taxes, keeping hundreds of thousands in jobs, and making you, the canny corporate CEO, a rich man and providing fantastic returns on investment for your shareholders.

So, you’ve got some country’s administration that doesn’t want to open up their market to you. Could be a secular society, all going along ok. It’s not perfect but give them time and distance and they’ll develop. But that doesn’t help your business interests. It doesn’t help your share value grow. You’d better get the spooks and the editors on the phone and start whispering in a few ears via those lobbyists you’ve got on staff in the corridors of power. You could fix up to have a lovely new war.

There’s a load of lovely cash to be made from all those taxes as usual and at the end of it you’ve got the new market, the resources, and you can diversify further into building and civil engineering to fix the country that’s just been blown to bits by the missiles you sold to all those lads wearing the uniforms you made while eating the pizzas you sell and drinking the beverage you’re now able to start putting into your new franchise shops in the cities and towns of this newly regime changed country. It’s a win win…..win win win.

Oh and don’t forget, back home you’ve got everyone tuning into the coverage every day on your television channels, boosting your ad revenues and increasing the exposure of your other products. Meanwhile, you’re creating loads of new terrorists by blowing up their families and that makes the folks on their sofas in Mansfield and Salt Lake City scared so the politicians and the spooks have got an excuse to get some more nice kickbacks when they procure all that great new snooping software and tech. Guess who makes that?

A Social Learning Network – Part 2

After a relatively long break, this is the second part of my blog on creating a social learning network or SLN. This will not be as detailed as the previous as work on the SLN was halted for reasons I’ll discuss later, but as usual this blog provides me with a repository for my research, work, and collected thoughts which I can look at later and hopefully other readers might make sense of benefit from.

This blog will really answer the very important question below:

How can we get our learners interested in a SLN? 

The continued success of Facebook demonstrates that the public are in general interested in social-networking. So why use a platform like Ning and not use Facebook itself which is, of course, the runaway market leader in social networking?

Well, institutional/authority participation in Facebook can be seen as an intrusion into someone’s private domain. A lot of people tend to feel inclined to compartmentalize their online identities, ‘work here, studies here, life here’. I myself do this. It has become apparent that I use Facebook for more playful social networking and LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and my blog site for more academic and professional pursuits.

‘Ning provides an ave­nue for instructors to take advantage of social networks in a neutral setting, offering functionality and an experience that are familiar and comfortable to students. By creating social networks around academic topics, or even about specific projects for a course, an instructor can facilitate a strong sense of community among the students, encouraging personal interactions that can lead to the creation of new knowledge and collective intelligence’ Link

When we create our own SLN for a specific audience we have the opportunity to create the network in a way that behaves as we believe it should – but we have to always think about the end-user. How should it work FOR THEM and not us. Unique challenges result from who your end users will be.

There is a potential issue regarding how Facebook is constantly changing/evolving and as a result the norms and expectations related to wider social network use might change too so if we create a SLN we need to be mindful that it will likely always be evolving too. Standing still is rarely a good option in any field, but when it comes to the Internet, learning, and technology in general, this has to be doubly important to avoid, particularly if you are operating in a competitive field.

Unfortunately…

….while I was developing of the social learning network, we received the news that the department for which the SLN was being created was to close down and as a result the funding for the monthly subscription would cease and therefore the site would no longer be accessible.

The above news was very disappointing because as someone that works in the field of instructional design, you want to see things you research and develop come to fruition and you can learn from the failures and success of what you’ve created. The further implications on a personal level will be discussed in a future blog.

Further reading

Some further reading for social learning network use, development, and the Ning platform can be found below. I hope I’ll be able to return to it soon to fully develop and launch one.

http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-05112010-235930/unrestricted/Park_Y_D_2010.pdf 

http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1078/2077 

http://www.ascilite.org/conferences/sydney13/program/papers/Hughes.pdf 

http://etec.hawaii.edu/proceedings/2009/hoffman.pdf 

https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7036.pdf

 

A Social Learning Network – Part 1

In my work, I’ve been tasked with creating a social learning network. In this blog and those follow, I’ll gather my thoughts and draw on a number of resources to try to make sense of its design and implementation.

Ultimately, across the two or three blogs I’ll add, I’m going to try and answer the following questions:

  • What is a social learning network?
  • Why would we want a social learning network? 
  • How can we create our own branded social learning network? 
  • How can we get our learners interested in it?
  • How can we promote self-directed learning? 
  • Can we foster an environment where students generate their own content?
  • How can we secure buy-in from teachers? 
  • Can this social learning network provide increased web presence which translates to increased business?

Over the course of the blogs covering this design, ultimately I’ll explore how in order to create differentiation from our competitors and add real value to course offerings, how can we create a branded social learning network that engenders productive learner interaction, self-directed learning, student-generated content, and has buy-in from teachers.

In this first blog, I’ll try and address the first three questions.

What is a social learning network?

Well, obviously, first it’s a social network so you can think Facebook to a great respect but in the case of a social learning network, the interactions would be between learners and teachers around materials specifically posted as learning objects or artefacts that are the culmination of learning  activities.

The ideal scenario in a social learning network is that it provides a space where learners can ‘acquire, master, and then themselves disseminate knowledge to others’ (Wiki). For example, a learner could create a video of her discussing a particular concept covered on a course and then post it for other students to watch and comment on or students could read an article posted by the teacher and post a similar one themselves.

It also provides a medium for students to collaborate online. Combining their skills to produce something or simply using the network as a communication channel to discuss work allocated by the teacher and achieve understanding and solve problems together.

Why would we want a social learning network? 

A company concerned with educating/training would want a social learning network for a number of reasons of which what I have just discussed would be of great import. In the communication age, leveraging the power of the internet has to be a must. Not only does it afford the possibilities for collaboration, dissemination of information and materials, and communication; it is a practical acknowledgement of how we now learn and even think.

Every field of study can no longer be seen as a static collection of concepts. Knowledge is continually evolving, more information is being created and made available immediately. As educators we have to plug into that and facilitate our learners becoming a part of a network of potential resources where they can explore a subject and become agents in their own learning journey through self-directed learning and the continued learning that comes from having these new connections to the potential sources of information we try and place in their reach.

As a corporate training department, part of our remit should be to not only educate learners with what is within a particular book. We should not limit ourselves to achieving the specified learning objectives. We should be in the business of producing learners who are prepared continue that learning in a specific field independent of those interactions they have with us. To create life-long, or at least career-long learners who will provide value for their employers. And in terms of the cost/benefit to those employers, our clients, we want to provide as great a benefit as we can for their investment.

There is also the value in relation to sales of having that supplemental offering to our products with the aforementioned learning benefits as well as consolidating our brand as an organisation at the forefront of our field.

How can we create our own branded social learning network?

While there are other platforms that could be used, we’ll be using Ning. I’ll be detailing the benefits of Ning and why it will be an appropriate choice for what we wish to do, but I’ll admit that perhaps one reason that Ning was initially raised as a possible SLN provider is that it has been used by the organisation before.

Its use was actually unsuccessful, and I’ll be exploring perhaps why that was the case in a future blog and applying those lessons learnt to the design and implementation of this SLN for the corporate training department.

Ning

Here’s a brief video detailing what Ning is and how it can be used.

So, Ning is an online platform for people and organisations to create custom social networks. Ning allows us to create our own name for the SLN and brand it with personalised design choices, images, and theme colours etc.

It’s important to perhaps note what Ning isn’t. It’s not a Learning Management system. It’s not directly a method for us, for example, to make materials available to students that missed classes or a platform on which we can add traditional e-learning lessons.

But…what it doesn’t have, the open internet does.

Picture of web apps and social network sites that can be used within Ning

The wider web offers so much functionality to use within Ning

So Ning can provide a customizable hub for wider web use.

Functionality

So lets look at the functionality of Ning and explore how we can exploit it for what we want to do.

Groups

Ning groups example page

Ning groups example credit – http://www.ning.com/ning3help/create-groups/

So first there’s the functionality that we can create groups within our network. A group can be assigned to an individual class and also to the subject area that that class might be studying. Groups can be set up like Matryoshka dolls, one within the other with differing levels of access to individual students by virtue of those groups being public or private and assigning admissions.

Accessibility

These groups can have individual URLs for ease of access and bookmarking. Students and clients can be filtered into their respective groups/sub-groups via email invitations or via profile questions. Each student will have access to their specific class and subject area group and any other groups that are open and might be of interest to them.

Ning group naming function

Ning group naming function – credit http://www.ning.com/help/?p=5200

Critically, students can sign in via existing social network memberships, i.e., if they have Facebook accounts they can simply click to join with that and they’ll have instant profile presence. From my own experience, this is a great labour-saving function and when we’re trying to coax in users that might not be overly enthused by what this product might be, the ease of access and perhaps the comfort that it integrates with their existing social networks might be of great help in at least ‘getting them through the door’.

Alternative social network login access image

Alternative social network login access – credit http://www.ning.com/blog/2010/11/introducing-social-sign-in.html

In relation to the devices that can be used, Ning can be accessed via all devices as it uses responsive design which is ‘is an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing and interaction experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones)’ (Wiki). It also makes use of HTML5 which means the latest multimedia should be easily readable on devices.

Content functionality

Within these groups which can be categorized according to general subject area or specific class groups, we can add blogs, videos, images, links and so on.

We can also add RSS feeds covering areas pertinent to that particular subject or class. For example, we could add feeds adding info on business news for a specific Business English class and the Business English subject area itself, or feeds related to recruitment to a class for a class made up of recruitment consultancy staff.

RSS Feeds info from Ning website

RSS Feeds info – credit http://www.ning.com/help/?p=3257

This negates the need for constant manual updates on our part to ‘make it look busy’. This would hopefully promote student-centred exploration of the topic being covered in the classes and begin to make learners aware of the possibilities afforded to them by plugging themselves into these networks of resources to enhance their abilities.

Leveraging the wider web

As I mentioned earlier, this SLN is not a traditional LMS. However, we can also add links to any of the materials we want to make available to subject area groups or specific group classes via cloud storage options such as Dropbox or Google Drive. We can upload videos or audio recordings of classes via sites such as YouTube. Adding videos of classes, lectures, or class activities provides learners with the opportunities to review what’s been done or gain new insight into a subject area.

SLN as a shop window

However, for some videos that we produce, we may want to add them to open groups for other learners and our clients who will have access to the SLN themselves. We might also at some stage want to start offering videos of classes to showcase what we do in other subject areas that can be viewed by students and clients within the community. They may see possible products that they would like to take or invest in in the future. The SLN can provide a shop window as well as an environment to promote learning.

Student-generated content

Students can add their own videos of class activities or things done outside or any links they have found and written work for others to read either via their own initiative or as guided by the instructor. These can provide a rich resource of blended learning and student-generated content for us to exploit in class as well as providing further resources for the immediate group and wider community.

Repositories for future materials

When content is added to groups by either learners or instructors, this can provide repositories for future use for instructors in future classes and it remains as possible material for clients to view to aid repeat-business.

Metrics, Measurement, Analytics

Ning has analytics functions. We can gather contact and demographic information, see who is active, who isn’t, and where and decide what is and isn’t working as a result. This is a very helpful tool in improving our products but there are ethics involved regarding using it to gauge learners engagement levels or output of students if elements of SLN use become more than supplementary offerings and become intrinsic parts of courses. I wrote a blog on the ethics of analytics use here.

Future API functionality

Ning state that they will have API functionality in the future. This essentially should mean that were we to want to create interactive e-learning content with tools such as Captivate or Articulate in future, we might be able to add it to our SLN. For example, short graphic user interface lessons could be added with games and quizzes. If we ever wanted to use the SLN as a place where intrinsic parts of course content took place, this would be a great option to have.

Summary

This could, if exploited correctly engender a change in our general work-practice culture. It could promote greater integration of online, digital elements and student-generated content into our classroom teaching, and change our view of what we do to focus more clearly on preparing learners for continued self-directed independent learning in future.

The goal here isn’t more work for classroom instructors; It’s leveraging the power of the internet and digital media which could ultimately mean less work and more engaging and richer learning scenarios.

However getting the approach right and achieving buy-in from all stakeholders including instructors, learners, clients, and administrative staff is vital. This is what I’ll be exploring in future blogs where I’ll be exploring some of the relevant research.

Conspiracy Theories, Confirmation Bias, and our Search for Narratives

I’ve said before that this blog is called Multiple Tracks as I’d like to write about a number of things. It’s also a repository for my thoughts and I’ve often felt that adding long verbose posts to Facebook is somewhat of a waste due to the fleeting nature of the format. So in this blog, I’ll briefly discuss my thoughts on something that came up today as a result of a Facebook post by a friend that also relates to a wider perspective I’ve developed on the world.

The video he posted was this:

I’ve rarely given the 9/11 conspiracy much time. Noam Chomsky calls it ‘a distraction’ and I’d generally agree with that, perhaps. He and a number of others ask a few simple questions that cut to the heart of the matter. If the government were to have actually done this in order to build support for a war in Iraq, then why blame Saudi nationals, their allies? It’s there on a plate to blame Iraqis. No need for the WMD narrative and so on.
Then there’s the fact that there’s a lack of credibility to the idea that so many people, working for so many different agencies, institutions, and organisations; so many disparate moving parts, would be able to keep this a secret, and keep it a secret for 14 years.
One of the best books I’ve ever read is The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In it he talks, as many other have, about how humans look for patterns. We try to make sense of the world by building a familiar narrative to meld together the chaos so that our tiny minds can conceive of agency and causation, good and evil, light and dark.
The JFK assassination was perhaps an earlier exemplification of how something so incredible, so unexpected, and so life-changing can happen that people simply can’t believe it was the random act of such a small and insignificant person. It had to be something bigger, something darker.
Taleb also introduced me for the first time to the concept of confirmation bias. Humans, very often to fit these narratives that we have framed, look to support their hypotheses by finding only information that does so and disregarding that which doesn’t. That video, for example, appears to be exactly this, a single track of cherry-picked disparate facts that fit the 9/11 conspiracy narrative. All conveniently compressed into an easily sharable 5 minute video.
I rather ascribe to perhaps something which I’ll coin right now, ‘the Conspiracy Theorist Industrial Complex Conspiracy Theory’ where conspiracy theory celebrities like Alex Jones and David Icke make millions of dollars every year and their audience continue to huddle in corners of the internet discussing FEMA Camps and chemtrails, while the true ills in society go unchallenged other than by the few genuine activists engaging in real debate, hitting the streets to demonstrate, or simply doing their best to affect real change in their small sphere of influence.
To not be guilty of confirmation bias myself, I’ll admit for the record, that I don’t totally disregard the idea that there was government ‘False Flag’ involvement in 9/11. I’ll just say that I’m undecided yet very sceptical but I’d certainly prefer to be counted among those people doing their best to affect that small real change locally and hope that this can someday be a part of something bigger and better.

Learning Analytics Ethical Considerations and Implementation Recommendations

So, in this blog I’m going to discuss the ethical considerations and implementation of learning analytics in a corporate training context. This specifically leads on from the flipped learning project design I’ve discussed previously. The discussion is therefore focused on my particular context, but I think the overarching ideas relating to ethics and implementation can be considered in many other contexts and fields.

Learning Analytics Cycle

The Learning Analytics Cycle by Doug Clow @ Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

Organisation Context

So, to introduce the context, the learning analytics implementation is for the British Council Thailand’s Professional Training Centre (PTC) in Bangkok. I’ll detail the primary ethical considerations and recommendations on good practice in the implementation of learning analytics in the development and use of the new flipped learning department product in a Thai corporate training context.

What are Learning analytics?

Learning analytics can be defined as how data about learners is measured, collected, analysed, and acted upon to optimize learning and the learning environments in which that learning occurs.

Potential benefits

Learning analytics may provide us with the means to bridge the gap that relates to a number of potential issues such as students lack of engagement, motivation, and difficulties with online materials as well as the fact that the teachers do not have the visual and interaction cues that signal those difficulties. With learning analytics we could identify those at-risk students or those that are not engaging with the materials to plan interventions that will support their learning journey.

Analytics will be used in this context as part of the online aspects of the flipped learning courses to identify whether learning designs are being adhered to. This will ensure learners are prepared for the in-class sessions. Through the analysis of learners’ habits, actions, interactions, failures and successes in their use of the LMS, the content, and devices used, the PTC can make predictions of learners’ requirements, and how to improve materials, communication, and access to inform the development of our courses going forward. This will make our product more effective and therefore we will become more competitive and increase our likelihood of receiving future business from clients.

Potential Barriers

The introduction of learning analytics and therefore the flipped learning product itself will not be successful if:

  • there is no buy-in from students and educators, they must appreciate that it complements the teaching and learning processes
  • responsible parties do not have sufficient time or training to use it
  • learners do not have sufficient time to study the materials

Also, we cannot measure all online learning undertaken by prospective students. Some of that learning will happen outside of our LMS on websites and social networks that we may not be able to extract data from.

What are ethics in Learning Analytics?

Ethical issues for learning analytics fall into three overlapping categories: where data is located and how it is interpreted; informed-consent, privacy and de-identification of data; and how it is managed, classified and stored.

What makes data in a learning context unique and distinct from data’s use in marketing, for example, is how it relates to moral practice, the identification of students as developing participatory agents in its collection and use, and the necessity for being transparent in that use.

Areas of concern

Areas we need to be mindful of can be:

  • Mislabelling students based on incomplete, incorrect, or inaccurately collected information
  • Not considering the factors relating to students’ personal lives, emotional states, social, and economic factors that are not observable
  • Restricting avenues of learning to our materials and course alone in preparation for what may occur in the in-class elements, i.e., maybe a student prepares with books they have access to

Critically, in this Thai corporate training context, we need to consider the power-relations between all stakeholders, learners, teachers, clients, administrators, and management. We need to adopt a socio-critical perspective which necessitates being cognizant of the manner in which cultural, political, social, physical and economic contexts in Thailand inform our decisions in learning analytics. This should naturally apply also in any context. Put simply, think of who you’re dealing with and consider the culture in which your work is being applied.

Considerations for introducing / using analytics

Learner Perspective

Learners’ expectations and perceptions must be managed carefully. Their engagement with online materials should be engendered by the learning design and not the threat of failure on the course or the notification of their superiors of inappropriate or incomplete use of the materials such as skipping quickly through lesson pages.

Internet Surveillance image of eye on computer screen

Internet Surveillance by Mike Licht @ Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

This type of surveillance atmosphere may result in demotivation and resentment, potentially affecting future revenues. It will be necessary to personalize reporting that can be understood by learners and clearly relate to the enhanced effectiveness of their learning. Transparency and the opportunity to provide qualitative feedback is a requirement.

Educator Perspective

In our flipped learning online designs we will try to promote continued learning by adopting the principles of Connectivist learning theory, where we look to foster within learners the appreciation of their finding and becoming a part of networks of specialist connections where they can source and provide information. We must, therefore, consider how this portion of learning is ensured.

Generally, the learning designs might reflect this in work then conducted in class such as the learners presenting what they learned and found online or providing evidence in printouts etc. as instructed by specific tasks that pushed them to look beyond the boundaries of the e-learning environment and into the wilds of the Internet proper.

However, we can also look to employ web-forums so that learners produce and reflect on the evidence there. Analytics can produce information as to whether this has been done. However, some learners will find these activities more difficult due to their English competency. There is also the contextual factor of face in Thai society which may make these kinds of interactions, where their work is out there for everyone to see, difficult.

Finally, whoever is chosen to interpret the accumulated data needs to understand the context of that individual learner at that point in the course and how their interpretation of the data and their resultant actions have ethical consequences. Essentially again, we have to consider that our learners are people and our actions might have far-ranging consequences for them.

Organisation Perspective

It is likely that any organisation will have to be judicious in what information is shared with clients. Learners will have to be made aware of what is collected, why, what it is used for, and what will be provided to their superiors.

It might be that the interventions or lack thereof would be based on shared characteristics or trends in the cohorts. For example, if the cohort as a whole which will be involved in the in-class productive elements of the flipped learning courses are not engaging with the online parts of the course, then that may have to be raised with the client but not before we investigate whether there is an issue with the materials or the technologies used in its delivery.

However, interventions must be weighed against priorities. Do we maximise the effectiveness of our learning designs, or ensure profitability? We may run the risk of alienating learners with certain interventions and this may adversely affect our chances of getting clients to return to us in the future by virtue of negative feedback from learners provided to their superiors. On the flip-side, some employers may welcome that stringent approach. One might suppose that this would be something to be considered at the initial stages of discussion with the (prospective) client based on accrued information from past dealings or knowledge of their general working environment and policies. Information such as this is becoming more and more available through webistes such as Glassdoor.com where ’employees and former employees anonymously review companies and their management’ (Wiki).

Useful resources

Here are a few helpful resources that could help an organisation interested in applying learning analytics. I’ll explain their strengths and weaknesses as to show how they can be used, but also what needs to be considered in relation to that potential use.

Resource 1

Ethical use of Student Data for Learning Analytics Policy FAQs

Strengths

  • Good overview of considerations for the ethical use of student data
  • Gives information on how personal information can be updated
  • Details what tutors have access to and why
  • Could be used as a model

Weaknesses

  • Does not set out how data might be secured
  • Potential differences in learner/educator relationship between OU and other contexts
  • No information on ethics relating to making data available to superiors which might impact learners’ progress in careers

Resource 2

Using information to support student learning

Strengths

  • Attractively designed document
  • Could provide a model
  • Sets out principles of ethical use
  • Sets out the shared responsibility of the student and the organisation for their learning

Weaknesses

  • Clients may desire a more stringent surveillance
  • Courses generally tailored to individual clients
  • Document would be expensive

Resource 3

Policy on Ethical use of Student Data for Learning Analytics

Strengths

  • Detailed information covered in Resource 2
  • Can be made available to learners and clients for deeper understanding

Weaknesses

  • Long and detailed
  • Possibly unlikely to be read by most learners

Recommendations for good practice

Finally, based on what has been discussed above, I’d like to make some recommendations.

Recommendation 1

Ensure learners have full understanding of what is collected, why and the benefits afforded by it. It should also be clearly explained to them that they will have opportunities to provide feedback on this area of their course. This and the transparency of use is a potential antidote to the resistance that might be felt in regards to the interpretation of learning analytics as surveillance.

Recommendation 2

Involve teachers/trainers that will be conducting any in-class elements of the courses in the discussion regarding what analytics should be sought and used. Teachers should also have full participation in intervention processes as to give feedback on the individual learners’ in-class performance. This could necessitate training and would have to be built into the teacher/trainer’s schedule which might adversely affect profitability of the product due to staffing hours and might need to be figured into course prices.

Recommendation 3

As opposed to a purely administrative role, the responsibility of interpreting the learning analytics data should be someone with the relevant educational training and understanding of the materials and pertinent ethics. This might safeguard against someone jeopardising existing client relationships by being too systematic in their decision-making regarding what they perceive as actionable insights. Creating a role with specialized responsibilities might ensure that good informed judgements on interventions and client notifications of learners’ misconduct are made.

Finish Line sign

Finish Line by Jayneandd @ Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

To conclude, the main theme that can be drawn from the above, perhaps, is that while learning analytics can be powerful tools in learning contexts, affording us to have a greater perspective and improved insights on the learning that may go on outside of the four walls of a classroom or training room, we must consider the consequences of how they are implemented and when we take action on what we see.

Comments as always are welcome.

Flipped Learning

In this blog, I’ll explain how I have become so interested in and enthusiastic about the potential of flipped learning. This is a moderately adapted report I wrote for my current corporate training centre (the PTC) within the British Council in Bangkok.

Flipped Learning image

Flipped Learning by Deirdre2 @ Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA

It’s a report on e-learning innovation and it’s split into four sections. In the first section, I provide a definition of innovation in e-learning. In the second section, I discuss the PTC’s current context and detail three e-learning interventions that might be positively employed within the department. In the third section, I detail some concerns while the final section will consist of a brief conclusion.

Innovation in E-learning Definition

At the core of innovation is change. Change can be the development and implementation of new devices or practices to replace or complement existing tools and operations. However, innovation is defined by the context in which it exists. A familiar process in one context used for the first time in another to affect change would constitute innovation. In e-learning, a central consideration would be whether the introduction of a new technology positively affects or facilitates a change in pedagogy within that context or whether it is a new tool used in the continuance of traditional styles of instruction.

PTC Context

The British Council Thailand’s PTC is responsible for providing corporate clients from a variety of sectors with corporate training and English language instruction.

At the time of writing, sales were low with few new classes opening and the team and to meet management utilization targets, the numbers of trainers had been contracting. Market research had yet to be undertaken to ascertain why. However, informal anecdotal evidence suggests that though the PTC could capitalise on the British Council’s prestige as an educational provider, its price-point for its products is perceived as too high when there is little differentiation in products from cheaper competitors. This, to my knowledge remains the same today.

In relation to e-learning products, while the British Council develops and provides online e-learning products, but at this point the PTC offers no e-learning products or services to clients.

As a result of the above, I felt that the department required attractive differentiation from its competitors while also providing a more inexpensive solution for clients. But to safeguard the department and the wider organisation’s reputation as a high quality provider, any shift had to be based on solid pedagogical principles to ensure learning goals were achieved.

So what is Flipped Learning?

A flipped classroom is a rearrangement of how and where learning takes place. In contrast to a traditional classroom, the focus is shifted from teacher-centred instruction to student-centred learning. Direct instruction no longer takes place in the classroom with the teacher. It occurs online. Class time is dedicated to more collaborative, project-based learning.

Flipped Learning process diagram

Flipped Learning process diagram

Online instruction does not necessitate the teacher to be present and the materials, once designed can be used again and again in later classes. This decreases the cost of courses for the PTC, resulting in a more inexpensive product.

How can this be facilitated?

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a necessary technology to implement new methods of instruction in the information age. An LMS is a software application that allows a user to automate the administration, assembly, and delivery of digital learning content. If flipped learning is the goal, the LMS is what facilitates the online delivery. There can be the application of structure to specific courses with modules of online instruction culminating in modes of assessment to ensure understanding before in-class components.

It is the experience of many educators that some learners fail to understand some concepts and therefore flounder in freer activities. This is often true in English mixed-ability classes. However, with online learning facilitated by the LMS, Students can as Vygotsky put it ‘theoretically pace their learning….using student-centered pedagogies aimed at their readiness level or zone of proximal development, where they are challenged but not so much so that they are demoralized’. For example, if an instructor provides a video giving instruction on a particular concept, learners with lower aptitudes can pause and rewind it or choose to read captions or transcripts if available. Another benefit from the teacher’s perspective is that less focus is applied to ensuring lower-level learners are up-to-speed, giving more time to focus on feedback and the individual needs of all.

Also, as educators in the field of corporate training, our responsibility is to enhance learners’ ability to operate in their context with the training provided. In the information age, engendering a more connectivist approach to learning would potentially address this. Connectivism relates to how learning is now a process of making and maintaining connections to nodes of specialized information sources to facilitate continual learning. In the traditional classroom instruction model, information is imparted in a one-size-fits all manner. In contrast, in a flipped classroom course using an LMS, this approach can be replaced by a greater emphasis on active learning where it is the student’s responsibility to understand the content and solve problems. The student learns in a way that best suits them individually. This factor and incorporating tasks into the learning designs where information can be specifically gathered outside of the course framework from websites, their own experience, or from a peer group online or otherwise, might result in the learner making those connections that will benefit them in future.

Flipped Learning Research

Research by the Flipped Learning Network in conjunction with ClassroomWindow found the following for teachers:

  • Associated Flipped Learning with improved student performance and attitudes, and increased job satisfaction
  • 66% reported increased standardised test scores
  • 80% perceived an improvement in students’ attitudes towards learning

The Flipped Learning and Democratic Education survey in 2012 reported the following in relation to students:

80% of students agreed that they…

  • Had more constant and positive interactions
  • Had greater opportunities to work at own pace
  • Had increased access to course material and instruction
  • Had more choice in how they demonstrate their learning
  • Viewed learning as a more active process

70% of students agreed that they…

  • Were more likely to engage in collaborative decision making
  • Were more likely to engage in critical thinking and problem solving
  • Teachers were more likely to take into account their interests, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Were more likely to have a choice in what learning tasks they engage in

Learning Analytics

Learning analytics is, says George Siemens ‘the use of intelligent data, learner-produced data, and analysis models to discover information and social connections, and to predict and advise on learning’. They can function to make sense learners actions achieving their learning goals and aid institutions in improving their learning designs.

So, through the analysis of learners habits, actions, interactions, failures and successes in their use of the LMS, the content, devices used, and data from social networks, and semantic data, the PTC could make predictions of learners’ requirements, and how to best adjust curriculums, materials, communication, and access to optimize the learning experiences. This would result in effective and sustainable products that were constantly adapting to shifting learning, social, and technological trends.

I’ll cover the ethics of learning analytics in a future blog.

Concerns

A primary concern is access to devices, bandwidth, and learners’ technological competence in engaging with materials and achieving the course objectives on the LMS. A possible solution is materials being available in alternative formats. To ensure the PTC’s adherence to the principles of universal design in relation to accessibility and the British Council’s commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion, this should be the case, regardless. A key element to initial needs analysis for PTC representatives would now incorporate an analysis of the above factors.

Another concern is the additional responsibility placed on learners outside their existing responsibilities. It is possible that if the time to undertake the online elements of courses are shifted outside of work hours, there may be resistance to it and decreased participation. Clients should make appropriate decisions regarding the cost/benefit analysis of not scheduling time for study. Furthermore, the PTC would need to delineate the benefits of undertaking the online element as to engender greater intrinsic motivation.

Conclusion

As I stated at the beginning of the blog, I’m very enthusiastic regarding this medium of learning, particularly so when you try to in-build connectivist theory within the learning designs to promote continued learning. While this scenario is for non native speaker learners, I feel that it can relate to many different spheres and industries and is, of course, already being implemented all over the world. Some organisations are just a little slower than others.