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

 

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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.