Online Learning Analytics and the Quantified Self

Individual User Activity Plots for the Online Material. On the left the colour line shows the student’s overall attendance path. The chart on the right illustrates the students’ daily attendance. The straight line at the bottom, illustrates their weekly attendance.

Learning Analytics keep track of student engagement in online environments. They are invaluable in regard to the information they provide about attendance, student preferences and mostly their learning habits.

The first analytics I ever saw were those published by the University of Stanford in 2014 by Jennifer DeBoer, Andrew D. Ho, Glenda S. Stump, Lori Breslow and are available here. It wasn’t just the number of the students they monitored amazed me (I think it was more that 150.000 and that was itself an achievement) but their charts; those little crooked or flat lines that in all their simplicity actually depicted student activity. I can still remember how much I wanted to check this out for myself, set my own experiment and see how people learn, how different their approach is to learning.

And then, just a year later, our own analytics for “Methodological Tools of Analysis” 2015 course was issued with information about how our students performed and especially how they did it in completely different ways. What is more, the fact that our course ran both online and in-class gave us the opportunity to compare their performance and see how each environment worked in regard to the other for every one of the students.

We realized however, that despite the invaluable information we got out of these readings, they were more important to the students. That is why we printed the charts and we distributed them in class. Because it wasn’t at all about measuring the clicks -at that point we couldn’t do that anyway- as much as it was realizing that by having increased the stimuli and the ways the students could express themselves and engage in the course, we had offered them a learning environment that motivated them to be themselves. This process had allowed them to be free of educational preconceptions and shape their own learning styles.

So, those first charts and the ones that followed in 2016 have been our tacit manifestation of the emancipated learner. They may also be a manifestation of our quantified self as St. Downes claims in his recent presentation about new trends in online learning when he considers learning analytics to be one of the most important future trends. But he is right: it is not personalized learning in the sense that we adapt or customize the learning platform to suit them. It is personal because their learning paths are theirs alone.

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