A recent conference on student data included perspectives on learning analytics from the OECD and the European Commission.
Stephan Vincent-Lancrin (OECD) looked at how improving our use of student data could improve the quality of education provided. He noted that a considerable volume and variety of data about education is already generated within universities, and suggested that much of this is under-used at present. He described educational data processing systems moving from basic administration (who is on what course and how well they did), to cohort studies (learning how groups of students progress over time), to ‘next-generation’ systems that include visualisation and analysis and can be used to generate recommendations for both organisations and individuals. Potential uses of these data include longitudinal studies for research and policy making (for example identifying that US community college students are rarely simply ‘part-time’ or ‘full-time’ but may study different courses in different modes); individual analyses to identify particular skills that students may need to work on; and real-time feedback and customisation for teachers, administrators and students. Key to achieving these benefits is increasing the speed of processing: a recent survey suggested that only 45% of administrators and 25% of students obtain real-time feedback, while research and policy processes were often delayed by six months or more. While that may be sufficient to improve the education provided to future students, it’s too slow to help those currently involved in the process.
Giuseppe Abamonte, from the European Commission, agreed that there were considerable opportunities in learning analytics, citing improvements of 30% in educational achievement in US universities adopting these techniques. Indeed the Commission has recently established a public-private “Big Data Value” programme to try to encourage the development of big data industries in Europe. While learning analytics may not benefit directly from this programme (the fields mentioned include health, agriculture, manufacturing and transport), developments in technology, expertise and legal approaches that flow from it may well help us as well.