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IET researcher and project officer blogs

Interviewed in Uruguay

While I was in Montevideo, at the invitation of Plan Ceibal, I was interviewed about learning analytics. This playlist of four short videos (subtitled in Spanish) deals with the potential of Big Data to improve learning, how The Open University has used learning analytics, and the work of the LACE and LAEP projects.

I talk about how analytics can be used to identify when students are dropping behind, how they can be used to identify successful routes through courses, and how they can identify types of learning design that lead to student success.

I note that the supply of learning analytics is growing, but it is not clear that the demand is growing in the same way. Researchers and developers need to engage more with educators at every stage in order to identify the problems they need to be solved and the questions that they need to have answered.

I also talk about the need to align learning analytics with strategic priorities for education and training, not only at institutional level, but also at national and international level.

My videos are followed in the playlist with videos from Professor Dragan Gasevic, chair of the Society for Learning Analytics (SoLAR).

You teach me, and I’ll teach you – Pokémon

‘You teach me, and I’ll teach you’ goes the Pokémon theme tune, and you can see the tv series as the learning journey that the central character, Ash, makes from complete novice to Pokémon master.

As ed-tech social media fills up with rapid-response pieces on what Pokémon Go could mean for education, I thought it was time to refer back to work with a more solid basis. And what could be a better starting point than our 2014 book on Augmented Education?

Augmented Education explores the implications and challenges of augmented learning – learning at the frontiers of reality – and the ways in which we can understand it, structure it, develop it and employ it. It investigates what we can do now that we could not do before, and asks whether these new possibilities could fundamentally affect how people approach and benefit from learning. For example, can augmented learning create the social, affective and cognitive conditions that will allow individuals and groups of people not only to approach learning in a meaningful way, but also to engage with it more deeply?

To encourage people to read the book, I wrote a piece for the OU News and OpenLearn on Pokémon Go, and how the game aligns with the four approaches to augmented education that we identify in the book.

The book provides a detailed overview of the newest possibilities in education and shows how technological developments can be harnessed to support inclusive and collaborative knowledge building through formal and informal learning.

In order to do this, we employ a broad definition of augmented learning.
“Augmented learning uses electronic devices to extend learners’ interactions with and perception of their current environment to include and bring to life different times, spaces, characters and possibilities. It offers possibilities for the transformation of learners and their learning contexts.”
Using this definition, the book extends beyond the augmentation of teaching, learning and schools to include informal subject-based learning, learning using social media, collaborative informal learning and educating the transhuman.

View a draft of Chapter 1, which introduces augmented learning and considers what augmentation can offer to education. This ScoopIt on Augmented Education pulls together a series of related links.


SoLAR Executive

I have joined the Executive Board of the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR) as a ‘member at large’! The current president of the society is Dragan Gašević  from the University of Edinburgh, UK.

Vintage events in (and around) Milton Keynes

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Fri, 29/07/2016 - 09:34

I’m a keen reader of the fabulous Mim’s Crinoline Robot blog for lots of West country vintage goodness and a reminder of home. Inspired by her What’s on in Vintage Wiltshire section, rather than just email a pal a list of vintage and dance events in the MK area over the next couple of months I could… blog them instead! 

So, here we go. Needless to say the list is incomplete… so if you know of an event coming up in the area (surely there must be something the weekend of 13/14 August?), fill us in and leave a comment with the details!

July 2016 

August 2016 

September 2016 

And some way off but getting closer Hedna’s Vintage Nightclub is back at the Stables for a Christmas special on 10 December 2016. Featured image picture credit: “Vintage Pinball” by Eric Wittman is licensed CC BY-ND 2.0 Generic and Toward the Workers’ Institute” by Beck Pitt is licensed CC BY 2.0


Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Thu, 28/07/2016 - 17:31

Experimenting with GIFs this afternoon. Began by using The Flirtations 1968 classic Nothing but a Heartache… 


Closely followed by this longer sequence of Fred and Rita dancing… using Imgur (extra special thanks to this bava tuesday post for the inspiration).

View post on

Then a little snippet from Ziegfeld Follies Here’s to the Girls (the bit where Lucille Ball twirls round was another possibility along with the ballet dancing at around 1:40… future GIF alert!!)

View post on

Future of learning analytics: LASI Bilbao

I visited the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain, to give a keynote at the learning analytics summer institute there (LASI Bilbao 2016) on 28 June 2016. The event brought people together from the Spanish Network of Learning Analytics (SNOLA), which was responsible for organising the event, in conjunction with the international Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR).

Later in the day, I ran another in the LACE series of workshops on ethics and privacy in learning analytics (EP4LA).

Keynote abstract

What does the future hold for learning analytics? In terms of Europe’s priorities for learning and training, they will need to support relevant and high-quality knowledge, skills and competences developed throughout lifelong learning. More specifically, they should improve the quality and efficiency of education and training, enhance creativity and innovation, and focus on learning outcomes in areas such as employability, active-citizenship and well-being. This is a tall order and, in order to achieve it, we need to consider how our work fits into the larger picture. Drawing on the outcomes of two recent European studies, Rebecca will discuss how we can avoid potential pitfalls and develop an action plan that will drive the development of analytics that enhance both learning and teaching.


Ethics and privacy: JTEL Estonia

The series of LACE workshops on Ethics and Privacy in Learning Analytics (EP4LA) keeps expanding.

I worked with María Jésus Rodríguez-Triana on the programme for one of these events, which she ran with Denis Gillet at the 12th Joint European Summer School on Technology Enhanced Learning (JTEL Summer School) in Estonia, on 20 June.

Workshop outline

This 90-minute workshop aims to give participants an overview of the ethical and privacy issues in Learning Analytics. Furthermore, the workshop allows the participants to increase the awareness about how to implement LA solutions either as researchers, practitioners or as developers. It will consist of three parts:

Part 1 – Introduction: presentation of LA frameworks and guidelines for Learning Analytics regarding ethics and privacy.
Part 2 – Framework analyses: participants will be grouped to work in a specific framework. The teams will categorise those ethical and privacy issues that the participants are currently addressing in their practice, those that could be covered with a low-medium effort, and those that constitute a challenge

Part 3 – Discussion: An open discussion will follow, exploring the complexity of each framework and looking for potential ways of addressing them.

Validating qualifications

On 22 June, I travelled up to Durham with a team from the Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships at The Open University in order to carry out a validation review at New College.

We had been asked to validate the Cert ED and the Professional Graduate Certificate in Education courses run by the college, which does not currently have the authority to award qualifications at this level. Like many other colleges in England, it asked the OU to validate its courses, so that students completing those courses could receive certificates from The Open University.

Through its Royal Charter, the OU is able to validate the programmes of institutions that do not have their own degree-awarding powers or that wish to offer OU awards. Validation is an iterative process, carried out over a period of time, culminating in an event that brings together participants. The process covers ten areas:

  1. Rationale, aims and intended learning outcomes of the programme of study
  2. Curriculum and structure of the programme of study
  3. Teaching and learning
  4. Admissions and transfer
  5. Assessment
  6. Staffing, staff development and research
  7. Teaching and learning resources
  8. Other resources for students
  9. Programme management and monitoring
  10. Programme specification and handbook

The process requires close scrutiny of relevant documentation, discussions with staff and students involved with the programmes, and tours of the facilities. A very interesting day, and a chance to get a detailed overview of how two qualifications work in practice.

Possibilities and challenges of augmented learning

I was invited to write a paper for Distance Education in China, a journal which reaches out to Western academics and is willing to take on the task of translating papers from English. My paper was based on work published in Augmented Education, written by me, Kieron Sheehy and Gill Clough, which was published by Palgrave in 2014.


Digital technologies are becoming cheaper, more powerful and more widely used in daily life. At the same time, opportunities are increasing for making use of them to augment learning by extending learners’ interactions with and perceptions of their environment. Augmented learning can make use of augmented reality and virtual reality, as well as a range of technologies that extend human awareness. This paper introduces some of the possibilities opened up by augmented learning and examines one area in which they are currently being employed: the use of virtual realities and tools to augment formal learning. It considers the elements of social presence that are employed when augmenting learning in this way, and discusses different approaches to augmentation.

数字化技术的价格越来越便宜,功能越来越强大,在日常生活中用途越来越广泛。与此同时,利用数字化技术进一步促进学习者与他们所处环境的互动以及对环境的 感知以增强学习的机会也越来越多。增强学习可以利用增强现实和虚拟现实以及许多能提高人类意识的技术。本文介绍增强学习的一些可能性并讨论目前正在应用增 强学习的一个领域:运用虚拟现实和工具增强正式学习。文章分析了基于虚拟现实和工具的增强学习所需的社交临场成分,并讨论不同的增强方法。

Ferguson, Rebecca (2016). 增强学习的可能性与挑战 [Possibilities and challenges of augmented learning]. Distance Education in China, 6 pp. 5–13.

Quality assurance of MOOCs: expert workshop

Next stop after the LAK conference was Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. There I took part in an expert workshop from 2-3 May 2016, organised by the Commonwealth of Learning, developing guidelines for the quality assurance and accreditation of massive open online courses.

The workshop was one of the elements in a longer-term study that resulted in the publication of  Quality in MOOCs; Surveying the Terrain, by Nina Hood and Allison Littlejohn in June 2016.


The purpose of this review is to identify quality measures and to highlight some of the tensions surrounding notions of quality, as well as the need for new ways of thinking about and approaching quality in MOOCs. It draws on the literature on both MOOCs and quality in education more generally in order to provide a framework for thinking about quality and the different variables and questions that must be considered when conceptualising quality in MOOCs. The review adopts a relativist approach, positioning quality as a measure for a specific purpose. The review draws upon Biggs’s (1993) 3P model to explore notions and dimensions of quality in relation to MOOCs — presage, process and product variables — which correspond to an input–environment–output model. The review brings together literature examining how quality should be interpreted and assessed in MOOCs at a more general and theoretical level, as well as empirical research studies that explore how these ideas about quality can be operationalised, including the measures and instruments that can be employed. What emerges from the literature are the complexities involved  in interpreting and measuring quality in MOOCs and the importance of both context and perspective to discussions of quality.

Workshop participants

Australia: Adam Brimo

Canada: Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, Sanjaya Mishra

India: Mangala Sunder Krishnan, TV Prabhakar, K Rama

Japan: Paul Kawachi

Malaysia: Safiah binti Md. Yusof, Mohamed Amin Embi, Nurbiha A Shukor, Rozhan M Idrus, Nurkhamimi Bin Zainuddin, John Arul Phillips

New Zealand: Nina Hood

UK: Allison Littlejohn, Rebecca Ferguson, Nigel Smith

Learning analytics: visions of the future

My final presentation at the LAK16 conference was another session organised by the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project that built on our Visions of the Future work. This panel session brought participants together to discuss the next steps for learning analytics and where we are heading as a community.


It is important that the LAK community looks to the future, in order that it can help develop the policies, infrastructure and frameworks that will shape its future direction and activity. Taking as its basis the Visions of the Future study carried out by the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project, the panelists will present future scenarios and their implications. The session will include time for the audience to discuss both the findings of the study and actions that could be taken by the LAK community in response to these findings.

Ferguson, Rebecca; Brasher, Andrew; Clow, Doug; Griffiths, Dai and Drachsler, Hendrik (2016). Learning Analytics: Visions of the Future. In: 6th International Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK) Conference, 25-29 April 2016, Edinburgh, Scotland.


Learning analytics and accessibility

On the first main day of the LAK16 conference, Annika Wolff presented a paper on accessibility and learning analytics that we had authored together with Martyn Cooper.


This paper explores the potential of analytics for improving accessibility of e-learning and supporting disabled learners in their studies. A comparative analysis of completion rates of disabled and non-disabled students in a large five-year dataset is presented and a wide variation in comparative retention rates is characterized. Learning analytics enable us to identify and understand such discrepancies and, in future, could be used to focus interventions to improve retention of disabled students. An agenda for onward research, focused on Critical Learning Paths, is outlined. This paper is intended to stimulate a wider interest in the potential benefits of learning analytics for institutions as they try to assure the accessibility of their e-learning and provision of support for disabled students.

Cooper, Martyn; Ferguson, Rebecca and Wolff, Annika (2016). What Can Analytics Contribute to Accessibility in e-Learning Systems and to Disabled Students’ Learning? In: 6th International Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK) Conference, 25-29 April 2016, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Failathon: LAK16

Our second LACE workshop of LAK16 was the highly successful Failathon. The idea for this workshop emerged from an overview of learning analytics evidence provided by the LACE Evidence Hub. This suggested that the published evidence is skewed towards positive results, so we set out to find out whether this is the case.

A packed workshop discussed past failures. All accounts were governed by the Chatham House Rule – they could be reported outside the workshop as long as the source of the information was neither explicitly or implicitly identified.


As in many fields, most papers in the learning analytics literature report success or, at least, read as if they are reporting success. This is almost certainly not because learning analytics research and activity are always successful. Generally, we report our successes widely, but keep our failures to ourselves. As Bismarck is alleged to have said: it is wise to learn from the mistakes of others. This workshop offers an opportunity for researchers and practitioners to share their failures in a lower-stakes environment, to help them learn from each other’s mistakes.

Clow, Doug; Ferguson, Rebecca; Macfadyen, Leah and Prinsloo, Paul (2016). LAK Failathon. In: 6th International Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK) Conference, 25-29 April 2016, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Ethics and privacy at LAK16

A busy week at the Learning Analytics and Knowledge 2016 (LAK16) conference began with a workshop on Ethics and Privacy Issues in the Design of Learning Analytics. The workshop formed part of the international EP4LA series run by the LACE project.

The workshop included a series of presentations, and I talked briefly about findings related to ethics and privacy that had emerged from the LACE Visions of the Future study.


Issues related to Ethics and Privacy have become a major stumbling block in application of Learning Analytics technologies on a large scale. Recently, the learning analytics community at large has more actively addressed the EP4LA issues, and we are now starting to see learning analytics solutions that are designed not only as an afterthought, but also with these issues in mind. The 2nd EP4LA@LAK16 workshop will bring the discussion on ethics and privacy for learning analytics to a the next level, helping to build an agenda for organizational and technical design of LA solutions, addressing the different processes of a learning analytics workflow.

Drachsler, Hendrik; Hoel, Tore; Cooper, Adam; Kismihók, Gábor; Berg, Alan; Scheffel, Maren; Chen, Weiqin and Ferguson, Rebecca (2016). Ethical and Privacy Issues in the Design of Learning Analytics Applications. In: 6th International Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK) Conference, 25-29 April 2016, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Learning at Scale: Using an Evidence Hub

I took a poster about the Evidence Hub run by the LACE project to the Learning at Scale conference in Edinburgh, which ran just before the LAK16 conference.

Learning at Scale: Using an Evidence Hub To Make Sense of What We Know, Abstract

The large datasets produced by learning at scale, and the need for ways of dealing with high learner/educator ratios, mean that MOOCs and related environments are frequently used for the deployment and development of learning analytics. Despite the current proliferation of analytics, there is as yet relatively little hard evidence of their effectiveness. The Evidence Hub developed by the Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) provides a way of collating and filtering the available evidence in order to support the use of analytics and to target future studies to fill the gaps in our knowledge.

Ferguson, Rebecca (2016). Learning at Scale: Using an Evidence Hub To Make Sense of What We Know. In: L@S ’16 Proceedings of the Third (2016) ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale, ACM, New York.

LAK16: Practitioner Proceedings

Together with Mike Sharkey (Blackboard) and Negin Mirriahi (University of New South Wales), I chaired the Practitioner Track of the LAK16 conference in Edinburgh and edited the Practitioner Track proceedings.

Practitioners spearhead a significant portion of learning analytics, relying on implementation and experimentation rather than on traditional academic research. The primary goal of the LAK practitioner track is to share thoughts and findings that stem from learning analytics project implementations. The proceedings of the practitioner track from LAK’16 contains 12 short papers that share reports on the piloting and deployment of new and emerging learning analytics tools and initiatives.

Papers accepted in 2016 fell into two categories.

  • Practitioner Presentations Presentation sessions are designed to focus on deployment of a single learning analytics tool or initiative.
  • Technology Showcase The Technology Showcase event enables practitioners to demonstrate new and emerging learning analytics technologies that they are piloting or deploying.

Both types of paper are included in the proceedings.


Ethics and privacy in learning analytics: special issue

Along with other members of the LACE project (Tore Hoel, Maren Scheffel and Hendrik Drachsler), I co-edited a special section of Journal of Learning Analytics Vol 3, No 1, which focused on ethics and privacy in learning analytics.

The section contained eight papers:

The volume also included our guest editorial:


The European Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE) project is responsible for an ongoing series of workshops on ethics and privacy in learning analytics (EP4LA), which have been responsible for driving and transforming activity in these areas. Some of this activity has been brought together with other work in the papers that make up this special issue. These papers cover the creation and development of ethical frameworks, as well as tools and approaches that can be used to address issues of ethics and privacy. This editorial suggests that it is worth taking time to consider the often intertangled issues of ethics, data protection and privacy separately. The challenges mentioned within the special issue are summarised in a table of 22 challenges that are used to identify the values that underpin work in this area. Nine ethical goals are suggested as the editors’ interpretation of the unstated values that lie behind the challenges raised in this paper.

Ferguson, Rebecca, Hoel, Tore, Scheffel, Maren, & Drachsler, Hendrik. (2016). Guest editorial: ethics and privacy in learning analytics. Journal of Learning Analytics, 3(1) 5-15.

1940s weekend: Black Country Living Museum, Dudley

Dr Beck Pitt's blog - Sat, 16/07/2016 - 19:02

First visit to the excellent Black Country Living Museum in Dudley today following a wonderful night at Dudley Town Hall for the C&BLE Summer 1930s Ball with the Bratislava Hot Serenaders. So very good!

It’s the museum’s annual 1940s weekend and you can check out some of my photos from today.

And if you’re curious to hear what BHS sound like…

They are playing a number of UK dates (inc.  Edinburgh Festival) so if they’re heading your way go see (and dance)!

Non linear thinking

Will Woods's blog - Tue, 14/06/2016 - 14:13

I’ve been involved in supporting several workshops recently for the Open University around Leadership in Digital Innovation. This is one of the six strands of the new “Students First” strategy. We’ve run various workshops and events around this and we already have some great ideas coming through. The most recent workshop was to a select group of OU leaders about the leadership challenges (in my opinion we are all leaders, and personal leadership is what we should be developing here!).

The event was led by Dave Coplin the Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft and included a video by Martha Lane Fox, Chancellor of the Open University and creator of dot.everyone, and I’ve just seen that she is now on the board of Twitter.

I was  leading the online discussion which took place during the event and I thought it might be worth sharing with you some of my key takeaways (now I’m getting hungry).

Martha gave a great talk about the dangers of complacency and how organisations are either digital organisations or they are not digital (digital DNA?). The thing that most resonated with me however and was echoed by others was how we must be “..always and relentlessly focused on users”. This may seem obvious to most but in many ways it is easy for organisations to inadvertently do things that lead to greater separation with users. For me I believe that we have been neglectful when it comes to user testing for example compared to the rigourous approaches we had previously, we also don’t represent the users at senior level in the way we once did and I’ve been calling for the Open University to consider a “chief customer officer” rather than, or complementary to, a chief operating officer, so that the emphasis is advocacy of the students. Some Universities are creating a PVC (Student Experience) role for similar reasons. The introduction of TEF and quality measured against student satisfaction sharpens the focus in this area and as we look at student co-creation, co-production, student evangelists, students champions and student evaluators we also need to consider student advocacy.

Dave Coplin provided a inspiring and provocative talk on themes such as the end of the divide between work/life, with most people having access to better technology at home than at work yet we are forced to commuting in order to use lower tech in offices. He talked about us as a Victorian workforce still largely pinned to our desks to use connected technologies.  He talked about email, how it relies on us as the filter to the conversation moving further int he organisation, how most emails are not confidential and how we should ditch email as not the right technology. He talked about leadership changing to become about empowerment rather than control. He talked about lack of information flows across the organisation, about the potential for connectivism in work, about AI and predicting the future and about non linear thinking. He mentioned Skype Translator and how we no longer need to learn languages (yeah we all get the babelfish idea, but here I got uncomfortable about technologies reducing our ability for human discovery and improvement, language learning changes our brains and perhaps we shouldn’t just be so quick to lose that opportunity Dave? – to be fair he did say that we still need to develop core skills) and he finished off by saying that we need to focus on outcomes not process and concluded with the elephant powder anecdote which made a very good point about people doing stuff which adds no particular value.

After Dave’s provocations I led the online discussion and we had around six or seven people engaging in a stimulating discussion where we discussed topics including:

  1. How we are process driven and this affects how we manage change so we tend to have process led change which means we tackle little bits rather than the bigger goals and this seems to take away the creativity.
  2. How technology, when supporting our organisation, should be in the background and sometimes it appears to be in the foreground.
  3. The perceived tension between our regulatory and quality requirements and the need to take risk and innovate. We later concluded at our table that this was largely a demon of our own making (i.e. an internal perception rather than a reality) and that many universities find ways of working with QAA and regulatory bodies to manage the balance.
  4. Trust being a critical factor for the empowerment of staff at all levels.

Final there was a panel discussion with the Peter Horrocks (Vice Chancellor), Hazel Rymer (Acting Pro Vice Chancellor, Learning and Teaching Innovation) and Dave Coplin. Key quotes from that were “as Facebook say done is better than perfect“, “take the users with us on the journey”, “students as digital creators”, “everyone should have the opportunity to feed back”, “we need to challenge what we provide which is paid for versus what is given for free”, “we have gold standard bureaucracy”, “we must always and relentlessly focus on the user” and finally, a little controversially for a university “we should investigate what we can burn” (what are we doing that is of little value).

I’d like to hear your thoughts on these provocations, in the meantime I’m going to work with others across the OU to continue the discussion #OUDigitalInnovation