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  1. #Learning Analytics – It’s not what you’ve got it’s what you do with it that counts.

    July 15, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    This is the first in a series of posts on Learning Analytics, which has in part has been prompted by a session at the CETIS conference which investigated the creation of an HE learning analytics policy. 

    The session aimed at a practical approach whilst recognising that does *not* mean that “ethical, cultural, epistemological, or pedagogical concerns will be brushed to one side, as these are surely essential considerations for an effective strategy.”

    considerations when planning an HE Learning Analytics policy

    To my mind “Learning Analytics” and “Big Data” go hand in hand.
    I’m not interested in whether you believe the data we now have such easy access to is truly “Big”, I think that’s a red herring introduced by statisticians who are miffed at folk trampling over their turf.
    Regardless of how big it is, there is defintely “More” data, more readily available to tutors and students.

    Neither am I interested in the aspect of learning analytics, that uses data to justify questionable business practices, focussed on making courses financially efficient.

    I *am* interested in ways that technology can be applied to gather relevant emergent metadata, paradata etc, and provide tools to analyse the data and identify “Actionable Insights” that improve learning.
    “Actionable Insights” [as defined by Adam Cooper: ] are what make learning analytics a practical and pragmatic activity rather than a bit of self indulgent graph making.

    When I was at JISC the collective brain power of the old Innovation directorate identified 9 areas which would inform any activity in learning analytics. I acted as a graphic facilitator in these sessions (I drew pictures about stuff folk said)
    I’m going to use these 9 areas to review opportunities to implement some practical LA tools here at Brighton.

    learning analytics

    It’s not what you’ve got it’s what you do with it that counts.

    So what data have we got?

    We run a hosted version of Blackboard Learn 9.1.April2014 (catchy name) which like all VLEs is basically a bunch of webpages that are fed from a database, or databases.
    In this case it’s hoofing great Oracle stack.
    Direct access to live data isn’t allowed so we have to use the ASR- (Advanced Statistics Reporting) or “stats”,  potentially useful for looking at historic data, although limited to just 180 days making long term reports infeasible. Short term reporting isn’t much better unfortunately as this data gets refreshed only nightly so is always out of date, a source of frustration for colleagues who need to be able to quickly lookup student/course information to act in a timely manner.

    There are other routes to the data:

    Directly through the web interface blackboard provides, these include the tools for ‘instructors’ like System reports, like the “Course Activity Overview” which displays overall activity within a single course, sorted by student and date, including total and average time spent per user and the total amount of activity the user had in the course. There are also new tools like the retention centre, which applies rules based on student performance to provide ‘instuctors’ with indicators as to likley concerns.

    Using BIRT “An open source technology platform used to create data visualizations and reports that can be embedded into rich client and web applications.” I’ve installed the BIRT Eclipse variation but as yet haven’t had time to look at it. In theory it builds queries which can be packaged as .WAR files and plopped into Blackboard as Building Blocks.

    Through webservices, but they look SOAPy… and try as I might I can’t find many redeeming features for SOAP, it all seems needlessly complex and arcane. However there seem to be some helpful posts out there, mainly from Bruce Lawson so I will persevere.

    What do we do with it?
    Not as much as we could. We do run reports, and have a number of scripts that lookup stuff, but my experience is that much of the use is admin and end of year board reports.
    We have plenty of data, and a number of tools, so the time is pretty ripe to explore the opportunities to use data in a more timely manner.

    Next time I’ll look a little closer at the Access to the data,and the types of data.

    For more information on Cetis’ work in learning analytics consider investigating the Learning Analytics Community Exchange project [] in association with partners Open University (UK) and Oslo and Akershus University College.

  2. Make them fail

    June 26, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    If you wanted your students to fail, what would you do?
    If you wanted to trip them on their learning journey what insights does your job give you in terms of what is the critical support, information and services you provide?
    On Tuesday 24th Jason Bailey (@jason_lta) and I ran a short session at the University of Brighton Information Services Staff Conference, where we asked folk these very questions.

    The set-up was that we work for the “Evil Learning” team, and were looking for opportunities to disrupt our excellent processes.
    The reverse psychology employed in techniques like this is really very freeing, people find it quite easy to think of loads of examples of how systems can be disrupted, whereas if you asked for ways to improve a system, the responses tend not to be so enthusiastic.
    The idea isn’t mine, I nicked it from a session run as part of the Jisc Effective Assessment in the Digital Age Programme.
    What we added was a little more “skylarking”, (which I’ve recently discovered is a naval term, indeed a naval offence) with Jason donning a pair of devil horns and a cape, to try an offset and negativity caused by thinking of all the ways of systems could fail.

    Evil Jason

    The session broke the room up into 6 groups of about 20, each tasked with identifying ways in which their area could disrupt a particular step in a learners journey:

    #1 Get Assignment
    #2 Study for Assignment
    #3 Write Assignment
    #4 Hand in Assignment
    #5 Get Feedback
    #6 Get qualification

    The delegates were given post it notes and asked to work in pairs or threes to think of ways to disrupt the student, the post its got stuck on flipcharts, and then the delegates voted for the best (or worst) idea.

    The results were quite interesting.
    When we trialled the process on folk they identified specific items that could cause disruption.
    Our much missed, globe trotting librarian Emma Illiglesworth (@wigglesweets) suggested that any tampering with the “blue chip machine” close to an assessment deadline might cause disaster. The blue chip machine is what students use to top up their print credits. For audit reasons library staff can’t attempt to fix the machine, so any failures mean a maintenance call… which takes time.
    In the sessions our ISConf14 delegates produced more generic suggestions, and indeed the winning (or more evil) idea as voted at the end of the session was “redirect studentcentral (our VLE) traffic to the One Direction website”.
    This could have been a result of making people talk to each other, instead of focussing on their areas of expertise. Whatever, the session did stimulate a lot of discussion, and drawing the delegates back to share their findings at the end required amplification.


    In your day job, helping students to achieve their potential… what would you do if you wanted them to fail?
    Assuming you want them to succeed what are you doing to prevent that failure?

  3. Teaching Technology Timeline

    June 20, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    At the #Cetis14 conference the final keynote by Audrey Watters @audreywatters looked at the history of learning technology, and how it is shaped by folk to tell their point of view.
    It reminded me of a session I ran at the 2012 Jisc Online Conference called “Looking back to shape the future: The History of learning technology in 100 objects…” which managed to riff on both the popular 80’s film AND a (then) popular BBC series. The setup for the session was that sometimes technology changes the way we can work, and the way we can learn.
    The session aimed to record some of the landmarks in teaching technology by creating a collaborative teaching technology timeline using timeline.js (a fantastic bit of scripting).
    I tweeted a link to the timeline and several folk seemed interested so I thought it might be useful to share the link to the timeline, and the google form, and a recording of the presentation.
    We had a number of submissions and in the conference session we discussed what it was that made the difference.
    You can add to the timeline using this Google form.

  4. Hello world!

    March 25, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    Ahoy Hoy,

    Delighted to find we are running EduBlogs at UoB, and I’ve imported my old posts from (which was previously I apologise for the degraded images, I guess that’s what happens when you save a copy of a copy of a copy.

    WordPress continues to improve at a shocking rate, and included in this particular bundle is a whole bunch of cracking technology, like the podcast widget. Record something, post it and the feed is built automatically.

    I’ll pinch my son’s microphone tomorrow and record a demo.



  5. Feedback

    January 28, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    “The shrill sound created when a transducer such as a microphone or electric guitar picks up sound from a speaker connected to an amplifier and regenerates it back through the amplifier.”

    One of the biggest items that is highlighted in the National Student Survey (NSS) is the lack of feedback.
    Having been a student recently I can confirm that swift timely feedback is crucial to successful study.

    I also know the idea that they aren’t providing swift timely feedback drives lecturers crazy.

    I was thinking about this the other day when I had a problem with my macbook power supply.

    NSS - student feedback wanted dead or alive

    The problem manifested at 8pm, and I contacted the apple tech support line via an online chat, and was given the information I needed, told how to find the serial number of my macbook (which is on the “About this mac” screen, but you have to click the “Version 10.0.1” text to reveal it) and given an issue number.
    I was advised to go into the store and a replacement would be provided – just take along the two numbers.
    Excellent service, timely feedback – my issues were identified and addressed.

    I nipped into the Covent Garden store on the way to the office and the first apple person I could find told me I needed to make an appointment – I assured him that the previous advice suggested a replacement could be made without any appointments.
    He pointed me at the geniuses – however these took a bit of finding as the old Genius Bar no longer exists, instead it’s a case of asking anyone in a blue t-shirt if they can help. Eventually one group of four employees milling around told me I needed to speak the another group of four employees milling around.
    The final four insisted I needed an appointment.
    I had received feedback, but it wasn’t related to my issue, but the store processes.

    This is how a student feels in the university system.

    Whilst the feedback given by the Apple Genii was accurate and timely, it was also not related to my issue, but to the system itself. Quite a lot of the feedback that students get given doesn’t relate to their issue, but to how they can comply with systems.

    As a customer of Apple I had no desire to work out their arcane rules, I wanted a replacement power supply.
    As a student I don’t want to know about system issues, I want to have my specific issues addressed.

    Next week I’m off to a Conference at the Centre for Learning and Teaching at Brighton Uni, which will be covering effective eFeedback amongst other things.
    I’m looking forward to hearing about the systems in place at Brighton, and eventually working on them to try and hit that sweet spot, and who knows maybe improve the NSS scores.


    Jisc have just circulated a new series of short guides  based on four key themes:

    For a full picture of the challenges, approaches and findings from our recent work please see the full summary report ‘Supporting assessment and feedback practice with technology: from tinkering to transformation’.

  6. Meaningful stuff

    January 22, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    Meaningful Stuff – Designing longer-lasting material experiences – the inaugural lecture of Jonathan Chapman, Professor of sustainable design at the University of Brighton. Delivered at the Sallis Benney Theatre Grand Parade on Weds 22nd of January 2014.

    Today is a day of contrasts.

    I spent the day at BETT, the learning technology trade show, which took over (most*) of the Excel centre.
    BETT is a chance for unwary wide-eyed heads to be dazzled by shiny baubles, and part with their slender budgets. It has evolved somewhat over the years, and now has a far more international feel, yet sadly fails to offer anything truly innovative, or well designed.
    I’ve been told the patent on LEGO has expired which would explain the proliferation of robotics kits that mimic LEGO mindstorms… though lacking a certain build quality.
    I did meet some old colleagues, which was delightful, and I dodged the loathsome Gove, who gave the keynote opening address.
    I also had a useful chat with the Blackboard folk about their Mosaic product, which whilst it professes to be an institutional app builder requiring no coding, didn’t quite convince me – I need to see more.

    In contrast the evening was spent at the inaugural lecture of Dr Jonathan Chapman, Professor of sustainable design at the University of Brighton.

    It felt very much like a commentary on the excesses of the morning.
    Jonathan talked about the great illusion: a smart phone appears to weigh just 200g, but the cost of production is closer to 500kg, the weight of a horse.
    Around 78kg of CO2 alone.
    So when you lift your phone to your ear, you are in fact lifting a horse to your ear.
    The problem is that finding out such facts is quite terrifying, and can be paralysing – what can we do in the light of such information?
    Jonathan’s answer was to submit totally to the fear, and head off and live on a Buddhist community on Hokaido.
    For a while he felt happy, he was at one with crickets and such like, having no impact on the environment, then the realisation struck him that having no impact was merely abdicating responsibility.
    He returned to the UK to try to engage in teaching a better way of design.

    it takes 40 tonnes of waste to make 1 tonne of consumer electronics, 98% of which will be discarded within 6 months. An efficiency of 1%.
    The zero is the hope for the future.

    The built-in obsolescence of consumer goods originally seemed like a cracking idea, it was proposed by Bernard London in 1932 as a form of quantitive easing. The idea was to get the 1% of folk who had money to spend it, creating jobs for the 99% who didn’t.
    Unfortunately it continued, and now is endemic in systems like mobile phone production, where the average lifespan of a handset is just 18 months.

    The question is why is something that we desire so much, is worthless after such a short interval. It seems we need to look at the narratives we tell about objects. Some like the worthless pasta necklace gifts from our children, take on such meaning personally that they become priceless.
    So what is needed is a design philosophy that promotes meaningful attachments, engendering product longevity?

    This theme of emotionally durable design is picked up in his book :
    * the South side of the Excel was running a slot machine trade show, and the juxtaposition of banners for educational technology, with those for the arcades, (promising to squeeze every last penny out of punters), brought a grin to my face… the visitors to the arcade show seemed a lot happier, and far less earnest.

  7. Back to the Future – building communities

    January 21, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    Just finished doing a short spot as part of the “BETT Study Tour: e–Learning and Innovation in Technical Education and Skills” organised by the British Council.

    The event runs from 19th to 24th Jan, and aims to:
    • Share knowledge, information and good practie in the area of e-learning, innovation and digital simulation in technical education and skills in the UK.
    • Explore how the use of e-learning technologies has enhanced management, learning programmes, assessment and overall quality and inclusiveness of skills education.
    • Explore how e-learning technologies have changed the roles of teachers, trainers and learners and the UK’s approach to developing digital literacy.
    • Share experience of how e-technologies have supported collaboration, including international collaboration.
    • Provide delegates with opportunities to network with UK and international experts in the field of e-learning and innovation including attending the Bett Show 2014.
    • Explore how technology, policy, strategies and approaches reviewed during the tour could provide useful models for delegates’ own national plans.

    I spoke to delegates from a range of countries – including Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Eygpt, Trinidad and Tobago, Columbia, and Bahrain – on the importance of building communities to support the effective use of technology in education.
    I looked back at the history of the curiculum champions list, which started way back in 2000AD.
    The list seems to have succeeded for a number of reasons. It has maintained a focus on JUST FE, whilst list members have moved into other roles, and educational areas, the core of the discussion is on technology that supports FE.
    The closed nature of the list means the folk who post are known – there are around 600 list members, and over a six month period they’ll be around 1000 posts, from around 170 different posters, so the active posters will be familiar, and those who give good advice will be recognised.
    An analysis of the list shows that 15% of posts ask questions and 65% answer, which feels like a healthy response ratio.

    As part of the talk I looked back to my first posting, and the replies, and was delighted to discover where I found out about my Beloved SONY Mavica disc cameras… and my fumbling attempt to describe an e-portfolio.

    Rob Englebright <rob.englebright@PLUMPTON.AC.UK>
    Curriculum Champions <CHAMP-CURRICULUM@JISCMAIL.AC.UK>
    Fri, 15 Dec 2000 12:48:19 -0000
    Content-Type:text/plain (16 lines)

    We have recently put together a bid for the innovative IT projects fund which if successful should allow us to issue NVQ students with digital cameras to help create portfolio evidence.
    The particular cohort have mild learning difficulties and the idea is to get them to record activities using pictures with a few words, so they don’t end up writing pages of evidence sheets.
    Has anyone tried anything similar?
    I was looking to get the photgraphs indexed and sorted using Hypercard? or some other software with a VERY simple interface.
    A friend suggested creating a Database framework for this, but I’m loathed to create if there is something already useable, suggestions on a postcard….
    I’ll probably need to create a hard copy of the evidence in case the TSC don’t like the electronic form.
    Happy Christmas, students are nearly gone!!!

    And the replies…. 

    Subject:Re: Photographic indexing
    From:Phil Illsley <pillsley@NORTCOLL.AC.UK>
    Date:Mon, 18 Dec 2000 10:01:42 +0000
    text/plain (52 lines)

    We’re in love with a Sony digital camera and use it to record evidence with similar students for NSP, NVQ and OCR Entry. e-mail me direct for more info if you’re interested.



    Subject:Re: Photographic indexing
    From:Imogen Elms <ImogenElms@SWINDON-COLLEGE.AC.UK>
    Date:Mon, 18 Dec 2000 11:18:14 -0000
    text/plain (87 lines)

    We use a Sony Digital Mavica FD85. It was about £500. It stores photographs onto floppy disks. This would be good for portfolio evidence as each student could have their own disk to carry around and to use at home. You do not need any download software; which we have found useful, as the College uses Windows NT and only technicians have rights to load software onto machines.

    We got the camera in September and it is becoming the one of the most booked ILT resource. The camera automatically index’s the pictures (number order)in a web file that can be viewed on any web browser; or you can insert any picture into a Word file, add text and then print it off.

    We are not yet using it for portfolio evidence but we are using it with students in Catering who have learning difficulties. We are creating
    photograph libraries. Staff in this curriculum area who were previously ‘talk & chalk’ have been enthused and encouraged to get involved in ILT when they see how easy the camera is to use.

    Imogen Elms & Nick Goodbun
    ILT Instructors
    Swindon College

    Those Sony Mavicas definately made the difference for me… and my students… I might buy one off ebay


    Whilst it says 1.3 Megapixels we used to use it set to 0.3 – 640×480, so we could have TEN pictures on a floppy 🙂





  8. Breakfast in Brighton

    January 15, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    Brighton University Breakfast App swap. Brighton University Grand Parade Campus 8.30-9.30am Wed 15th Jan.

    This morning I nipped down to Brighton Uni to join in the Breakfast App swap. It seems like the idea started at the Falmer Campus, where the Learning Technology Advisor Fiona MacNeill runs informal drop in coffee and chat sessions where folk share what they are using on their mobile devices. In my experience this peer support approach works really well, as people like to see how colleagues do things and trust them.
    This morning’s session was at Grand Parade campus, and Adam Bailey linked up his iPad over air play using “reflector” –
    and showed a range of useful apps.
    I’ve not used relector, and was impressed by the clear and simple interface. My screen sharing has been done through air server, which had previously let me down. However air server appears to have had a revamp, and now includes a “record” function, as well as the capacity to share with multiple devices.

    Evernote got a good airing,
    Evernote is a note-taking app, that will sync your notes across most devices (not sure if there is native support on Linux) allows photos and attachments to be added, and importantly is fully searchable – even the images, which it runs through an online OCR process.
    I use it as a way of taking notes in meetings and at conferences, as the share button allows me to shot off my notes and any thoughts to the rest of the team.
    What’s nice about Evernote is that they realised their core function was beginning to be overwhelmed, and they have redesigned the app to make the most common functions easier to undertake.

    I bought an Evernote Moleskine Notebook which is rather nice, but I never used the additional features, chiefly because I don’t use OCR much – the notebook gives access to 3 months of the Premium Evernote account- and secondly because I gave the sweet little “smart” stickers to my niece, who made far better use of them than I.
    To be honest I didn’t realise they allowed scanned images to be routed directly to specific folders.

    Other apps got a mention too, including the Moleskine app itself, and the Muji Notebook which seems like a cracking little collaborative work tool:

  9. MoooooC

    January 13, 2014 by Robin Englebright

    Today I swung by the Bloomsberry Room at Senate House UCL for a lunchtime session on Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) by the Centre for Distance Education. MrBill MrBill

    The session was titled “Practical considerations of running a MOOC”  and began with a rather pleasant lunch whilst Patricia McKellar gave an overview of their experiences running the MOOC: English Common Law: Structures and Principles through Coursera. The fragrant Pat Lockley *followed up with further details of the process.

    Dr Matthew Yee-King talked about his experience creating: Creative Programming for Digital Media and Mobile Apps

    The whole session was recorded and well worth chasing up once it’s been added to the CDE website.

    A summary report can be found here:

    I was quite interested in Matthews feedback as I was a student on the Creative programming course, which looked at using ‘processing’ to build apps. Sadly I was one of the slackers who fell off the course a couple of weeks in duet work pressures. I will be revisiting the course though.

    *Pat Lockley may not be fragrant.

  10. You are spoiling us Ambassador …. (STEM)

    January 10, 2014 by Robin Englebright


    Prompted by @katiepiatt I signed up to be a STEM Ambassador, and rocked up to the induction session yesterday.
    Basically being a STEM Ambassador sounds like ALL the fun bits I used to enjoy as a teacher, without any of the bother of admin, paperwork, assessment and class control.
    There are nearly 30,000 STEM Ambassadors in the UK, 1100 in Sussex alone, and the Sussex folk undertook 700 activities last year, which culminate in a big Crawley STEMfest in June and July (and coveniently just down the road from me) and BIG BANG Sussex.
    I went along to the induction feeling pretty full of myself (as per usual) and have to say I was pretty humbled by the stuff the other prospect-Ambassadors were into.
    One guy had built the Olympics Velodrome, another worked on High Voltage systems across the South East, including giant wind turbines… I can code a little bit.
    Anyway the CRB (or whatever it’s replacement is called) is underway, and in a few weeks I should be able to start volunteering. There’s a regular bi-weekly newsletter that identifies areas where schools want volunteers, and there are a couple of interesting antweight robotics sessions that are quite local. I haven’t built an ant weight since 2000, guessing the tech has changed a bit in the mean time.

    I will report my progress.


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