Interview

Looking back on 2019: The zone Learning analytics

Interview

Looking back on 2019: Theo from the zone Learning analytics

The first year of the Acceleration Plan is over. In a series of interviews we look back on 2019 with the leaders of the zones. In this edition: Theo Bakker (VU Amsterdam), team leader of the zone Secure and reliable use of learning analytics.

What were your expectations when the zone started?

I thought it would be fun to work with a group of people on the theme of learning analytics. I thought something beautiful would come out of it, although I couldn’t predict how well it would go. For example, I expected there would be a little more going on in the field of learning analytics than actually was the case.

What did you do in 2019?

Based on a number of models, we have talked a lot about how you can approach learning analytics projects and how you can make them successful. We have often talked about privacy issues. When we traveled to the UK with the team on a SURF study trip, it soon became clear there are many different ways in which you can use learning analytics. I noticed different approaches from UK universities resonated with different participants. That trip was important to gain insight into all flavours and wishes regarding the use of learning analytics. We have seen a number of examples we thought we should definitely investigate, and some examples of what we should not. It helped us develop a common language to talk about learning analytics.

What have you delivered in 2019?

We have created a number of models and prompting boards, which we use as a common framework to reflect on the development of learning analytics. They are especially useful for showing people what they should think of during learning analytics projects, such as how governance works, and how you can get people to go along with your ideas. A large project has now been started at each institution participating in the zone, in which we take all these aspects into account.

In 2019, we also started with the statistical manual, the first version of which was delivered in February 2020. A start has also been made on a national Code of Practice. The national cohort research from NRO (The Netherlands Initiative for Education Research) has started, a national data set about learning analytics from primary, secondary and higher education. And a number of other projects have been initiated and are still ongoing, such as drawing up job profiles for data scientists and data engineers.

What are you proud of?

That we have really become a team. During the 24-hour session, we discovered that we were further along than we thought. We are switching gears both on a national level, and within our own institutions. Learning analytics has become a topic for all of us. We also notice that people outside of the zone increasingly use the term learning analytics and that the corresponding models fulfill their function.

What went differently than you expected?

Unfortunately, it took a long time before our zone had a permanent connector. In addition, I expected the local progress in institutions would go a little faster, but apparently these are difficult projects to get started. That was also educational.

What should the team do more and less next year?

Less talking, more doing. Now that I know better what everyone in the team can do well and what interests them, I also dare to be ambitious in what we are going to achieve.

What do you take with you to 2020?

Confidence in the feasibility of our plans.

What do you hope to have achieved when the Acceleration Plan ends?

By then we have mapped out what learning analytics is, what you can do with it, how you approach a learning analytics project and what things you should pay attention to. By then, we would have learned a lot about methodologies to analyse these kinds of issues. By 2022, we will also have delivered various instruments to determine how far along institutions are and what steps they should take next. I expect there will be a lot of training material by then and we will have delivered several best practices.

Are you on the right track to achieving the 2022 ambitions?

Our zone is the only acceleration zone that hasn’t defined clear goals for 2022. Looking three years ahead is a very long time in IT, where developments are moving at lightning speed. Moreover, we chose to follow and support the other zones: if they decide to go left, I think about how we go left. Using learning analytics is not a goal in itself. That is why I consciously choose to determine what we will do every year.

Ten years from now, what will be visible from the efforts of the zone?

In 10 years, the use of learning analytics has become standard practice in higher education, instead of the exception. We are getting closer to the concept of the digital twin: there is so much data about people circulating, that you can increasingly recognise those people in the data itself. By this, I don’t mean that we want to identify students, but that we use learning analytics to better understand what concerns our students and what they want so that we can better adjust to it. I hope that by 2030, we will be much more capable of organising education and support in such a way that students can be successful in their studies. That’s what we do it for. That is why I am also pleased with the name of our zone: it is crucial that study data is secure and reliable.

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