Digitalisation in higher education
Last week, Ulrike Wild (leader of the zone Flexible education), Theo Bakker (leader of the zone Learning analytics), Rens van der Vorst (member of the zone EdTech) and Roos van Leeuwen (member of the Steering Group) of the Acceleration Plan were invited to the round table discussion with the House of Representatives Committee of the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science on Digitalisation in Higher Education. Member of parliament Dennis Wiersma (VVD) initiated this round table discussion. MPs Jan Paternotte (D66), Frans Futselaar (SP), and Lisa Westerveld (GroenLinks) were also present.
Those involved in the Acceleration Plan spoke in the second round of the round table discussion. Theo talked about his work with learning analytics within VU Analytics and his zone. “Collecting data is not an end in itself. As a zone, we focus on improving the preconditions for the use of learning analytics so the well-being of students and lecturers is improved.”
Roos subsequently drew attention to the privacy of students and the impact of flexible education on students. “There are also students who need more direction. It is very important to pay a lot of attention to personal guidance when education becomes more flexible.” Making education more flexible is one of the ambitions of the Acceleration Plan. Team leader Ulrike spoke more about this: “The system facilitates various needs well, but not all of them. For example, it is difficult to study at your own pace. Or if, as a student, you want to follow part of your programme at another institution. Students look at the changing job market and want to be able to switch quickly. That is not possible now. Just as it is currently not possible to follow a module at an institution in the face of Lifelong Learning that contributes to a person’s professional life.”
Ulrike stated we can make studying more time and place independently. “Let me emphasise that I am not thinking about recording lectures and replaying them later. We have more options to facilitate and direct education. We are organising pilots and experiments to adjust properly to the context and learning needs of students.” Ulrike also indicated she understands Roos’ concerns about student-teacher contact.
The aim of the Flexible education zone is an extension of the current system, and not a replacement, with good guidance for students: “We are reaching the limits of the system. Funding for one student, for example, still goes to one institution, and this student is expected to graduate within a minimal time frame. We want a system that can adapt to today’s society and the job market.”
Privacy and learning analytics
Rens van der Vorst talked about his work at Fontys University of Applied Sciences, where he uses a pilot to look at the real impact of technology on people and society. “We are looking at projects to collect data for students, not about students. For example: How often are you at school? Students decide for themselves whether they participate in this data collection. We try to get students to think about what technology exactly means to them. This also means paying attention to privacy laws. Those laws are quite complex and students’ understanding of them could be improved. ”
Roos agrees. In response to a question from MP Westerveld as to what should be better arranged with regard to student privacy, Roos said: “The GDPR is sufficient, but the concern is that students are currently not sufficiently aware of the effect collecting data has on their privacy. Information is important here, to make sure that students really know that they can raise issues where they think it is necessary.”
MP Futselaar commented on this: “I find it impressive what the VU does with data. My biggest nightmare, however, is a student begin told: ‘we have personal data of you and you must give us permission to use it. If you don’t, we won’t provide you with any guidance’. Then the student ends up in an unfair position of power.”
Ethical code for use of learning analytics
Theo explained how the VU approaches this: “We have a code with three principles that we use when collecting data. First, the student’s success is central, second, the collecting is inclusive and should benefit the students, and third, we tell students exactly what we do with their data and what’s been achieved with it. We must investigate how this is perceived by students. The most important thing is that if students are asked for permission, the choice is completely free and not giving permission doesn’t have any negative consequences. When an educational institution starts a project with learning analytics, they have to think about it carefully.”
Theo also explained why the VU has started working with learning analytics: “Our student advisors did not want to give personal advice to individual students based on predictive models. We then focused more on general improvements in our policy-making that are made possible with the use of learning analytics. Valid statistics are important here, something that can be jeopardised if you only work with data based on student consent and a limited number of students gives permission to use their data.”
In addition, Theo spoke about what the zone does in regard to the secure and reliable use of learning analytics: “We’re developing a national code of ethics for the use of learning analytics.” Roos was happy to hear that: “We all have to get behind this ethical code, nationally. That would make us less dependent on a college or university that draws up the rules itself. ”
Learning analytics for flexible education
Theo added that, based on a lot of data he has seen, flexible education is closer to existing education than many people think. Ulrike responded: “In the context of flexible education, we think about the different needs: Who has the need? Is it an 18-year-old coming straight from high school, or a 22-year-old who’s already looking at the job market? Is the need of an 18-year-old for learning in a group related to the content of education, or is it separate? That’s why my plea is simple: more concern for differences between students. We don’t have endless money to organise education with the best lecturers and tools. Therefore, we need to think about when the lecturer adds the most in learning situations. We need to make optimal use of lecturers’ time in interaction with students. The question then is: In which situations are contact and interaction useful? And how can this be set up online, for example, to organise the learning process as optimally as possible? We’re already working on a much larger cultural shift there and it’s taking a long time, but we need the support and the confidence from the institutions to make the right choices and to organise education flexibly.”