Big Data and Analytics in Education and Learning

With the growth of the internet, mobile technologies, multimedia, social media and the ever increasing Internet of Things, the data we can mine effectively as well as the types of information we can process from that data are evolving rapidly. In a recent report, McKinsey Global Institute estimated that the amount of data increase globally is roughly 40%. The term “Big data” has emerged to describe “datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage and analyse” (McKinsey, 2011). Big data represents data sets that can no longer be easily managed or analysed with traditional or common data management tools, methods and infrastructures. According to Gartner, the challenges of Big data come from three dimensions:

Volume: means the increase in data volumes within enterprise systems will cause a storage issue and a massive analysis issue.

Variety: means different types of information from various sources are available and need to be analysed, including databases, documents, e-mail, video, still images, audio, financial transactions, etc.

Velocity: means both how fast data is being produced and how fast the data must be processed to meet demand. This involves streams of data, structured record creation, and availability for access and delivery. (Gartner, 2011)

These characteristics bring new challenges to traditional Business Intelligence (BI) and analytics and require new approaches, new software tools, and new skill sets to manage and extract value from new, complex, unstructured and voluminous data sources.

Big Data has made its way onto the Gartner Hype Cycle for 2011 for mainstream adoption in 2 to 5 years. According to Gartner, “By 2015, companies that have adopted big data and extreme information management will begin to outperform unprepared competitors by 20% in every available financial metric”. It is predictable that big data will provide new opportunities for data service providers, content/information publishers, and software companies to offer optimized services and platforms that help organizations make better business decisions. For example, Oracle has developed a comprehensive Big data strategy, which includes releasing Hadoop data-management software, a NoSQL database and R analytics. IBM has also unveiled InfoSphere BigInsights platform for big data analysis. Many governments, sectors and corporations have seen Big data as a key strategic business asset of the future development and have started to experiment with Big data technologies as a complementary or alternative form to traditional data management and analysis.

How will HE institutions address the opportunities and challenges for Big data in education? According to MGI Big Data report, Education in the US is the tenth largest data sector, which stores and manages approximately 267 petabytes of information. However, compared to other sectors, Education faces higher hurdles because of the lack of a data-driven mind-set and available data. With an increased focus on such issues as data-informed accountability and transparency, emphasising student retentions and academic achievements, teacher performance and added value and productivity in education, big data will play an important role in guiding education reform, helping institutions to develop business strategies and assisting educators to improve teaching and learning. Predictably, while all sectors are facing the challenges of making effective use big data, several general development trends for big data in education can be detected for the future, for example:

  • One of the key challenges for big data in education is to develop data informed mind–sets and to make sure that educational data are effectively managed and available for end users. It is clear that the use of Big data is different from traditional data mining, and it requires new approaches, new tools, and new skills to deliver the promise of BI and analytics. In order to optimise the use of big data, institutions will need not only to put the right talent and technology in place but must also structure their workflows and incentives to promote data informed decisions at all levels.
  • One of the real opportunities for big data in education is to integrate information from multiple data sources. This means working with significantly greater data sets to store and mine all the unstructured and structured data to which institutions have access. These will include scientific research, library resources and administrative information, as well as data sets collected via LMS platforms and other sources to help institutions make smart decisions that lead to real success on e.g. development strategies and organisation management, student recruitment, international markets and intelligent curricula.
  • A shift from data collecting to data connecting. The potential of big data and analytics in education is to connect the unstructured and structured data effectively to identify and leverage the real learning patterns that lead to student success. Mining unstructured and informal connections and information produced by students in this way, including blogs, social media networks, machine sensors and location-based data, will allow educators to uncover facts and patterns they weren’t able to recognise in the past.
  • A new way to manage and use much larger sets of real-time student data. The real-time, contextual data could be used to provide real-time intelligence about learners and their collective/connected learning environments and contribute to open-ended and student-directed learning. For example, mobile analytics can be used to take advantage of the contextual data including tracking learner attention, behaviour management, truancy, teacher performance evaluation and school dashboards, etc.

Big data related technologies and applications:

  • Cloud computing,
  • Linked data
  • Metadata
  • Mashup
  • Stream processing
  • Visualization
  • Google’s MapReduce and Google File System
  • MapReduce & Hadoop
  • InfoSphere &BigInsights

Further reading:

Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity. http://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/publications/big_data/pdfs/MGI_big_data_full_report.pdf

“Big data” prep: 5 things IT should do now. http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9221055/_Big_data_prep_5_things_IT_should_do_now

Big Data and Education. http://blog.xplana.com/2011/08/big-data-and-education/

Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2011, http://www.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?ref=seo&id=1754719,

Penetrating the Fog: Analytics in Learning and Education. http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume46/PenetratingtheFogAnalyticsinLe/235017

Can the flipped classroom disrupt the existing lecture-based teaching model in institutions?

HE institutions, from architecture and business to pedagogy and content delivery, have been designed for the classroom-based lecture model. However, rapid technological change now means that lecture capture technology is becoming widely available and lecturers can easily record their presentations so that students may view them anywhere, anytime. Millions of audios and videos of OERs have been produced by subject experts and are freely available at iTunes U for teachers and students to use and re-use in their teaching and learning. And students can search and find most of the information they need on Google, YouTube and social networks via their mobile phones or laptops. As a result of this ever-increasing student access to technology and online learning content, institutions and educators are being forced to rethink how student learning can be facilitated to make class time and activities as relevant and valuable as possible. A term “flipped classroom” has been articulated by some education practitioners, to describe a reversal of the traditional teaching method that gives students video lectures to watch in their own time at their own pace at home and then go to their classrooms for discussions, coaching and interaction with teachers and between peers. The idea of the “flipped classroom” has been brought to the public by the popularity of Khan Academy and its founder, Salman Khan’s TED Talk on reinventing education via using videos.

There is an ongoing debate on the concept of “flipped classroom” and its implications for education, in particular, most recently in the US school sector. A growing number of success stories have been shared by advocators and practitioners but some confusion, critique, and hype also need to be addressed. As with any technology related educational practices, technology itself is only a tool that can be used to address some problems and challenges in education. In this case, the flipped approach offers a simple solution, for using technology in teaching and learning, that helps educators move from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘side-by-side learners’ in the classroom. To many educators, however, the idea behind “flipped classrooms” may not be new and it could be interpreted and implemented in different ways in different learning contexts.

In general, it could be argued that technology has failed in its promise to transform education, especially, when PowerPoint and whiteboards have come to dominate classrooms, reinforcing the lectured–based class model. However, the “flipped classroom” may provide a new way to think about the role and relationship between technology, teacher and students. In essence it would allow the classroom to be used for interactive discussions and collaborative activities while using technology before, after and outside of the classroom. In this way, technology can be employed in radically different ways to support educators to explore new pedagogical approaches to meet individual student needs.

Eventually, the rapid and continuing developments in the areas of lecture capture technologies, OER, digital textbooks, search, social network tools and mobile devices will change students’ learning experience within and outside the classroom. The flipped approach provides a good example of how technology might be used to disrupt the existing education model and traditional education practice. However, to make real change for a better education system we need also to ‘flip thinking’ at all levels of education sector, from practice, method to process and business models, in order to take full advantage of these disruptive technologies in institutions .

TEL-Map Future Search Workshop in Shanghai

In September, at the International Open Forum of e-Learning and Standardization in Shanghai, we organised a TEL-Map workshop to identify the main drivers in the use of technology in education, explore possible future scenarios of Technology Enhanced Learning and develop roadmaps to desired futures. The workshop provided a unique opportunity to engage people, both Chinese experts and experts participating in the 24th meeting of ISO/IEC JTC1 SC36 taking place at the same venue. Three main questions were used to prompt discussion and to enable the participants to pool their thinking and ideas about the current state and future vision of TEL, and how to achieve the desired future. These main questions were broken down into sub-questions as below:

1. What is the current state of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) in your country or region? (drivers)

  • What are the most interesting developments in TEL you know of?
  • What are the main drivers that are likely to impact on TEL in your country or region over the next few yea
  • What would you identify as the significant lessons learned from the past in your country or region?

2. What is your vision for the future? (input to creating a shared desired future/s)

  • What kind of innovation in learning technology would you consider to be desirable?
  • What would you like to see people doing with technology to benefit education?
  • What kind of culture and organisational structures do you think that educational institutions will need in order to deliver the desired future?

3. How do you see this vision being achieved? (roadmap)

  • What would you see as priority actions which should be carried out soon?
  • What are the main emerging developments you see supporting this?
  • What are the main problems and obstacles that you see along the way?

Participants worked in groups with colleagues from their own country or region. Firstly, they were asked to write down their own answers to the questions on post-it notes and stick them on a flip-chart. They then shared each other’s views and add any new ideas emerging from the discussion onto the flip-chart. Finally, participants agreed the most important point for each question and moved it to the top of the flip-chart. The participants also had the opportunity to look at the outcomes from other groups.

Around 20 people attended the workshop, in two main groups – China and European/Asia/US. We had a lively discussion in both groups and all enjoyed the process of sharing their views and ideas with each other. The following are key observations and finding from the workshop:

  • A wide range of different views emerged from different groups and individuals along with a few surprising ideas.
  • Both groups considered mobile learning as the most interesting development in TEL.
  • The Chinese participants agreed that national policy and commercial market were the main drivers of TEL while the other group considered technology to be the main driver, focussing on upcoming advanced mobile solutions enabling ubiquitous Learning Environments anywhere, anytime and in any context, and the even more advanced Brain Computer Interfaces, promising to make learning enjoyable and detecting cognitive dissonance.
  • Not surprisingly, both groups agreed that interoperability and data exchange standards were the most important lessons learned from the past, which represented the concerns from the standards community well.
  • Simple and easy to use tools for teaching and learning and universal and affordable access to education through technology were top concerns for desired technology innovations.
  • Adopting an open approach, bridging formal and informal learning and connecting with various learning communities were top concerns for institutional culture and organisational change in order to deliver the desired future.
  • Assessment and evaluation were the main problems and obstacles for TEL for the Chinese participants. Other concerns included ineffective investment mechanisms and inequality, lack of support from local governments; and the increasing digital divide between different regions and between the rich and the poor, which means that disadvantaged groups are unable to benefit from advanced technology.

A summary of perspectives on TEL in China from this workshop is available here. All  presentations from the Open Forum can be downloaded at the www.sc36meeting.org site.

Is there a business model for open learning in institutions?

How can institutions develop new business models to support open and flexible learning where content is free? How can we design and create interactive, responsive and pedagogically effective open courseware to support on-line and blended learning worldwide? How can OER be culturally, linguistically and pedagogically adapted and reused in different languages, cultural contexts and educational settings? There are growing issues and concerns related to the use and reuse of OERs and the implementation of open learning in institutions, as Tony Bates indicated in his blog post OERs: the good, the bad and the ugly.

A group of academics in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics (IEC) at the University of Bolton have been working on a small project to address some of those issues and explore new business models for developing and delivering online courses nationally and internationally through OERs and open learning approaches. They have recently collaborated with Chinese partner institutions to create an online course “Designing Learning for the 21st Century” which is primarily for Masters students who are studying educational technology in China. It is also openly available for anyone who is interested in this topic. In September 2010, this online course was piloted with students in Shaanxi Normal University (SNNU) as one of the modules integrated into their existing postgraduate degree programmes.

Through this course, IEC and its partners are exploring different working practices, and pedagogical approaches for online teaching and learning using a wide range of digital technology and open approaches. The aim is to develop new business models for online learning programmes that allow for differential pricing for support and accreditation options to students. Several themes emerged from this small-scale collaborative project that might be of wider interest to the OER community:

  • Localisation: there are many concerns about the use and reuse of OERs in different languages and cultural contexts. In this course, staff in the IEC worked closely with Chinese institutions to find out what resources were needed most and how to balance producing and reusing valuable OERs. The courses was subject to ongoing revision of reading materials and learning activities based on the feedback from the Chinese students and the local facilitators in order to make this course linguistically, culturally and pedagogically integrated into their context.
  • Producing and re-using OERs: although the course was created for Master students, some of the content has been reused by other Chinese teachers in their undergraduate Academic English courses. Inspired by the global OER movement and this open course, the local facilitator from SNNU not only used some of the content from the IEC open course in his undergraduate course but also developed an educational technology OERs collection. This collection brought together a large number of open courses in the field from UK, US and China.
  • Learning process rather than free content only: in this course, all of the learning activities, forum discussions, assessment and students’ assignments were available freely to anyone without registration. Face-to-face local facilitation and online expert inputs were provided to ensure that effective learning support is available for learners.
  • Disaggregating content, facilitation and accreditation: it is expected that a wide range of free to use learning resources will catalyse institutional innovation in teaching and learning practice, learning support and accreditation services. In this case, while course content was free, staff time was paid for and the cost of delivery was shared by through both the English and Chinese institutions through local learning facilitation and online expertise support. Students studying at the partner Chinese institutions can gain credits from their own institution after they finish the modules.

One key question which emerges from this small scale unfunded open course project is whether or not we can find a sustainable business model for open course innovations? According to Clayton Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation, it is possible for institutions to explore new business solutions and organisational strategies by launching new market disruption to target non-customer / non-consuming context. In this case, the open course made it possible for more Chinese students, including those studying in Chinese institutions or self-learners, to gain UK educational experience and if registered with a University also gain credits.

The next stage of the plan is to expand the course to several Chinese institutions and to set up a consortium through SSNU to share the cost of expertise input from Bolton. According to the IEC open course project leader, Prof. Bill Olivier “in this project, the ‘breakeven’ point comes when we have 200 students from the partner Chinese institutions”. The project is expected to continue next academic year in order to collect evidence for developing a cost framework for open learning institutions in the future.

With current funding pressures across the UK higher education sector and many previously funded OER initiatives coming to an end, finding a viable business model for open courses is one approach to sustaining the OER ‘project’. We need to think creatively about innovative approaches to support online teaching and learning practice through OERs. As with many other open learning initiatives, this small-scale open course project is only the beginning of seeking new ways to provide online learning nationally and internationally to reach more learners through an open learning approach. Hopefully, the Academy/JISC Open Educational Resources (OER) Phase 3: Embedding and Sustaining Change will provide a good opportunity for institutions to continue embedding OERs in teaching and learning practice and explore sustainable business models for low cost and effective HE provision.

JISC Observatory Technology Forecast Literature Review

One of the tasks the JISC Observatory has undertaken is to identify trends of emerging technologies and applications from outside the European and N American educational domains that could conceivably be relevant to the UK higher education system. In order to do so my colleague Phil Barker and I carried out a brief literature scan of the major technology forecasting publications from business and other sectors which are available through open access, e.g. PwC Technology Forecast, Gartner’s Top IT Predictions, etc.

Around thirty publications describing emerging technologies predicted to be important to domains other than education, were suggested by members of JISC’s two Innovation Support Centres: Cetis and UKOLN. These are listed on the delicious website. These were read and the technologies they identify summarised in a Google Doc. These technologies were then grouped into themes for discussion. For each theme we provide a brief introductory definition, a short snapshot of relevant technologies and applications in business and the wider world, and its implications for an organisation’s IT and business strategies. The final report is now available for download.

Overall the themes that were identified as being widely discussed in the technology forecast publications came as no surprise, but there were some interesting trends that were picked up by only one or two of the forecast publications that wered new to us, for example, fabric-based computing (a modular approach to computer hardware, Gartner 2010), that might be worth considering further.

Disruptive innovation and Open Education in HE

In my presentation at the recent CAL conference on disruptive innovation and Open Education in institutions I looked at the implications of OERs and Open Education initiatives in HE provision by applying Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation framework. Clayton Christensen offers two types of innovations that affect how we improve business and organisations: sustaining and disruptive. According to Christensen, a sustaining innovation is about improving the existing system while a disruptive innovation, on the other hand, creates an entirely new market, typically by lowering price or designing for a different set of consumers or different needs of existing customers. The theory of disruptive innovation helps explain how complicated, expensive products and services are eventually converted into simpler, affordable ones.

HE institutions are currently facing the challenges of funding cuts and rising tuition fees; on the other hand, the rapid development of OERs and Open Education initiatives provides opportunities for institutions to explore new business, financial and revenue models for free or lower cost and flexible HE provision to meet different needs of learners. As with many other technology related initiatives in education, it is clear that most institutional OER programmes focus on sustaining their current business and practice. Inevitably, the existing culture and organisational structure poses huge barriers to innovative models for the use of OERs and provision of Open Education. By contrast, many disruptive innovations around open courses, which offer different models and approaches to make education more accessible and free for all, have grown rapidly outside institutions. Examples of this type of innovation, such as DIY U, P2P U, OER U etc., can be seen as a complement or threat to traditional universities.

Disruptive innovation theories offer possible business solutions and organisational strategies to respond to open educational service provisions, such as by setting up new units with different resources, processes, and priorities to explore new educational approaches and services. Institutions can launch new market disruption to target those who are not being able to go to universities, or either launch up-market sustaining innovations by reducing the cost and providing better learning experiences without extra cost or low end market disruption to target those who look for simple and straight forward courses rather than complicated university degrees. The challenge for institutions is how to implement both sustaining and disruptive innovation in order to improve the existing teaching and learning practice as well as move away from highly formalised, standardised and expensive HE provision towards an individualised, cheaper, flexible and effective education economy.

The slides of this presentation are available at the Slideshare.

Reflections on CETIS Widget Bash

Back in 2009, at a CETIS Widgets Working Group meeting in London, a strong desire was expressed by the delegates that we should provide an opportunity for educators and developers to work together to build widgets that really meet the needs of teaching and learning. We finally managed to have our first attempt at this in the 2-day widget bash at Bolton last week. Over 30 people registered for the event and 18 participated in our pre- event survey. The data showed that 11 delegates considered themselves as developers and 7 as educators, providing an excellent environment of pedagogical and technical engagement.

To help prepare this event, my IEC colleagues, Stephen Powell, Dai Griffiths, Mark Johnson and Scott Wilson agreed to record some videos to share their knowledge and understanding on using and building W3C widgets in education. We put these on the CETIS wiki before the event and they were very well received, helping to spread the ideas and different perspectives on W3C widget development across communities. I hope that we will be able to provide ongoing widget-related knowledge and development updates and support through a collection of videos on “talking and building widgets” in the future.

Sheila’s blog and Scott’s blogs have given detailed reports on activities and outcomes of the two days of widgets building. However, not all of the delegates wrote code or built a widget at the event as some spent their time discussing and sharing ideas on the possibilities of using widgets in education. The following are just a few of the observations and reflections on the event and some conversations among the delegates:

  • It is still too complicated for non-tech teachers to distinguish between widgets/gadgets and W3C widgets and to understand the relationship between W3C widgets, Wookie, plug ins and VLEs. However, most people felt that an event like this helps to clarify the confusions and the widget demos were especially very useful in allowing others to see how widgets have been built and used in educational context.
  • Making widgets is simpler than might be thought but for most teachers it would still be difficult without easy to follow guidance, hands-on practice or support. I made my first widget myself with some support from colleagues in my office: an “Ideas Share” widget based on Scott’s “Share Links” widget. During the event, I also learned how to wrap a BBC online game into a W3C widget. I do think it would be useful if teachers could have clearer guidance for creating educational widgets or if some widget build tools could be built so that teachers can just do some drag and drop, change a few words or click a few buttons to make widgets for their own lessons.
  • Developing W3C widgets (apps) stores for education. If we expect more and more teachers to use widget to engage with students within VLEs or in the classroom, we need to make sure that they know where to find an appropriate widget to meet their different needs and purposes, e.g. institutional management, teaching in VLEs or classrooms and learning support. I like the ideas that resources and tools sit outside an institution’s VLE and teachers only need to think about their students and activities, and to pull resources and tools into the VLE to complete their lessons. There is no doubt that having specifically designed educational apps in a “one stop shop” enabling teachers to find and share widgets could help move towards this direction.
  • Security issues again were mentioned many times during the widgets and DVLE demo sessions. I had planned to embed the “ideas share” widget into CETIS wiki in order to gather ideas for building widgets before the event but failed because of security risk. It seems that lots of work still needs to be done in this aspect before widgets can be widely adopted in institutions.

As one of the delegates commented: “It (the widget bash) was useful to develop my understanding of what widgets are good for and for the things that are possibly too complicated for the ‘widgetisation’ approach”… We hope that we could bring more educators on board to share ideas and participate in using and developing widgets (or other technologies) for teaching and learning in our future widget events. If you have any suggestions, please let us know.

Widget Bash – 23rd & 24th March at Bolton

A two day CETIS event which focuses on developing and using web apps, widgets and gadgets in teaching and learning, will be held at the University of Bolton on 23rd and 24th March. The event will provide widget building tutorials from the Apache Wookie (incubating) team, examples of a range widgets and mobile applications developed from the current JISC DVLE programme and the iTech project. We are hoping that this event will provide an opportunity for educator and developers to work together to develop widgets for educational purposes. We have created a Widget Wikipage for the event which you can find two videos that discuss developing and using widgets from educational and technical aspects respectively, and the relevant resources from previous widgets events.

Furthermore, we would like to invite educators and developers to share ideas for developing widgets designed to create a range of flexible teaching and learning opportunities, including organisation and delivery of online teaching and learning activities. If you have an idea, then email me or leave your ideas below and we will circulate them to attendees before the event.

New CETIS White paper: The Future of Interoperability and Standards in Education – System and Process

In January 2010, JISC CETIS organised a working meeting to bring together participants across a range of standards organisations and communities to look at the future of interoperability standards in the education sector. This white paper summarises the views expressed by delegates at the meeting and presents relevant background information on present and future models for collaboration between open and informal communities and the formal standardisation system with particular reference to the current issues and barriers in specification and standard development and adoption. The PDF file of the paper is now available here.

Developing a sustainable OER ecosystem in HE

I gave a presentation at the Open Ed conference 2010 in Barcelona last week to share some lessons learned from the UKOER projects for sustainable OER releasing and thoughts on developing sustainable OER ecosystems in Higher Education.

The UKOER programme has provided an opportunity for funding bodies, institutions and academics work together to explore cultural, political and financial as well as technical issues related to OER releasing and reusing. In this presentation, I focused on institutional projects funded by the UKOER programme and discussed how different approaches and models have been adopted to address long term sustainability issues regarding OERs releasing and reusing beyond the funding period. Furthermore, I employed an ecological approach to examine the UKOER programme in order to capture the comprehensive views and interactions between stakeholders around OERs and indicate where change should happen in order to develop sustainable OER ecosystems.

The ecological approach provides a useful framework for analysing and examining the development of sustainable OERs in the UK context. It illustrates how government agencies and funding bodies, institutions, subject centres and individuals should engage in the production and reuse of OERs within the particular educational system and articulate the key interactions, dependencies, and influences in OER ecosystems. In this case, the UK government committed to the establishment of a content infrastructure which is professionally developed and organised to support informal and formal education and catalyse innovations in higher education. The UKOER programme used national funding models both as an incentive and as a steering device to encourage institutions, subject centres and individuals to promote openness and culture of sharing in education and explore issues regarding sustainable OERs releasing and reusing. In order to achieve sustainable OER ecosystems, it is clear that higher education institutions will need to explore new business models and improve efficiencies through OERs, e.g. reduction in cost and improvements in quality. Educators and learners will need to participate in communities of practice where OER development and reuse becomes a normal consequence of educational activities. This meso level (national educational system level) OER ecosystem will rely for success on the sustainability of OER projects at the micro level (institutions, subject centres and individuals) and, if successful, will eventually foster the global sustainable OER ecosystem at macro level. The PowerPoint of the presentation is available at slideshare.