Next stop – La La Land?

Ah, La La Land – where everything is possible, nothing relates to the real world, and life is completely deranged. Most of us would think that the La in La La Land stands for the craziness of Los Angeles, or, if you work in government, Local Authority. But if your concerns are with education, it seems like there’s something even more wild and wacky to worry about – Learning Analytics.

So what are Learning Analytics? Apparently:

Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs.

So, to get the basic idea, just think about Amazon and the way it cleverly keeps a record of all the books and DVDs you’ve ever browsed and then sends you completely inappropriate recommendations for things you might like. Except Learning Analytics seems poised to go just a bit further than that…

Introducing the ALP – the ‘Adaptive Learning Platform’.

Knewton’s software “analyzes students’ performance on practice questions and recommends tutorials based on the student’s answers. Knewton optimizes learning by focusing only on the areas that students need to improve. The software determines subject areas at a granular level. it doesn’t just know whether you need improvement in algebra. It knows specifically whether you’re having trouble with, for example, quadratic equations.” According to COO David Liu, an afternoon of studying can give Knewton 100,000 – 150,000 data points about the student – such as how long it takes them to answer questions or what time of day they learn best.

And, of course, the system can go further than that, because it can also accurately predict what your performance will be in the future. A bit along the lines of “Based on your current performance you have a 0% chance of getting into Oxbridge”.

Here’s some more gobbledegook, from recent coverage in no lesser a publication than the Financial Times:

And don’t think it stops at the learners – ultimately this technology can be used to track teachers, managers and administrators.

Anyway, not to worry, you can’t see this coming to a school near you soon? Better think again:

Yes, you’ve guessed it, Schoolnet is another Learning Analytics company.

Learning Analytics is just what your typical politician has been dreaming about for years – at last, a reliable way to gather data in order to measure value for money in education!

At a time when we’re all anticipating and working towards an education appropriate for the 21st Century that utilises the freedom of the World Wide Web to learn how to learn for oneself, it’s alarming to think that coming up fast on the rails is an educational control tool beyond all imaginable previous control mechanisms, subverting our understanding of ‘personalised learning’ into its own quality-controlled, mass-produced, impersonalised education system that perpetuates the myth that knowledge is King: “I know something you don’t and I have analysed how to get you there down to the smallest nanometer and now technology lets me measure you in infinitely microscopic blinks so that if you deviate from the predetermined track even by a millionth of an atom we can nudge you back and make sure you all come out exactly the same shape and size.”

My own personal on-board predictive analytic tool tells me I’m 100% sure I don’t like the sound of Learning Analytics one little bit!

6 comments on “Next stop – La La Land?

  1. In the great scheme of things, technologies such as adaptive questioning seem a good idea. The more questions you answer correctly, the harder they get, allowing you to reach to your maximum potential. If you get questions wrong, the next in the series get easier, and so you reach the level appropriate for your ability. In our CEM centre INSIGHT tests we have replaced Y9 KS3 with, you can witness the savvy kids just nexting through without answer at all once they have got a couple right, just ensuring they get a good enough score without troubling their little foreheads one bit. In short, it’s the same reason why most First year students at uni don’t bother to get much higher than the minimum 40% required because there is no need to try harder. Very much like what you see in the staff room when cover lists go up – just enough activity to cover the tracks. So fear not for Learning Analytics, the kids and staff will soon work them out and traduce them. The downside of course will be that yet another top-down-pricey idea without any evidence that it will make improve engagement will be rooled out at the expense of the tax payer and to the detriment of traditional school budgets for things like Art and Sport.

    • Actually I agree that Analytics could have a very useful role in learning. As often happens though, it’s not the technology that’s the problem, it’s the way it might come to be used that’s the concern!

  2. The trouble and problem with Analytics is that the data can so easily be corrupted and skewed. In the example of the Online/Computer Learning Analytics mentioned, a bad day, faulty computer/Internet connection, not enough time, feeling ill, etc., could radically alter the “average”. Or maybe little brother/other people have a go whilst logged in as that child, or the child just decides to be silly and experiment by answering randomly or deliberately wrongly. It would all lead to corrupt data.

    Much the same way as most family computers probably never have more than one user to log in with, everyone just uses the same user-account, so when the likes of Amazon tries to suggest things you might like, it’s dealing with various family member’s searches and making inappropriate choices most of the time. When I’m looking around Amazon, eBay or any other sites, I might look at all sorts of rubbish and so do my kids, maybe looking for a present for someone else, or even some research for a client, Amazon, eBay or whoever then thinks I like that stuff and wrongly builds up a profile on me, i.e. an inaccurate/corrupt profile that I will keep being reminded about way into the future.

    Sainsburys, Tesco, or any other shops for that matter, build up profiles on me when I buy specific things in one and not another, they then will target me with email/mail-shots that will be equally wrong and inappropriate, especially if I’m buying for someone else (a client, friend or spouse). Same with internet research and searching, there are all sorts of secret Analytics services going on while browsing the web. I try and block what I can because I don’t believe they should be making assumptions about me without knowing the full story, and besides, what I do should be private and what I search for is not necessarily anything I’m interested in as it may be on behalf of someone else, e.g. a client. For instance, I had a book design job that was about preventing illegal arms trading. It involved me having to research images and information on all sorts of websites I wouldn’t normally want to be visiting and associated with, but no doubt, some tracking analytics service will have recorded my IP and probably alerted the FBI for all I know! It’s dangerous stuff this Analytics business and without knowing the full context of all circumstances, all sorts of mistakes and wrong assumptions can be made. And don’t forget, a computer will be making the assumptions based on what a human has programmed it to do, probably without any further human intervention and thereby lies the problem; Insufficient information, invalid data. Garbage in, garbage out. “The computer says ‘No’!”

  3. Perhaps sometimes we shold stop ‘analysing’ everything so deeply and just get on with it?! Just Teach!

    Does a lightbulb get changed quicker or better by analysing the processes involved in doing so?

    Q: How many analysts does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Answer is on hold pending audits required: Health & Safety, Sustainability/Green issues, Time and Motion study, Specialist equipment requirements, Committee meetings, Establish time-scales, needs and urgency, Training requirements, Accessibility issues, Purchase-order numbers, Part numbers, Product sourcing, Budget limitations, Establish plan of action, Set dates, etc……

  4. Very interesting and yet impossible to imagine it working at anything but the most mundane and reductive fashion. It sounds to me like more of the same old ‘this works for accountancy training, let’s sell it to schools’ guff. Mind you, I hope it’s not monitoring me typing that – I don’t want to get educationally downgraded

  5. In my lengthy years as a teacher I have come to understand that one should never trust anyone that claims to have all the answers to the problems of learning (including oneself) and especially if they are selling them…

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