Teaching and Learning in LA LA Land

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No face, no name, just a number?

First All Change Please! would like to wish all its readers a very happy New Year.

Well, of course when All Change Please! writes ‘very happy’, it doesn’t mean it is full of optimism for education in 2013. In fact if anything, perhaps it should read: All Change Please! would like to warn all its readers of something to be afraid of in 2013. Very afraid of.

So what is this LA LA Land of which it speaks? La La Land is known as a state of semi-unconsciousness where everything is removed from the real world, and quite deranged. Most of us would probably agree that the ‘La’ in La La Land stands for the craziness of Los Angeles, or, if you work in government, Local Authority. But if you work in education, it seems like there’s something even more wild and wacky to worry about –  the wonderful world of Learning Analytics.

So what exactly are Learning Analytics? Apparently: ‘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’.

To explain Learning Analytics as simply as possible, each and every time a student visits a website, how long is spent there, which on-line tests are undertaken, the number of mistakes and attempts made, the time taken completing each online exercise, the time of day and day of the week, etc., the mouse click or keyboard command is electronically grabbed by a great database in the cloud and silently compared to trillions of other bits of data obtained from other learners. As a result it  becomes possible to make individual predictions about exactly where each learner is struggling and succeeding, what exact nugget of knowledge they need to review or acquire next, what digital resource they might find particularly helpful, and what courses – and careers – they are most likely to succeed at in later life.

It sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Indeed, 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. And how those annoying animated web page ads keep trying to recommend something you once showed an interest in and purchased several months ago. Except Learning Analytics claims to be poised to go way beyond that…

It all sounds very convincing doesn’t it, especially if you are an administrator charged with reducing the monthly teacher wage bill? And in the current economic situation, anything that saves money is bound to be a big winner.

However, here’s what Tony Wheeler has to say:

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 for learning how to learn for one’s self, it’s alarming to think that coming up fast on the rails is an educational control tool beyond all previous control mechanisms, subverting the notion of ‘personalised learning’ into its own quality-controlled, mass-produced, impersonal education system that perpetuates the myth that knowledge is King: “I know something you don’t and I have analysed how to pass it on to you down to the smallest nanobyte 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 electronic bit we can nudge you back and make sure you all come out exactly the same shape and size”.

And don’t think it stops at the learners – this technology can be used to track teachers, managers and indeed administrators. Anyway, not to worry, you can’t see this coming to a school near you soon? These teachers certainly don’t seem to be bothered about it at all:

Teacher predictions: what will 2013 bring for education? http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2012/dec/31/education-in-2013-teacher-predictions

Perhaps they had better think again: Pearson buys SchoolNet  http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/apr/26/pearson-buys-schoolnet

Indeed All Change Please! controversially suggests that in just five years’ time, there will only be half the number of teachers, and that children will spend half their time at school plugged into a Pearsonalised electronic learning analytic interfaces.

And entirely without the aid of sophisticated date-driven analytics All Change Please! confidently predicts that Learning Analytics is a subject it will be writing a lot more about in 2013.

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I am not a number, I am a free learner.

Image credits. Top: Derrick Tyson http://www.flickr.com/photos/derricksphotos/2329246714  Bottom: Paul G http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-g-uk/5654023124

2 comments on “Teaching and Learning in LA LA Land

  1. Lummy, I’m not sure whether to be depressed or blissfully happy by your first post of 2013. Depressed for obvious reasons, but oh so happy that I’m now retired!

  2. Working to a predetermined script of what might (or might not) be right or wrong, which is then only assessed and analysed by a computer, is fundamentally dangerous and, as T.W. implies, if you stray by a nano-thought from that you could be treated and assessed as wrong or “malfunctioning”. So, what happens when little brother at home happens to do a couple of the on-line modules for fun, or there is deliberate sabotage by classmates or extra help from parents? The course of actions and assessment gets skewed and errors and exceptions don’t often average out evenly.

    Like many computer games that people spend weeks or months progressing through the various levels in search of the final answer, ultimately it’s all reliant on how inventive or creative the programmer was and that there aren’t any mistakes, errors or bugs along the way.

    It doesn’t matter how clever you might be in learning or finding solutions, Learning Analytics may end up being based more on making your mind fit within the limitations and methodology of whatever was created.

    Like so many questionnaires that I’ve answered over the years, I never seem to fit the regular patterns and expectations of the questioners. Like Amazon’s “Things I might be interested in…”, it gets corrupted when I search for some weird thing for someone else or someone else searches using my computer – the Analytics systems never seem to work for me and by them trying to think for me, they are in danger of omitting other as yet unknown interesting things which in the end, as the spiral of analysis continues, just narrows down on options rather than expanding them.

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