Leadership

23rd October 2015 at 00:00
pinpointing patterns of success

Smarter use of analytics could prevent learners from slipping through the net, writes senior leader Bill Jones

Despite cost-cutting and area reviews rightly occupying the thoughts of further education providers, students must continue to be our first priority. This means ensuring that they are successful in their endeavours, and leave college with the qualifications and skills they need to go on to higher education or their chosen careers.

This must be true for every student. If even one is allowed to slip through the net when a simple intervention might have prevented it, then we have failed in our core duty.

If we are to secure the futures of all who pass through our doors, being able to identify clear and meaningful patterns in an individual’s learning journey, including any pressure points, is essential. Modern-day learning analytics offer just such an opportunity. Every time a student interacts with the education system – be it answering a register, using a virtual learning environment or checking a book out of the library – they leave a digital footprint, which can then be correlated against outcomes.

Of course, most of us in FE will already be carrying out some form of analytics, such as basic performance monitoring using ubiquitous tools like the Compass Pro suite. But what I would call the new dawn of learning analytics promises much more in terms of tracking performance, predicting grades and identifying those at risk.

Say a particular student hasn’t been engaging with the library or keeping up with their assignments. A sophisticated analytics engine would allow you to quickly identify the issue, stage an intervention and introduce the right support to prevent a detrimental impact on their learning and stop them dropping out altogether.

Such a system would be beneficial for all students. In this age of personalisation, it would allow us to tailor teaching to fit individual learning styles. This should result in better outcomes for learners and, ultimately, for colleges, whose financial future is dependent on being able to recruit, retain and deliver for students.

I, for one, am very excited about what learning analytics could do for Leeds City College. But I know that we could not deliver such a system on our own.

With others in further and higher education, I’m involved in a Jisc pilot to develop a national learning analytics service. It’s right that Jisc – the technology body for the sector, by the sector – should be the one to lead this work, rather than individual institutions having to create and implement their own, minimising the impact. By working together to develop a shared vision, I believe we will create a solution that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Bill Jones is deputy principal for teaching and learning at Leeds City College

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