What do Cowboys and Higher Education Technology have in common? EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative 2012


What do Cowboys and Higher Education Technology have in common?

Nothing!! Well that’s not exactly true, the connection is that one of the largest Educational Technology organizations was in Texas last week and I with two fellow City University London colleagues were there to witness it.

Last week I presented at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) 2012 Annual Meeting, which was held in Austin, Texas, USA. I presented results from a recent collaborative Learning Analytics research between the Learning Development Centre (LDC) and Centre for eHealth Research (CeRC). This research was relevant to the theme of the conference  (“Taking the Pulse: Connecting, Assessing, and Innovating”) as our research explored how to enhance the student experience through collaboration and interaction in learning and teaching. The session met the focus of the conference because this was an innovative and strategic approach to using Moodle data to encourage lecturers to make changes during the running of a module which had the potential providing an engaging and participatory student experience.

Learning Analytics Presentation

Our presentation at ELI 2012 was a showcase session of 15 minutes; this allowed participants to engage by listening to the case studies followed by a 15 minute question and answer section.  In the later section,  I was approached by a number of participants who were interested in our implementation of the project to understand how they may implement something similar in their own institution and what we plan to do next.

The presentation itself  provided an overview of the lessons we learnt from using learning analytics to enhance learning and teaching in two modules at City University London. Overall, we undertook a three-phase project using learning analytics to explore both student and lecturer engagement in the first year of implementing Moodle as our strategic learning environment (final report can be found here). The third phase, the focal point of this presentation, was focused on two in-depth case studies where lecturers were given live data in order to analyse the student experience of using blended learning. As such, the presentation concentrated on our findings and lessons learnt.

Module leaders were provided with Learning Analytics reports at set points in the term so they could examine it and explore whether by adapting their interaction and collaboration with students they could increase student engagement. To enable the research team to examine how useful the reports were, how the lecturers found the reports and what they did as a result of these, the lecturers were interviewed at the beginning and end of the module, and surveyed every time they were sent a learning analytics report. Our Prezi presentation outlines the main aspects of the project and our key findings.

I also had the pleasure of sharing my opinion on the future of Learning Analytics in an interview with Educause. Educause are at the forefront of understanding Learning Analytics and  as part of this work they are collecting the opinions of current practitioners and researchers (some of their past work can be seen here).

The Personal Journey

Travelling to present at an international conference is as much about the personal journey as it is about accomplishing business goals; so let me tell you about the personal journey (!)  For me, visiting Austin, Texas was my first visit to America, in fact this was the first time I crossed the Atlantic Ocean.  The overall flight, including transiting in Washington was a little long but the people I met along the way made it easy: they were interested in my stories of London and I was charmed by their accent.

Austin is a modern City with a Wild West twist where the people have a liking for all things quirky and weird, hence their motto of “Keep Austin Weird”. The weather was also interesting. As an introduction to my presentation, I had hoped to make a joke about the English weather until I experienced the Austin weather! On the first day we had the hats, gloves and umbrellas out as it snowed but by Tuesday we were wearing summer clothes and getting  sun tanned.

Although I started by saying that travelling to an international conference is as much about the personal journey as it is about accomplishing business goals, in fact it is more true that the personal is intertwined with the business.  Seeing the weather dance between the clouds and the Sun and from hot was an appropriate metaphor for the current state of affairs in Higher Education both in the UK and US. The HE sector faces increasing challenging times, most prominently, we have began to feel the cold winds of funding cuts. Furthermore, in the UK we have had warnings of sever downfall in student enrollment due to the increase in fees. Yet, the Sun does still shine. Although at the moment things look partly cloudy with a heavy overcast, having rich discussions and witnessing the innovative implementation of technology at ELI shows there is hope. For me the most promising areas are social media (especially the potential of Twitter like tools for in class and out of class conversations),  mobile technology (the use of various mobile devices and application of augmented reality), and learning analytics.

At the same time, there are a number of education technologies presented in ELI that I believe will not change the weather for the better, that is, I cannot envisage how they can support student learning. One such technology is the iPad. For one, I think the conversation is limited when we talk only of iPad rather than tablets in general. But even so, none of the presentation in ELI convinced me that tablets are more useful than tools we already have, such as smartphones.  I say this knowing that there is growing support for the potential of tablets in HE, such as The Horizon Report 2012 prediction. If tablets are to make a change, in my opinion, the greatest potential of tablets lies in the development of eText, especially with investments from large companies to create text books that go way beyond just printed books in electronic format such as the recent announcement by Apple and Pearson. Another educational technology that I am skeptical about is gaming; again, the use of education games may be useful in some areas but I have yet to see any real impactful examples of how games can be used to increase student learning and engagement with the material.

So I guess the original question should have been: what do cowboys, the weather, learning analytics and education technology have in common?! Based on my experience of attending the ELI2o12 conference in Austin, they have much in common!

Ajmal Sultany, Research Assistance, LDC.

(This blog post uses some text that was written by Dr Pam Parker)


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5 Responses

  1. nealsu

    February 23, 2012 6:46 pm

    Thanks Ajmal. This is a good read – entertaining yet informative. I’m glad the educause folks were interested in your analytics work and that you enjoyed the trip.

  2. pascale

    March 19, 2012 6:13 pm

    A good read, thanks.
    Your last point about educational games was interesting, I thought. A lot of people are skeptical about them, including students. I use them a lot towards the end of a module. They should have a special though. Because they’re fun ( no point using them if they aren’t) they catch people’s mood and attention, a bit like your article did. I read your article because there was something quirky about it and is light yet informative tone made the reading it easy. I think games work very well in engaging your students in a usually dull exercise, such as revision. I would strongly recommend using them because they also bring students together, in way rarely seen in other activities.

    • Ajmal Sultany

      March 26, 2012 2:40 pm


      Thank you for you comment.

      I would love to see how you/ or others use games with students. As we are in the same Uni (!) i’m sure I can drop by…?



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