Quick thoughts on the opening sessions of LASI 2013

After listening to a really nice opening panel at LASI 2013 and the idea of Big Data and Learning Analytics (LA) a couple things came to mind about this emerging field.

I’m always worried about the ideas of LA are going to put learning too much “on rails” – that is to say that we automate the process so much that students and teachers are taken out of the decision and learning processes by simply crunching the “data” and making decisions for them. I’m heartened to see that this concern is shared by the panel as well.

Alyssa Wise mentioned that LA needs to be “learner centered”, which I think is vital, even as we begin to gather and process all of this data to make sense of it we need to remember that it’s about the students and all of our practices need to be focused on this and how we can help and enable learners to learn. I was glad that Dan Suthers also pointed out that learning at it’s core is a complex phenomena, but that there is a promise being held out by LA to help us “understanding and manage learning in its full complexity”, and how we can it help optimize learning. My big question and one that I think should be central to this whole conference is what we mean by optimizing learning? A lot of the ideas in this conference is about this idea of optimization and I hope that we continue to discuss/debate what optimization means within complex and varying learning communities and approaches.

This idea by Dan goes very nicely with George Siemens idea of the increase of learner individualization, and with Phil Winne’s of engaging learners as participants in an ecology of experimentation. We want students to be authentic drivers of inquiry, investigation, and knowledge construction and we want to leverage LA as a means of aiding them in these processess – by connecting them new peers, new resources, new ideas that they may have been otherwise “blind” to (similar to what Dan said about weak ties).

My personal hope is that LA does live up to this ideal of really empowering learners to learn in ways that otherwise would be impossible (or prohibitively time consuming), and also critically giving teachers insight into the state of their class’ knowledge (and perhaps deeper information of the “global” state of knowledge) to drive learning and exploration in exciting new ways.

Only one morning in and so far very interesting and exciting – looking forward to the next few days!

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