The Learning Analytics Roadmap: A Powerful Interfaces Paradox [LAR Series #10]

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The Learning Analytics Roadmap: A Powerful Interfaces Paradox [LAR Series #10]

Follow The Learning Analytics Roadmap series here.

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We may have been expecting flying cars by now, but did anyone expect we all were expert flying car drivers? I have stumbled upon this conundrum every time I try to dive deep into new technologies. We want newer, better and mightier gadgets, that at the same time are easier to control than their more basic predecessors. At the same time, the ongoing improvements on interfaces for understanding and using data are not met with the excitement they might deserve.

The fast-evolving continent of learning analytics, as a measure of the EdTech planet, is a prominent example of how this paradox standing affects us today. Never before we’ve had at out fingertips so many tools to quickly analyze reams of data, also in volumes I could not help my grandparents fathom. And yet, we don’t make use of them in a way that revolutionizes the experience of learning or pushes us deeper into understanding students like never before. But we don’t properly acknowledge, let alone encourage the work that goes into making sense of it. The value of design, however, does not seem to go unappreciated everywhere, as major tech companies report critical design talent shortages.

To bridge the divide, so pervasive in learning analytics and technology in general, between power and the ability to control it, there seem to be two schools of thought:

The “Technological Literacy\Empowerment” School

“Along with giving every human being access to the bleeding edge of data gathering, crunching, reporting and visualization, we should also make sure anyone who wants to use them can easily learn how.”

Opponents to this “humanistic” approach take issue with the lack of purpose in initiatives that seek to bring some level of technological literacy to people, particularly those in vulnerable conditions. In their view, there are reasons to conclude that equipping people with technical skills, even workers currently on jobs in danger of extinction, is a social and economic disservice. Whether they have a point or not is a debate for another time. But if both sides don’t agree on whether education must have a clear-cut goal, or allow for a broader set of outcomes, arguments will endlessly and purposelessly fly back and forth.

The “Interface\User Experience” School

“You built an incredible machine. But if I cannot make it do everything I want with the touch of a button, it’s your fault I’ll never do the amazing things your machine promises.”

A less severe version of the narrative above would admit that the machine can have a rough exterior, as long as it allows third-party services to jump right between and add the missing link, and even compete towards an increasingly more intuitive experience. This is, by the way, the basic premise behind Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, which developers build into their applications to enable somebody else to create better, simpler, or just custom-case interfaces.

Configurable Reports, a rocker between extremes?

The Configurable Reports plugin, by Juan Leyva, is a deceptively simple (some would say coarse) application that interacts with the SQL engine powering the Moodle database to draw and synthesize information about Moodle content, users and behaviors. It does not require any knowledge of the SQL syntax to work, but making the most out of it to look for interesting patterns or correlations does benefit from familiarity with SQL and the Moodle data model.

It’s worth pointing out that the rich plugin ecosystem inhabiting Moodle is possible, on the architectural side, thanks to the LMS’ comprehensive set of APIs, which gives ample access data and functions quickly and securely. They may not resolve the paradox completely, as using them takes either a steep learning curve, or recurring to expert help. But they give users choice to pursue an objective as broad or specific as they wish, through any linear combination of complexity and usability.

Install or download the Configurable Reports plugin from Moodle’s official directory. It is currently available for Moodle versions up to 3.1.

Read more about Configurable Reports in the Moodle documentation, at docs.moodle.org.

Chek out previous editions of The Learning Analytics Roadmap series.


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