Watch and learn

December 8, 2016

Data are available on nearly every aspect of our lives and it is up to us, as individuals, to make a decision over whether the tracking gives us any benefit.

Universities naturally collect data on students: when they swipe into lecture halls, access online resources or make cashless payments to receive university services. Increasingly, they are analysing these data to gain insights that support retention and attainment – and working within Jisc and the National Union of Students’ accepted code of practice.

Tracking data are already used as part of learning analytics, such as visits to the library or time spent on the virtual learning environment. Is it possible to make these data work even harder, for example, by using intelligent agents to push notifications to students as they wander through the campus? Or is this a step too far?

Facial and gesture recognition is another example. There are murmurs about whether these applications could be used to capture students’ reactions and behaviours and provide lecturers with real-time data on how their session is being received, so that they can respond accordingly.

This would clearly be a huge step forward in creating more personalised, enjoyable and successful learning experiences, but it also reminds us of a quote from Nineteen Eighty-Four: “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

Universities cannot simply be blind to the potential of emerging technologies, or they risk both missing the mark with learners and falling behind other institutions and countries. If we accept that this is the way of the future, then our sector needs to safely and responsibly embrace these opportunities.

At Jisc we believe now is the time to put aside any cynicism and look seriously at how we can take advantage of these technologies, sensibly and responsibly, to improve the student experience.

James Clay
Senior co-design manager

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