News & Events

So what’s all the fuss about LA?

On 11 August 2021, Unisa’s Student Retention Unit hosted a webinar titled Learning analytics (LA) towards student success. The host, David Harpestad, explained that this webinar aimed to describe and define the field of research and practice known as LA. He added that the presenters would present a snapshot of its current state in the formal education sector, and how LA could ultimately have a positive effect towards student success.

This view was also echoed by Lekau Rachidi, Manager of the Student Retention Unit (SRU), who elaborated that the unit is exploring ways in which LA can provide more opportunities for the university and can enhance student support programmes and student success.

The webinar consisted of an interactive panel session where attendees heard from leading learning analytics specialists presenting and discussing on the following topics:

  • Assessment analytics, online proctoring, the new gold: This was presented by Professor Elizabeth Archer, a Director of Institutional Research at the University of the Western Cape. She focused on the validity and ethics of online proctoring and, therefore, the value and quality of the data presented to higher education researchers for analytical purposes. Interestingly one of the validity and ethical issues discussed was the inhumane assessment conditions and structural violence inflicted on students when employing assessment analytics.
  • Learning analytics towards student success in a course: Presented by Dr Juan-Claude Lemmens, Head of Higher Education Research and Innovation at the Department for Education Innovation, University of Pretoria, this highlighted the theoretical underpinnings of analytics and learning analytics specifically, including the development of theories over the decade. Lemmens shared various types of data that may be generated by an LMS, student information systems and other qualitative sources, to perform LA. He will also share examples of dashboards using software like Pyramid Analytics to visualise the data from the various sources.
  • Lessons learned from applying data analytics in international distance education and African students (IDEAS): Ashley Gunter, Professor of Geography at Unisa, and Bart Rienties, Professor of Learning Analytics from the Open University of the United Kingdom (OU), co presented on a collaboration study between Unisa and the OU. Funded by ESRC/NRF, this study explored the way students at Unisa and, particularly, students from Africa interacted with the distance university. They explained that the mixed method methodology, IDEAS, was able to get a better understanding of the role of distance education and some of the challenges that students who live across boarders from Unisa are able to utilise the institution, highlighting that data analytics was a key tool in understanding this relationship. This presentation reported on the interesting patterns in student success and progress, reporting that there is clearly an opportunity for the institution to use the currently collected data for predictive LA.
  • Learning analytics building blocks (A practical approach towards student success): This was presented by Letlhogonolo Marumolwa, Director of Business Intelligence at Unisa, who gave a practical presentation on some of the back-end challenges. He gave a technical presentation which gave an understanding of why sometimes academics and student support practitioners experience challenges and what are the options are available to overcome these challenges. One of these is the need to include stakeholders as code designers, a view also echoed by Lemmens.

This webinar allowed time for participants to contribute to the presentations by sharing own experiences. More importantly, presenters and participants discussed what we can learn and take forward from this current situation to support future uses of learning analytics in higher education.

*Submitted by David Harpestad, Acting Student Success Practitioner, Tuition Support and Facilitation of Learning

Teaser image sourced from LinkedIn under a Creative Commons licence.

Publish date: 2021/08/30