Thursday, July 26, 2018

Learning analytics - is there an off switch?

CC0 Public domain on pxhere
Returning to the theme of learning analytics, I wonder if there will be any way of opting out from being tracked and coached. The potential of learning analytics is in tracking a student's progress, suggesting resources, offering extra practice and constant feedback on assignments as well as monitoring performance. The vision is to have a personal tutor by your side round the clock and provide your human tutor with alerts if your are struggling in some way. The trouble with this is that sometimes you need to be able to switch off the surveillance and just practice in peace. You seldom perform to the best of your ability if you know someone (or something) is watching you.

I recommend you read an article by John Warner in Inside Higher EdThe Problems of Real-Time Feedback in Teaching Writing. He objects to real-time AI feedback on students' writing on the grounds that it does more harm than good. Too much feedback too often can destroy the creative process and simply leading the students to write in order to satisfy the system. There is a time for providing feedback and there must also be time for trial and error and experimentation without the feeling that you are being observed and assessed.

For example, when learning to play the guitar, it’s useful to have some periods of real-time feedback where a teacher may be able to correct a flaw like a bad hand position, but you also need to go lock yourself in your room and practice, likely making a bunch of unpleasant noises in the process. Imagine trying to do this while being constantly reminded that your noises really are unpleasant.

We all need our own quiet spaces to concentrate, experiment, test, reflect and discuss: a play room, sandbox, hideaway, tree house. You don't want anyone to see or hear your embarrassing mistakes and it's best that many early attempts are discarded and lost without trace. This is one reason why students seldom post in the forums of our learning management systems. They only post when required and soon learn that everything they write there is in the university's system and may be used in evidence against them. As a result they create their own closed communities to discuss coursework, away from all risk of assessment. 

We need to use AI/learning analytics wisely and make sure we allow students the right to escape when they need to. The risk is that we destroy creativity by offering too much support and personalisation.

Writing is thinking, writing is thinking, writing is thinking, and sometimes when we’re working on our thinking, we have to be left alone.

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