Where do we find good critiques of learning analytics?

Concepts need strong critiques. In discussing connectivism, for example, I’ve found critical comments from Plon Verhagen, Bill Kerr, Rita Kopp, Frances Bell, among others, to be very valuable.

Analytics in technology fields are growing in prominence, as revealed by distributed computing (Hadoop, MapReduce), techniques and methods (social network analysis, pattern detection, clustering, classification approaches, language analysis), tools (Gephi, R), open data (WorldBank, open government, OECD), and big data. These developments are increasing the attention devoted to analytics for use in business settings (business intelligence) and in learning and knowledge (the focus of our conference and this course).

Jacques Ellul’s Technological Society is the most effective critique I’ve encountered on the shortcomings (and dangers) of a technique-driven society. Technology instantiates technique. And technique rapidly encroaches in all areas of live (standards-based testing in education, citation analytics in higher education (see Thompson Reuters InCites initiates). If it can’t be measured, it doesn’t get attention or funding (yes, feel free to insert “that” Einstein quote about measurement and what counts into the comments).

Where are the critiques of analytics – particularly in relation to learning and education? This missing element was brought to the the forefront in our Friday wrap up conversation in Elluminate…and in a blog post by Martin Weller on the upcoming conference. Scott Leslie initiated a thread in the comments section dismissing learning analytics. I would prefer a substantive critique, rather than a general reaction to the concept, but Scott’s comment served to raise the profile (in my mind at least) of why we need to critique, not only explore favorably, learning and knowledge analytics. I’ve started a thread in the moodle forum – please drop in and voice your concerns with the concept of analytics as applied to learning.

  1. A good place to check out the highly critical anthro angle on this would be “Audit Cultures” edited by Marilyn Strathern. The book features 12 strong essays by social anthros.

  2. Thanks for that ref @Mike
    This is an interesting topic George – though I find the term analytics to be a bit of a distraction – Analysis can be soft as well as hard, as Peter Checkland has shown so effectively.
    The danger of focusing on what can be measured is relevant in many fields – that automatically collected data is so seductive but it should be kept in its place and complemented by well-analysed qualitative data. For example, the figure of 2300 participants in CCK08 is often quoted but any regular participants knew that there were complex behaviours going on that could not just be measured quantitatively.
    If we let the test culture drive learning we should not be surprised if that learning is diminished by an emphasis on test that measure the easy to measure rather than the more subtle and difficult to measure.

  3. I wrote up some thoughts about this over on my blog. My thoughts are less in the form of a detailed critique, and more some questions about the nature of this idea, and whether it constitutes something truly new, or whether it is more of a useful construct that helps to shape understanding of what many people are already doing.

    My thoughts are at http://funnymonkey.com/help-me-understand-the-buzz

  4. SNAPP Visualization of the LAK11 Forum « Ways of Knowing - pingback on June 10, 2011 at 10:41 pm
  5. Analytics schmanalytics - LOOM - weaving the learning web - pingback on August 12, 2011 at 4:39 am
  6. We critique the assumption from at least first generation business intelligence, that analytics should be for the powerful few in the institution, although current BI seems to have some more emphasis on ‘dashboards for all’

    Buckingham Shum, S. and Ferguson, R. (2011). Social Learning Analytics. Available as: Technical Report KMI-11-01, Knowledge Media Institute, The Open University, UK. http://kmi.open.ac.uk/publications/pdf/kmi-11-01.pdf


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