Learning Analytics for STEM – disabled student support/accessibility LA4STEM (#la4stem)

Today I submitted and internal Open University project bid to a programme called eSTEeM.

I post here the project description.  N.B. at this stage this is just a proposal. However we should hear by 31 October 2012 if this has been supported as an eSTEeM project and funded. If so I might be blogging much more about this work and its findings.

May I remind readers I set up a LinkedIn Group to try and tease out if there was anyone worldwide doing anything in the area of Learning Analytics and Accessibility. There has been some interest (the group currently has 75 members) but no one has yet shared that they are doing substantive work.  So you never know LA4STEM but in the future be seen as seminal. 😉

If you are interested in this field may I commend to you SoLAR – The Society of Learning Analytics Research: http://www.solaresearch.org/

I will be giving a 30 min presentation about this work at this event  – it’s a long way to travel for me 😉 – it’s OU main campus where I work :

SoLAR Flare UK (19 Nov 2012) #flareUK

Mon 19 Nov 2012, The Open University
Jennie Lee Building, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA [
map]

http://www.solaresearch.org/flare/solar-flare-uk/

Feel free to post comments or questions!

LA4STEM Project Description

The LA4STEM project will review the potential of Learning Analytics in higher education, specifically in STEM, and with an emphasis on supporting disabled students and facilitating accessibility enhancements.

Learning Analytics is defined as the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs. Learning analytics is a “hot topic” in eLearning and was the second headline topic in the 2-3 year time to adoption section in the 2012 NMC Horizon Report on Higher Education[1]:

“The larger promise of learning analytics, however, is that when correctly applied and interpreted, it will enable faculty to more precisely understand students’ learning needs and to tailor instruction appropriately far more accurately and far sooner than is possible today.”

The LA4STEM project will specifically explore the following STEM application areas for Learning Analytics:

  • Student support (with an emphasis on support for disabled students)
  • Tutor support (facilitating their support of disabled learners)
  • Module review (identifying accessibility enhancements)
  • Retention and attainment (focussing on where disabled students appear disadvantaged)
  • Learning analytics in remote labs (because of their potential for enhancing access to STEM)
  • Recommender systems (the timely direction of disabled students to support and study skills aids; including scaffolding of STEM specific learning activities)

A key output of the project will be an external funding bid for a larger-scale collaborative project.  The work of LA4ALL will inform pilots in this project. Provide envisaged benefits are confirmed, this should lead to enterprise level implementation within the OU and across HE.

The findings of the LA4STEM project will be disseminated, firstly throughout the Science and MCT faculties, then to the wider university. External dissemination will highlight the OU’s lead in this field.


[1] Johnson, L., Adams, S. and Cummins, M. (2012) The NMC Horizon Report: 2012 Higher Education Edition. The New Media Consortium, Austin, Texas: http://www.nmc.org/publications/horizon-report-2012-higher-ed-edition

UK Government cancels Code of Practice for Higher Education on Equality Act 2010

Today I have been writing a section on Disability and Accessibility for a paper for LAK13 entitled “What Can Learning Analytics Contribute to Disabled Students’ Learning and to Accessibility in e-Learning Systems?”.  In doing so I had cause to check on the status of the long promised Code of Practice for Higher Education covering the UK’s Equality Act 2010 .  I discovered this on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s web site:

Other Codes of Practice

We were intending to produce further statutory codes of practice on the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which came into force on 5 April 2011, and codes for the Further and Higher Education (FEHE) sector and schools.

Unfortunately, we are no longer able to proceed with these plans. The Government is keen to reduce bureaucracy around the Equality Act 2010, and feels that further statutory guidance may place too much of a burden on public bodies. Although the Commission has powers to issue codes, it cannot do so without the approval of the Secretary of State, as we are reliant upon government to lay codes before parliament, in order for them to be statutory.

It is the Commission’s view that, rather than creating a regulatory burden, statutory codes have a valuable role to play in making clearer to everyone what is and is not needed in order to comply with the Equality Act. However, as this is no longer an option, we feel the best solution is to issue our draft codes as non statutory codes instead. These non statutory codes will still give a formal, authoritative, and comprehensive legal interpretation of the PSED and education sections of the Act and will make it clear to everyone what the requirements of the legislation are.

Source: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/legal-and-policy/equality-act/equality-act-codes-of-practice/

These now non-statutory codes do not seem to be published yet and with the further discouragement from Government who knows when they will be.  I and many others had been eagerly hoping that among other things the statutory codes would have provided clear legal guidance on “reasonable adjustments” generally and web accessibility specifically.  It was hoped that they would include reference to the key external accessibility standards: WCAG 2.0 and BS8878.

To my view this is a very retrograde step.  The old CoP relating to the previous legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act (1995 as amended 2005) is still available but now has no statutory basis and is outdated in terms of educational practice, web accessibility standards, technology and the law.  Available at: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/code_of_practice__revised__for_providers_of_post-16_education_and_related_services__dda_.pdf

I am now chairing the newly formed Open University Web Accessibility Standards Working Group defining a common web accessibility standard for the OU and developing associated support documentation for managers and developers.  This is part of a overall Web Governance Review.  This work needs a secure legal underpinning which I had hoped would come from the CoP. It would be helpful is we could authoritatively point to a statutory statement of what is considered as the appropriate level of web accessibility under the term “reasonable adjustment”.  That being said it is probably optimistic to think the CoP would have given that.

As commented elsewhere in this blog defining levels of accessibility is problematic. This follows from the fact that accessibility is a property of the relationship between the user and the web resource and depends on the circumstances in which and technology they use to access it. More generally it is a summation of these relationships for the full diversity of potential users. Web accessibility is not, as usually inferred from WACG2.0 and in most work on accessibility metrics, a property of the resource alone. However, organisations in education, commerce and the public sector are longing for a way of authoritatively asserting that they have sufficiently addressed accessibility in terms of their legal obligations.