We did it together – peer-coaching in upper secondary education

Article first published on SeOppi 2/2018.

Text: Minna Lepistö, Citizen’s Forum

Working in the Adaptable Learning Paths project gets me to reminisce about my own study years. The topmost issue that comes to my mind from upper secondary studies is my friends – the bubbly characters as well as the more reflective personalities. Going in, with wobbly legs, to take that first test of our matriculation examinations… The approving encouragement from peers, felt by the entire group of us students, forms an empowering experience that stays in my mind. “We’ll manage. We’ll pass at least”.

Upper secondary studies form a comprehensive phase in a student’s life in which it is important not only to acquire learning but also to establish networks with fellow students. During studies, it is necessary that we are allowed to take time for our personal formation processes, wondering about our own paths, tasting the different options and possibilities. On our study paths, we reach for our dreams but we also stumble; we work at fitting ourselves into our groups at school, into work placements and into our professional reference groups. We grasp at the future, aided by the staff in our school and supported by our peers. Even though peer relationships usually grow naturally and little by little in our daily student life, it is important that educational institutions support that growth.

The Adaptable Learning Paths project was a joint effort by the educational association Citizens’ Forum, Hämeenlinna Lyseo Upper Secondary School, and Omnia – the Joint Authority of Education in the Espoo Region, in which the parties developed a method for peer-coaching. Peer-coaching is based on encounters that involve action, dialogue and respect, and its purpose is to offer comprehensive support for students for their coping and progress in studies. Peer-coaches are individuals trained from among the students and staff at school, both young people and adults. The themes in the work with peers are not limited to progress in studies and students may bring up other issues they feel important. Such issues may include e.g. the significance of hobbies, daily routines and personal relationships for keeping up the motivation to study and for living a meaningful life.

In an ideal situation, we all would have the chance to shine, be seen and be heard as the persons we are. Peer-coaching brings experiences of success into our reach. We are all capable of listening to another person with respect, encouragement and support for the other’s strengths, provided that we are given sufficient time and a safe place. I hope that very many students get a happy, flying start toward their adult lives, feeling the same warmth I did when the student cap was set on my head: “We really did it – we managed, we succeeded together”.

The material Together on study paths – peer-coaching in upper secondary level [Yhdessä opiskelupolulla – Vertaisvalmennus toisella asteella] presents the work method applied in peer-coaching and gives practical suggestions for initiating such coaching in upper secondary schools. The guide is intended for teachers, career counsellors, study counsellors, workplace instructors and dormitory supervisors in vocational and general upper secondary education. It also serves as learning material for students in training for peer-coaching.

You may download the material free of charge: https://kansalaisfoorumi.fi/julkaisu/vertaisvalmennus-toisella-asteella/

Mainokset

ePortfolio – guidance and input from the earliest moments of studies

Article first published on SeOppi 2/2018.

Text: Jaana Kullaslahti & Tarjaleena Tuukkanen, Häme University of Applied Sciences
Illustration: Tarjaleena Tuukkanen, Häme University of Applied Sciences

Students at Universities of Applied Sciences feel they need to acquire the competences required for managing their web identities, for marketing their skills, and for building their expertise online (Kopeli 2018). One of the objectives of HAMK University of Applied Sciences in the Adaptable Learning Paths project was to help individuals demonstrate their competences through the development of their digital portfolios; the work on portfolios was emphasised particularly with groups who were at the beginning of their studies. The idea is for students to start their portfolio work at the beginning of their studies and to keep it up throughout studies, receiving continual support.

There is an awareness of digital portfolios, but they are not commonly used for comprehensively compiling evidence of competences during studies. When health care students were asked about their earlier experiences of portfolio work, approximately 40% had actually compiled a portfolio, and of those, only 16% had done it completely or partly digitally. Those portfolios had been compiled as parts of individual courses and study modules but not been made use of afterwards. Some students had compiled portfolios on their professional growth and used them in jobseeking. The elements they had included consisted mainly of text and images; however, some individual students had included videos and blogs.

To support students in their portfolio work, we asked them what kind of support they felt they needed. For some of them, portfolios were a novel concept, and they felt they required help with “everything possible”. Some hoped to have one simple place in which to compile the portfolio as well as guidance in the use of the various software. The greatest amounts of support were wanted for describing the concrete skills involved in one’s own learning and for the use of the selected portfolio service. To build their portfolios, students were also interested in making use of various tools such as Padlet, Sway, LinkedIn and MS as well as infographics and blogs. Our workshops were organised under the themes Portfolio – what, when and how; The ePortfolio service Kyvyt.fi in the structuring of your portfolio; Making use of O365 services; Easy visual tools; Using blogging services; Creating a LinkedIn profile, and Using the Open Badge Passport service for receiving and storing Open Badges. The workshops involved concrete planning and compilation work on portfolios, and students were asked in advanced to bring in material that showed their competences – CVs, pictures, video clips, certificates.

The feature in common for the workshops was deliberation: discussions about the identification and demonstration of one’s own competences and the options available for structuring a portfolio. There were ready-made questions to assist in e.g. the consideration of what a student’s competences consisted of, how the student might recognise and describe them, how to collect evidence of learning and how to make use of the portfolio during studies. Students wished for instructions from their teachers concerning the limitations on their fields due to various statutes and considerations of ethics, copyright and data protection. They hoped that portfolios would form a routine part of their studies so that their work on their assignments would produce portfolio materials, the work would be conducted together, and feedback would be regular throughout studies.

Portfolio ownerships lie with the students, and students should have the opportunity to select such tools for themselves that they themselves feel suitable. The work on portfolios falls on different academic years and it is guided by several different teachers and the study advisor as agreed for the type of degree programme. At the end, the outcome of a student’s work may be a thesis in the form of a portfolio.

Sources

Kopeli, M. 2018. Kysymys on huomisen digi- kyvykkyydestä. [The issue is the digital competences of tomorrow.] AMK-lehti 8 (3). https://uasjournal.fi/3-2018/huomisen-digikyvykkyys/

Times of day, submission dates, learning statistics, interaction charts – is this what is meant by “learning analytics”?

Article first published on SeOppi 2/2018.

Text: Kaisa Honkonen & Leena Vainio, Association of Finnish eLearning Centre

Leena Vainio studied for the Adaptable Learning Paths project what learning analytics tools are available in current electronic learning environments and how they are used. She received responses for her survey from the representatives of sixteen system suppliers, three learning material producers and six educational institutions.

For quite some time, learning environments have shown us statistics on the use of the system and materials. Such information has been essential for pure online courses, and particularly so for their development, whereas the same information has often been only nice-to-know for classroom teaching.

However, learning analytics comprise much more than learning statistics. We use learning analytics to combine bits of information in order to bring up the critical issues that affect the learner’s progress – the learner may remain completely unchallenged or he or she may be struggling with assignments which are much too difficult, or the situation may be somewhere between these extremities.

At its best, learning analytics support the learner in a timely fashion and guide the learning process towards its goals. Learning analytics alone cannot support learning, and the support of teachers, other learners, parents and workplace instructors is much in need. Analytics provide information that helps the parties think together and find the relevant strengths and points to develop. Properly used, analytics help teachers by giving them new methods to guide learning processes and to support individual, unique learning paths.

The true value of learning analytics is seen when we can use them to help students understand their own ways of learning. How do their own efforts show in the progress of their studies? How have various interactive situations influenced their learning? Active learners could select their next step independently in accordance with their interests from among materials offered by the teacher or an artificial intelligence. Is a task best done alone, or would learning be easier through peer learning? Will knowledge grow best if the student works alone, or together with someone else?

Most often, electronic learning materials are put together by individual teachers and the same teachers decide which materials they wish their students to turn to next. Adaptive collections require very different levels of learning materials in order to cater to the needs of different types of learners. Individual teachers working alone are far from being able to make their materials collections adaptive, but by combining forces and working together, they could make versatile materials and exercises more quickly and for varying situations.

The survey showed that there is no onestop-shop application available. The systems all have their strengths, and combining them according to the situation might bring the best results. It is good if we try out different ways, talking to one another about what we actually look for. Most importantly, we should consider what we intend to do when our analytics highlight a problem. What is our action plan? What are the resources for us to tackle the problem? When can the teacher, working alone, provide support, when do we need counsellors and other support persons, and when do we need an artificial intelligence? Just as we need different learning materials and exercises for different learners, we need different guidance methods for different situations. We need multidisciplinary support teams to help an individual teacher, formed dynamically according to the circumstances.

The novel feature in current learning analytics is the way they make the possible problem spots visual for learners themselves. Learners obtain a better picture of the total situation. In learning analytics -based pedagogy, it is more important than before to agree on the goals with each individual learner. What will we practice next, and why? How will we apply this learning later? We start to build knowledge together and select the necessary tools together so that we may reach the goals.

The General Data Protection Regulation GDPR poses certain challenges for the use of learning analytics, but with the appropriate authorisations, we may collect and use data. We might even take sleep and activity data from smart watches and compare them to learning outcomes. Our smart watch might suggest that we take a nap today in the early afternoon so that the Swedish class later in the afternoon would go better. Would that be learning analytics or wellbeing analytics?

Our concluding statement after the survey is that the development of learning analytics will require a great deal of national-level discussion. Similarly to the debate on artificial intelligence, learning analytics as well require a unified understanding of the concept of human being which we wish to help formulate. What views do we adopt regarding diverse learners and how do we apply the different guidance resources available to us?

At the same time, we also need a shared understanding of the minimum which learning analytics should show us. What features should be available in all systems? What are the minimum requirements; what requirements do we have for data transfer among different systems; what interfaces and registration systems should we use?

Recognise the need. What are the problems to be solved through learning analytics?

Specify. What kinds of learning analytics do we already have in our school? What do we need?

How does the analytics system impact our work culture and management?

What conceptions of learning and human beings are supported by the analytics system?

Strategy and vision.
What skills do we need? The staff’s competences and their training.

How do we share responsibility and adhere to all legal and ethical requirements?

What do we measure?

How do we collect information?

What technologies do we need?

How do we process data, in which forms, and to whom do we disseminate the information?

How do we carry out development actions?

How do we monitor the outcomes?

How do we maintain and enhance the system? Do we, without fail, hold the learner’s best interests as our highest priority?

The Adaptable Learning Paths digital support model available for distribution to professionals

Article first published on SeOppi 2/2018.

Text: Jari Välkkynen, Anu Konkarikoski & Ella Eld, Tavastia Education Consortium
Illustrations: Ella Eld, Tavastia Education Consortium

After three years, the Adaptable Learning Paths project has reached its final moments. At the same time, Finland’s reform of vocational upper secondary education is in full speed. It is time to sum up where we are and invite educational institutions all over the country to benchmark the Adaptable Learning Paths model.

In that model, we make contents available for students to learn independent of place, which allows greater flexibility regarding where to start and conduct studies. Students who complete their degrees while working benefit from this, as do those who obtain their learning in educational institutions with ample support from teaching staff through contact guidance, and so do even those who are not always able to come to school but learn independently in their homes under distance supervision.

Our assignments combine practical learning and theory, thereby guiding students to observe, document and reflect on their own learning and to link each assignment to the required background information. The learning and practice of professional terminology, keenly desired by teachers, takes place while completing assignments.

Over the past years, we have enhanced our way of thinking about digital support. In the early years of social media tools, many teachers were confused in the jungle of applications and IT managers gritted their teeth confronted with support requests for a multitude of freeware applications. Today, the emphasis placed on individual learning paths in the current education reform drives us to include the various computer systems of educational institutions into the students’ digital paths, thereby enabling the students themselves along with the teaching staff and study advisors to follow the progress of students’ acquisition of competences. In addition, we desired to retain the years-old requirement of compiling a portfolio. Portfolios were first compiled in Blogger, then in Instagram or Pinterest, with the idea that they would help students obtain employment. This is also in line with the reform: students should be guided in overall career planning, and providers of education are rewarded if their students find employment or further education places.

In the spring of 2018, the steering group of Tavastia Vocational College decided that over the upcoming years, our organisation would implement outcomes of the Adaptable Learning Paths project in the Moodle environment. It is important that the pages for the various qualification units are visually appropriate, uniform and subdivided in accordance with the subdivision of vocational competence requirements in the student management system. To achieve this, we created Moodle templates for qualification units and compiled sample assignment structures on these templates, and, in order to systematically monitor the progress of students’ acquisition of competences in a visual manner, we set our assignment monitoring tool on automatic monitoring. During the school year 2018 – 2019, we will phase and support the introduction of this system, assigning responsibilities in and among teams so that no-one will be required to be a nerd in order to get started.

We are also building a connection between students’ Moodle and Wilma: when a teacher has approved, for a student, all assignments and check points under a certain qualification unit in Moodle, information about that student’s readiness to proceed to skills demonstration is automatically forwarded to the student’s personal competence development plan in Wilma. Even though we operate in a closed school environment, the teaching staff is encouraged and even instructed to continue the use of a variety of digital applications and essential professional literature in the digital form – as long as security issues are in order.

The first field to start the creation of assignments in Moodle following our system and in accordance with the new qualification requirements is Upholstery and Interior Decoration, a qualification under Industrial Arts. We encourage other field-specific teams to adopt this model and to draft long-term development plans in Moodle, incorporating a wide variety of multimodal and embedded contents such as photos, audio, video, third-party learning materials, structuring tools, examination tools and game tools. Initially, we allow basic user functionalities to teachers. We also eagerly await the opportunity to use the national solution for open-access learning materials, of which the ministry informed the public in October 2018.

In the Tavastia system, the front pages of courses correspond to qualification units and are standardised. Behind the pictures on the front page in Moodle, there are vocational competence requirements structured in modules in the same way as in students’ personal competence development plans in Wilma. Each blue block in the coloured bar “Osaamisen kehittyminen” [Development of competence] changes to green when the student completes that module. Underneath, the bar “Tehtävien seuranta” [Assignment follow-up] indicates the completion and approval of individual assignments.

It is important that students have coherent study processes and digital support available before they enter work placements in new work communities. Such support enables them to concentrate on their learning opportunities while they are in working life: how do you operate in this work community, how do you master the skills specified in the formal competence requirements, etc.

The structures and schedules of the teaching arrangements in a school impact the usability of our model. The Adaptable Learning Paths project pilot operator, the Surface Treatment Guild, has implemented a system in which each student’s schedule reads ”Vocational qualification units” from 8:10 am through 2:30 pm each day. In this way, the issues to be learned depend on the practical work originating from current customer assignments and other similar sources, and the student determines, under the teacher’s supervision, what skill it is that the job improves. Teaching at the Surface Treatment Guild focuses on skills that help students accumulate the competences specified in the formal vocational competence requirements. The Guild also annually offers in-depth theme days in which everyone is invited irrespective of formal qualification as long as they desire to improve their skills in that vocational field.

Opposite to the mainstream opinion in the media this autumn, we think that students are still able to obtain learning through their vocational education; however, this requires that we let go of the old structures, fully embrace the opportunities offered by digitalisation, and make sure that teachers have the required competences themselves. We must also ensure that if a student is unable to handle his or her study duties at the workplace or home, then that student is pulled back into the classroom into the teacher’s solid, supportive care and helped to complete those tasks which the other students are doing at the workplace.

At the same time, we must ensure that the teaching staff have a sensible amount of time allocated per duty and make sure that it is possible to organise tasks in teams so that students may feel that their teachers are available and students also gain sufficient practice for true competence.

In the final moments of the Adaptable Learning Paths project, we will publish a more detailed digital support model, and we also hereby invite teaching staff and school administrations to come visit us in the upcoming years and learn about our development work, which will continue even though the project will be ended.

Come and see us at the Adaptable Learning Paths project final seminar on 21 November 2018 in Helsinki and 27 – 28 November 2018 in Jyväskylä at Arena for Digital Learning.

The scenery changes as we proceed along our paths

Article first published on SeOppi 2/2018.

Text: on the basis of discussions by the project team Kaisa Honkonen, Association of Finnish eLearning Centre

The Adaptable Learning Paths project is nearing its end. We are collecting lessons learned, thoughts and even misses from our trail. The sense of community, trust and sharing in this inspiring and inspired team have, in many areas, opened the opportunity to reach something that was, initially, totally unexpected.

The objective of the project was to support upper secondary students as they clarified their study paths, progressed in their studies and grew and developed professionally. The project made use of digital footprints, the many opportunities brought by learning analytics and visual, personal study plans as well as methods of peer mentoring and peer coaching. The objective was to help those students who were in the danger of dropping out or had recently dropped out so that they could move forward on their study paths and fluently complete the transition to another school, another level of school or to working life. The project was funded by the European Social Fund.

As we compiled the project’s outcomes and outputs, our discussion brought up how greatly the world around educational institutions has changed. The road from the planning to the final report is a long one. The planning of the Adaptable Learning Paths project started in 2014.

It is impossible to foresee the extents and impacts of all different changes on the original project plan. Science, research, legislation and statutes change and develop. They have done so during the Adaptable Learning Paths project to even a greater extent than before.

Digitalisation and the changes in the world are also seen in the reforms of the educational sector. All curricula have been renewed; the reform of Finland’s vocational upper secondary education with its qualifications reform has proceeded into its implementation phase; funding models have been changed; and the entrance examination changes and student selection criteria reforms for higher education institutions will be implemented phase by phase starting in 2019. The national Study Credit, Degree and Qualification Disclosure Service Koski and the General Data Protection Regulation GDPR ensure plentiful work for IT departments while mould-ridden school buildings and other problems weigh on all involved parties. The educational sector has been busy indeed.

On the other hand, the swift rate of change has caused a backlash. More and more, people want face-to-face meetings – they desire to have a physical community in which they can belong. Focusing on wellbeing and investing in oneself have become acceptable, and the sharing of personal experiences has become more and more common. The Citizens’ Forum sees this, for example, in the filling up of their creative writing courses.

The variety of ongoing changes is so comprehensive that our traditional support networks are no longer able to help visualise upper secondary students’ paths. Versatile support is needed.

The following articles discuss the methods developed under the Adaptable Learning Paths project to clarify students’ personal digital learning paths in today’s environment.

We wish to thank the project’s steering group and all project members as well as all other involved parties for their efforts in this rewarding work. As roads go, this is not the end but the first few metres.

Adaptable Learning Paths

Implemented by:

  • The Association of Finnish eLearning Centre (coordinator)
  • Centre for Open Systems and Solutions COSS
  • Tavastia Education Consortium (upper secondary school and vocational college)
  • HAMK University of Applied Sciences
  • Lapland University of Applied Sciences
  • Otava Folk High School/City of Mikkeli
  • Omnia – the Joint Authority of Education in the Espoo Region
  • Educational Association Citizens’ Forum SKAF

https://poluttamo.fi

Learning analytics helping study advisors

Article first published on SeOppi 2/2017.

Text: Maija Kerkola, HAMK University of Applied Sciences

I remember how I, a study advisor, walked the hallways of my university of applied sciences when the semester break approached and looked for certain students, my lost sheep. The tools with which I could have found the possible drop-outs were not many. In practice, I was relying on my eyesight, looking for and hoping to encounter students whom I did not think I had seen at school recently. I mingled and asked teachers and students if they had seen this or that other student. Universities of applied sciences do not enforce compulsory attendance, and it was only that I was worried about certain students and did not think everything was in order, fearing that they might be at risk of dropping out. There is a holistic model underlying this sort of a caring counselling culture. It means that we are genuinely interested in every single student. I find it particularly important that we detect potential drop-outs as early as possible.

Study advisors’ work at universities of applied sciences

Study advisors monitor the progress of students’ studies. In earlier times, students, teachers and advisors met face to face in classrooms and hallways, but now that teaching takes place online, advisory work takes place online as well, and learning analytics is the advisors’ new tool.

The learning analytics system collects data and is able to provide the study advisors with weekly reports concerning students who did not log in or logged in only worryingly few times to the Moodle learning platform. We know that goal-oriented studies require several logins per week. Therefore, alarm bells ring weekly, and the study advisors are notified of the possibility that certain students may be in danger of dropping out. In this way, the study advisors have the chance to act pre-emptively.

Research has shown that study advisors’ guidance work produces long-range outcomes (Helander and Kemppi 2006, 24–25). The importance of guidance is also championed in the writings of Raimo Vuorinen and Maarit Virolainen of the Finnish Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä. They refer to recent research and note that guidance reduces drop-out rates and accelerates students’ studies. In addition, in their view, guidance is one of the indicators of the efficiency of a school system. Guidance increases students’ commitment to their studies and helps them clarify their personal study paths. (Vuorinen and Virolainen 2017, 7.)

Now that guidance has gone online, study advisors’ tools include e.g. email, Skype, WebEx, chat, WhatsApp and Snapchat. They are what the advisor will use to reach a certain student. A study advisor’s work involves a great deal of counselling and passing on sufficient and correct information. They introduce various options and assess the impacts of these options on the current points of interest. The idea is for such guidance to help students in decision making; however, study advisors are not providers of services intended to solve problems on behalf of the students themselves (Onnismaa 2007, 23-25).

Sources

Helander, J. & Kemppi, J. 2006. Jos meijät on istutettu tänne jotaki tarkotusta varte: puheenvuoroja hämeenlinnalaisten nuorten osallisuudesta ja hyvästä [If we’ve been made to sit in here for some purpose: contributions to a discussion concerning the possibilities for participation and good life for Hämeenlinna youth]. HAMK University of Applied Sciences.

Onnismaa, J. 2007. Ohjaus- ja neuvontatyö: aikaa, huomiota ja kunnioitusta [Counselling and guidance work: time, attention and respect]. Gaudeamus.

Vuorinen, R. & Virolainen, M. 2017. Editorial. Opinto- ja HOPS-ohjauksesta urasuunnittelutaitojen vahvistamiseen ja ohjauspalveluiden laadun arviointiin [From advising about studies and study planning to improving career planning skills and assessing the quality of counselling services]. Journal of Professional and Vocational Education. 19 (2), 7.

Challenges for learning analytics

Article first published on SeOppi 2/2017.

Text: Lasse Seppänen, Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK)

Learning analytics is becoming very popular in student administration. Study performance and students in danger of dropping out can be monitored. If a student’s activity level decreases at some point during the school year, the monitoring of only grades and courses passed would reveal this, in the worst case, as late as the following year.

Our study monitored weekly logins to the learning platform. In the fall of 2016, the Adaptable Learning Paths project at HAMK University of Applied Sciences constructed a system that monitors students’ weekly logins and sends the study advisor weekly messages about students with reduced login rates. The target group was initially the students of computer sciences, but other students were included later.

In computer studies, if a student is to drop out, it most often takes place during the first year, or, alternatively, the student is not able to complete his or her final thesis at the end of the studies. The early detection of the potential drop-outs among first-year students is very important. The thesis process was modified in 2017 to structure it so that it would not be easy to leave it incomplete.

In computer sciences, the learning platform Moodle is in active use. Moodle is in frequent use in all studies during the first two years, and in practice, students must log in daily or almost daily. The algorithms we developed are based on this fact.

The standard working day at HAMK consists of two parts separated by the lunch break. It is natural to think that students would log in to Moodle at least twice each day, achieving a minimum of 10 logins per week. However, students are required to complete a great deal of group work and one group member may submit the work of all others as well. This may lower the login frequency of group members even if they are active in their studies.

Monitoring weekly logins, we first put the threshold at four logins. We thought it a logical conclusion that if a student logs in to Moodle only 0 – 3 times a week, all cannot be well. Later, we tentatively raised the threshold to eight logins and noticed we obtained a great deal of data concerning students who were doing just fine. We then lowered the threshold to six. That gave us a smaller quantity of data in emails, which was easier to manage. It is likely that we will study further the appropriateness of this threshold as well.

We applied the same threshold in our monitoring of the activity of online evening students and observed that the same value does not function properly. For example, we set the threshold at six for the last week of September, and the system generated alarms concerning 24 students. Of these students, only five had zero logins and eleven had 3 – 5 logins. We saw a clear difference between evening students and daytime students: evening students do more during one online session.

Challenges due to the upcoming Data Protection Regulation

The upcoming Data Protection Regulation will bring challenges to the use of learning analytics. Any list containing names of students can be classified as a personal data register – and this is in essence what the weekly email from the learning analytics system entails. The view has been proposed that analytics could be used if they do not impact any single student. However, the whole point of this analytics is that the study advisor be able to contact a single student and to do this easily. In addition, the system profiles students. We must give thought to how we make the system work in compliance with the regulation so that we may continue to support students who are encountering difficulties.

Sources

Oppimisanalytiikan keskus [Learning Analytics Centre]. Mitä on Oppimisanalytiikka? [What is learning analytics?] www.learninganalytics.fi/fi/oppimisanalytiikka

Seppänen, L. Learning analytics call out for action, SeOppi 02/2016

OEB16: Learning analytics call out for action

Article first published on SeOppi 2/2016

Text: Lasse Seppänen, Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK)

Learning analytics is becoming a popular function in learning management. Learning analytics targets a multitude of matters such as tracking course evaluations and students’ progress in their courses as well as even monitoring potential drop-out students. This presentation deals with the monitoring of potential drop-outs. Can we detect them from their LMS data before they actually leave?

The study we report in this presentation is being performed at Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK). The target group is the first year students in the Degree Programme in Business Information Technology (Business IT). Annually, the intake is tens of students to both daytime and online studies. We can estimate that about 10 students will leave during or after their first year or later, particularly when they find it difficult to complete their theses. It would be important to learn if there were possibilities for helping the first year students and thus preventing the interruption of their studies.

In Business IT, Moodle LMS is in heavy use. That fact forms the background for the algorithms that we created during this study. The use of Moodle should be constant during the first two years of studies. Moodle is used in every course, and students cannot perform well if they do not use it every day.

An academic year at HAMK is divided into four periods of eight weeks. Each school day is divided into two sections: 8:45-12:00 and 12:45-16:00 with lunch in between. It would be natural to think that the students would log in into Moodle at least twice a day, making the total number of their logins 10 per week per person. But the students do quite a lot of group work and it is possible that they follow their peers’ work in Moodle. It is the school custom that one student returns the group tasks on behalf of the whole group. This could lower the login frequency even if the students are appropriately active in their schoolwork.

For the purposes of this study, we selected a threshold value of four weekly logins. We consider this selection a logical one as we know that if a student logs in into Moodle only 0-3 times a week, there is something wrong. That student would be logging in into Moodle for only 30% of studies or less.

The reduction of a student’s activity level during studies would be detected much later in a traditional environment. In the worst case, a student having dropped out might be detected only the following year when the student failed to enroll for the year. In our study, we monitor the first-year daytime students’ logins into Moodle on a weekly basis.

The study was started by analyzing the data of the first year students in 2014. We were able to construct an algorithm and methods that gave us reliable results: we could pinpoint all students at the end of November who would later interrupt their studies. Some students continued their studies past Christmas, but dropped out eventually. The algorithm also detected a student who had taken an unauthorized one-week holiday in Greece.
We have built a login follow-up system during autumn 2016. It sends weekly reports of students with a low login rate to the student counsellor. The system is being introduced as this article is being written. We will make more information available later.

OEB16: Personal learning paths as visual roadmaps

poluttamo-kariArticle first published on SeOppi 2/2016

Text: Kari A. Hintikka

Our society is becoming more and more complex. Different issues interconnect in a more complicated way, and in general, seeing cause and effect relationships is more troublesome than earlier.

One of the recent solutions to aid us to see totalities is the visualisation of the interconnection points of issues. Over the past few years, we have seen the emergence of info graphics, which makes complex totalities easily understandable; these include matters such as a certain phenomenon in the different countries on our globe, and the ecosystem of mobile devices and applications.

Different monitoring and visualisation methods have long been a daily matter for those who work in technical maintenance jobs. These methods help us make sense of the totality we are studying while we also see e.g. individual users and their real-time behaviour. This allows us to make estimations and prepare for unexpected events, and we may monitor e.g. budget adherence.

Mobile fitness applications such as Endomondo and Moves are examples of data visualisation in a regular person’s daily life. Such visualisations help us see our progress towards our goals, and we may study the speed of our progress as well as its tenability.

Visualisation helps many matters

The Adaptable Learning Paths Consortium (Poluttamo), funded by the European Social Fund, aims at constructing fluent transitions from studies to working life as well as working life to studies, and combining these in different ways. A key role in this work is given to students’ personal learning paths and the respective guidance activities.

A new national core curriculum was introduced in Finland in 2016 for upper secondary education and basic education; one of the dimensions of this curriculum is the personal learning plan, which is required to be even more diverse than before. The Adaptable Learning Paths project is developing visualised personal learning plans (acronym VOPS) to support student guidance activities.

The schools participating in the project are of various kinds and the studies they offer are not similar. Personal learning plans can be made visual from many perspectives: starting studies, planning studies, the progress of studies, alternative learning paths, what professions and further educations the studies make possible. Otava Folk High School is developing its visual personal learning plan format mainly to serve online students at the Nettilukio online high school. Nettilukio online high school is an upper secondary school for adults and it operates totally online except for the matriculation examination.

Adaptable Learning Paths are currently developing several visual personal learning plan formats. We will see one of them in this presentation. Otava Folk High School is presenting the first developer version of the software at the Online Educa Berlin 2016. The design of the software is carried out by online counsellors Saara Kotkaranta and Anna Harmaa and concept and usability designer Kari A. Hintikka.

Most of the students at Otava Folk High School are distance learners. The interaction between a student and the online counsellor takes place mainly through the internet. The software helps them form a clear, common basis for their discussions on the current situation and the way forward.

At the beginning of their studies, students complete background information forms. They let the school know which level mathematics they intend to undertake, which languages they intend to study, whether their only goal is to gain an upper secondary education and pass the matriculation examination, and if they have prior studies that could be accredited.

These selections form the basis for their visual personal learning plans. The visualised learning paths tailor themselves automatically to show only those issues that are relevant for the respective students. For example, students’ language selections keep their progress views from containing extra languages or courses. Naturally, selections may be changed during studies.

Upper secondary studies can be classified in several ways. At the national level, they may be compulsory, optional or supplementary. Students may enter diverse information: objectives at different levels, courses they must take, courses they would find interesting, and courses that would benefit them regarding their further education.

Different colours help students see at a quick glance their accomplishments and the courses they have completed. Considering students with sensory impairments, the Otava Folk High School visual personal learning plan system will include symbols in different shapes in addition to those in colours.

muikku

Illustration: Otava Folk High School visual personal learning plan system, early draft in Finnish. Legend: Opiskelusuunnitelmani –My personal learning plan Opintorekisteri – Study register Ylioppilaskirjoitukset – Matriculation examination Jatko-opiskelu – Further studies Omat tiedot – My data Lukion pakolliset aineet – Compulsory subjects in upper secondary education Valinnaiset aineet – Optional subjects

Real-time career modelling

When studies commence, students see their progress in units of different colours and shapes. The first developer version of the software focuses on the progress of individual courses, but if students ask, they can be offered diverse data visualised similarly to mobile fitness applications. Students might be shown, for example, their weekly or monthly study cycles such as the times of day they typically study, on which days of the week they study, and for how long they do so. Students could set target times for themselves, and the system could inform them of their progress similarly to fitness applications.

Creating these solutions, we must note that seeing one’s progress in studies easily does not necessarily encourage all students – for some, the case may be the opposite. Therefore, these solutions are designed to support personal learning paths and the freedom of choice.

On the other hand, online counsellors are able to draw a large number of conclusions concerning students’ upcoming progress by analysing their study data. The data can be compared to that of other students and previous students, and all this can be made more visual than the traditional lists used for statistics.

When students’ studies progress, the system enters the next phase, which is that of completing secondary education and/or taking the matriculation examination. At this time, the system helps students’ time and work planning.

The focus areas of the European Social Fund include fluent transfers during the programme period until 2020. The visual personal learning plan system could be applied to making diverse models for students’ further studies and career options.

Finland currently funds an online service called Studyinfo.fi, which is maintained by the Finnish National Board of Education. Finnish schools and universities maintain data of their educational programmes in the service. People may browse the site to learn about different professions and degrees and about the places where these degrees may be taken; they may also learn about the entry criteria and apply for programmes.

Studyinfo.fi offers an open application programming interface. It would be possible to use the Studyinfo.fi interface to compare automatically, in real time, the courses completed and planned by a student to the entry criteria required by the educational programmes in the field of that student’s choice. With the visual personal learning plan system and Studyinfo.fi interfacing, students could see what is required of them in order for them to apply for a certain educational programme and a certain school. With a dynamic visual personal learning plan system such as ours, students and counsellors could together guide students’ personal learning paths into the desired directions, making personal roadmaps to guide studies.

OEB16: Multimodality and learning: Increasing understandability and accessibility

Article first published on SeOppi 2/2016

Merja Saarela, Ed.D
Principal Lecturer, Research Group Leader in Multisensory and Assistive Technology (MATEC), Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK), Research Unit of Smart Services

Human rights for learning
According to WHO (2015) about 15% of the world’s population or one in seven people with disability. This means more than 1000 million people with disability globally, and of those around 80 million people in the EU. People with disability face widespread barriers in accessing services such as education, employment, and social services. The bricks these barriers are built of are diverse: for example inadequate legislation, problems with delivery of services, a lack of awareness and understanding about disability, negative attitudes and discrimination, a lack of accessibility. Huge positive changes are currently taking place in Europe and in the world concerning general legal and human rights issues. The United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been revised, the WHO Global Disability Action Plan 2014-2021 and the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 have been set in action (Figure 1). All these official documents put pressure on all parties to carry out actions that contribute to the realisation of equal rights on education and training, work and employment as well as accessibility on the whole.

Figure 1. Legal and human rights set the table for multimodality and acccessibility.

Equality for learning despite struggle with texts
Educational equity does not sufficiently materialise for those with learning difficulties and different abilities. Specific barriers exist that hinder persons with disabilities from expressing their opinions as well as seeking, receiving and imparting information on an equal basis with others and through their chosen means of communication. People struggle with written texts because of their special needs in reading or writing skills, or due to their sensory deficits. In the case of people with special needs, people with different abilities and people with immigrant backgrounds, we face the question of accessibility and equality in issues that deal with written language. In addition to individuals with special needs, a growing number of young people are reluctant to read and write long texts, stories or books. In their case we see the cultural and social change in our society. These findings challenge current education. Reading and writing skills have always been seen as the educational corner stones of our western society and values. Current cultural, technological and social changes shake this dominance and challenge us to think about the role of reading and writing in education, in working life and in society in general. Could we address some learning difficulties, foster educational equity and prepare a new kind of citizenship by making our society and information more accessible by widening traditional ways of understanding, creating and sharing information, creating new knowledge and setting frames for working life with multimodality, multimodal interaction and digital literacy? As the digital revolution shakes society and its structures in many ways, could it also have positive side-effects as increasing accessibility for society?

The European Parliament has enacted legislation EN 301549:2015, in which it defines accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT and services in Europe. The purpose of this legislation is to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the internet and mobile apps, to participate in society to a fuller extent and to lead a more independent life. The directive covers websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies. It refers to standards to make websites and mobile apps more accessible. This directive has put great pressure on large ICT-companies such as Google, Microsoft and Apple to issue accessibility features for their products, including computers, tablets, mobile apps, software, cloud tools etc. These new accessibility improvements will ensure that there are many more possibilities to meet current educational challenges and provide access for those who previously were denied access because of their disability or different ability. Current ICT and mobile tools set the table for multimodal communication with accessible courseware, learning tools, learning environments, learning tasks and assignments, and ePortfolios (Figure 1).

Transforming learning experiences with multimodality
Multimodality is defined as the capacity of the system to communicate with a user along different types of communication channels and to extract and convey meaning automatically. Communication mode refers to the communication model used by two different entities to interact. Multimodal interaction systems allow users to interact with computers or other devices through many data input modalities (e.g. speech, gesture, eye gaze) and output channels (e.g., text, graphics, sound, avatars, voice synthesis). The multimodality core is intertwined with digital technology. Multimodality can enrich the learning process, make some tasks easier and information accessible for us all while it helps people with different learning styles, special needs, learning difficulties and disabilities (Figure 2). In many cases digital technology can make things possible that were previously impossible. Thus, multimodality is the extension of digital technology into new modalities of interaction that make new possibilities viable.

Figure 2. Transforming learning experiences with multimodality.

In this OEB Roundtable, Multimodality and Learning, it will be especially interesting to learn how the use of multimodality and multimodal interaction has been met internationally. What kinds of multimodal solutions have been developed for accessibility for various stages of the learning process and for the transition period from upper secondary education to higher education or to the labour market. It will be great to hear, what other participants have found around this area.

References
Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe. EN 301549: 2015. http://www.etsi.org/deliver/etsi_en/301500_301599/301549/01.01.02_60/en_301549v010102p.pdf (October, 10th, 2016).

European Disability Strategy 2010-2020. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV%3Aem0047 (October, 10th, 2016).

United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/convention/convoptprot-e.pdf (October, 10th, 2016).

WHO Global Disability Action Plan 2014-2021. Better health for people with disability. World Health Organization. 2015. http://www.who.int/disabilities/actionplan/en/ (October, 10th, 2016).