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The world's first national learning analytics service has been launched for the UK's further and higher education sectors. 

It has the potential to transform students' learning experience, support their wellbeing and boost achievement.

The technology, which has been developed by Jisc, uses real time and existing data to track student performance and activities.

From libraries to laboratories, learning analytics can monitor where, when and how students learn. This means that both students and their university or college can ensure they are making the most of their learning experience.

Students themselves have access to the Study Goal app to track how they use their time, from revision to relaxation, to help them take full ownership of their personal learning and study strategies.

Jisc's chief executive Paul Feldman said:

"This AI approach brings existing data together in one place to support academic staff in their efforts to enhance student success, wellbeing and retention.

"This world first is something which we believe will transform the student experience in the institutions across the UK that have signed up to use the service."

The collective power of data

So far, 30 universities and colleges have signed up to Jisc's learning analytics service, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to harness the collective power of data.

Learning providers are already collecting separate data sets about students, but this service allows that information to be collated into something meaningful. For example, it can flag when a student's attendance is dwindling and highlights course content they may not be engaging with.

A picture of student learning habits and progress emerges, which can help to identify those at risk of dropping out, allowing prompt interventions and support by a tutor or another staff member. Spotting these warning signs could be vital for struggling students.

The Study Goal app uses the same principles as a fitness tracker, allowing students to log study time, record attendance and view results. It encourages them to take control of their own learning by setting goals and benchmarking themselves against peers. 

Academic and student support staff at participating institutions have access to data explorer - a dashboard that brings together information including virtual learning environment (VLE) usage, attendance and assessment. It includes a predictor, which can be used to identify at-risk individuals and help staff give timely and relevant support for students experiencing academic, health or personal challenges.  

Tutors can also see how students are engaging with their studies, helping them to identify areas of underperformance.  

Designed in partnership

The learning analytics service has been designed in partnership with universities and colleges in the UK and overseas. Jisc plans to continue this collaboration with users to make sure the service meets their changing needs.

A code of practice has been developed in partnership with the NUS to help institutions plan and implement analytics work – and the human interactions that result. This addresses any ethical concerns about capturing data for this purpose, by making sure that these activities take place with the informed consent and cooperation of students. 

After collection, the information is transferred to Jisc's learning data hub, a cloud-based solution for making sense of the patterns in student records and data. This is hosted on secure, resilient servers in the UK and EU, which will help colleges and universities to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The service can provide anonymised insights across region or nation, offering potential to be used in policy and planning. Under the HEFCW-funded Learning Analytics Cymru project, Wales is the first nation where all HE providers have signed up to the service. Further insights will be derived at national level to help maintain and grow Wales' strong reputation, giving it a further edge over other nations.

Paul Feldman added:

"Dozens of institutions and individuals have given their time and expertise over the past three years to develop a service that is already making a difference to students, staff and their institutions, and we are grateful for their contribution."

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) release a 12-point plan for protecting the UK's gold standard international HE sector.

The UK's higher education is world leading in its number of international student enrolments, second only to the USA, and the Higher Education Commission wants our fifth biggest service sector in the economy to flourish, not flatline.

Co-sponsored by Jisc, and compiled by Policy Connect, the report released today, Staying Ahead: are international students going down under? makes a case for urgent review of policy, echoed by disappointment from the sector at recommendations in this week's Migration Advisory Committee report, commissioned by the Home Office.

A headline measure from the 12-point plan is that the government must reverse its policy on targets. Instead of including student numbers in overall migration targets, it must instead have a standalone and ambitious target for the number of students the UK should attract.

This call for action follows the Centre for Global Higher Education's release of stats and Universities UK's warning that overseas students will opt for competitor countries - thereby threatening the UK's ambition of £30bn in revenue from international students by 2020.

Paul Feldman, CEO of Jisc and a member of the Higher Education Commission, said:

"The report findings send a clear message that we cannot ignore. Now is the time for the UK to take stock of its position in the global HE market and plan as a sector, and with government, to ensure we remain a world-leader in global education.

"However, there is a silver lining in that more universities are opening overseas campuses or delivering distance learning programmes to overseas students. This is enabled by advanced technology meaning students can learn and collaborate thousands of miles apart. As the sector's digital body, Jisc is committed to supporting UK institutions to operate anywhere in the world."

This research is the commission's sixth inquiry, and examines competitor strategies, which include friendly visa processes and post-study rights to work.

Australia's higher education strategy is targeted at encouraging the growing Chinese (currently the UK's biggest source of international students) and Indian middle classes to study down under. It includes their ambitious student numbers target, streamlined visa policies, and accessible post-study work visas which help them achieve high-levels of growth.

Conservative peer Lord Norton, who co-chaired the commission inquiry, said:

"With the UK falling behind in the global market and with Brexit on the horizon, now is the time to remove students from migration numbers, simplify the visa process and look to invest in new markets of students beyond China. If we delay or prevaricate, Australia will cement their lead and the UK will be relegated from the top tier of international higher education."

Professor Simon Marginson, director of the ESRC/OFSRE Centre for Global Higher Education, co-chair of the commission inquiry, said:

"The export market is supply regulated as well as demand driven. By blocking growth in many universities, stepping up surveillance of bona fide students, and restricting post-study work opportunities the UK has not only held international student numbers in a flatline position - it has sent a strong message to the world that more students are simply not welcome here.

"The restriction of supply in turn has choked off demand as students head for countries like Australia and Canada where the door is wide open. The UK retains its reputation as a high quality education country and can turn it around, but only if a clear message is given of the UK welcoming students and a balanced policy on international education is restored."

The commission, an independent voice for the higher education sector made up of industry and education experts, says that setting a 'friendly environment' target for increasing international student numbers into the UK will send a welcoming message that is currently absent. 

The target must require all departments to work collaboratively to achieve the following:

  • The Department for Education, supported by the Home Office, should roll out an improved Tier 4 pilot based on recruiting from target growth countries such as India and Nigeria 
  • The Home Office must simplify visa procedures and reduce burdens on Tier 4 university sponsors
  • The Department for International Trade must re-invigorate the "Education is GREAT" campaign, working with universities to maximise impact
  • The Department for International Development should allocate a proportion of foreign aid spending to provide scholarships and pathway programmes, match funded by universities
  • Home Office and British Council should review the number and location of English language test centres to attract the brightest and best students, not the richest

Read the full report: Staying Ahead: are international students going down under?

Our survey of 37,000 students, released today, shows that half of college learners and almost 70% of university students think digital skills will be important for their chosen career. Yet only 41% believe their courses prepare them for a digital workplace.

This comes as the government's industrial strategy states: "Within two decades, 90% of jobs will require some digital proficiency, yet 23% of adults lack basic digital skills."

The poll also finds that two thirds of respondents feel they are not told what digital skills they need before starting a course and less than half agree that they have regular opportunities to review and update their digital skills.

Using the report for improvement

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Sam Gyimah

In a foreword to the Jisc report, Sam Gyimah, minister for universities, science, research and innovation says:

"This issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency if universities and colleges are to deliver for students, employers and the country as a whole.

"I want all educational leaders to look closely at this report and consider how they can improve their own provision through the effective use of technology.

"I also urge them to take full advantage of the expert advice and "on the ground' support provided by Jisc to take a fully digital approach to issues such as curriculum design and the learning environment."

In the largest ever sample of such data, we questioned more than 37,000 students from 83 further education (FE) colleges and higher education (HE) institutions.

Participants in the second annual digital experience insights survey were asked about how they use digital technology, expectations for technology provision and support, learning habits, experience of digital technology at their institution and how it prepares them for the workplace. The survey proves invaluable for colleges and universities, supporting them to decide how to invest in technology so that it meets the needs of their students.

Satisfaction almost guaranteed

Despite the question mark over digital skills, overall satisfaction with digital provision is high - 74% of FE and 88% of HE students reported satisfaction with the digital offer at their organisation.

Pedagogy also comes out well, with 72% of FE and 74% of HE students happy with the quality of teaching they receive.

But students are frustrated when teachers don't use digital systems competently, especially when this wastes time or reduces access to course materials. However, students offer many examples of excellent teaching practice, which they want other staff to aspire to.

When it comes to help with using technology, FE students are overlooking the web and turning instead to teachers, who are the main source of advice for FE students. However, only 8% of university students report turning to lecturers for guidance.

Findings also show that students enjoy the flexibility and independence afforded by technology: 64% of FE students and 73% of HE students agree that they are more independent in their learning when digital technology is used. A further 57% of FE students and 67% of HE students agree that digital approaches help them to fit learning around their lifestyle.  

Use data carefully

Only a third of FE students and 24% of HE students agree they are told how their personal data is stored and used.

Some students used the survey to request improvements to their data protection. Suggestions included: "Don't sell students' data to third parties"; "Provide information on data protection"; "Don't relax on data security".

In his foreword for the report, Sam Gyimah calls on the sector to ensure that use of data takes students' wellbeing into account. He said:

"The need for universities and colleges to offer further support around digital wellbeing, online safety and data privacy is prominent. Ensuring students' mental health and wellbeing is one of my priorities. This report makes clear the need for universities and colleges to take steps to ensure technology continues to be employed in the best interests of students, not exposing them to further risk."

Technology can empower staff and students

Jisc chief executive Paul Feldman, adds:

"The findings from our annual digital experience survey bring with them the real opportunity for organisations to provide their students with what they need to make the most out of their education.

"Technology is playing an increasingly important role in our lives and, consequentially, within the education sector. It holds the real potential to empower both staff and students, saving time and making the learning experience more flexible, immersive and engaging for all.

"More importantly though, it's vital that we ensure students are equipped with the digital skills they will need to flourish in the workplace, something that's crucial for our learners and the future workforce of the UK.

"We look forward to working with participants to act on their findings, supporting them to use technology in a way that transforms the learning experience, maximising student success."

Find out more

Jisc has welcomed a radical new move to make publicly funded research in 11 European countries, including the UK, accessible for free by 2020.

In 1973, Robert Merton, a sociologist of science, noted that "the substantive findings of science are a product of social collaboration and are assigned to the community". In that spirit, we are delighted with the announcement from Science Europe of cOAlition S which will speed up progress towards open access (OA).

Liam Earney, director of Jisc Collections said:

"This announcement is really positive, not only in removing hurdles for the research community, but for society as a whole. People will be able to access current research findings while they are still relevant, engaging the public in the UK's leading higher education and research.

"We are particularly pleased that the 11 national research funding organisations have focussed on establishing robust criteria for high quality OA journals and platforms, support for OA infrastructure and the monitoring of compliance.

"We will be building on our existing work in these areas and continuing our dialogue with funders to apply our extensive knowledge of scholarly communications and the journal and library supply chains, and to discuss how national services such as Jisc Monitor, CORE and RIOXX can contribute to national monitoring that is developed alongside UK OA policies.

"It's also encouraging that UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will take a leading role in reviewing the obstacles to implementation, which we have supported for some time. We do this through our range of services that support authors and institutions, manage the OA publishing lifecycle, and through our negotiations to constrain and reduce the costs of subscriptions and OA article processing charges.

"The emphasis on transformative agreements being time limited and transitional is welcome and we will continuing our discussions with funders to clarify the length of the transition period and the features of a transformative agreement. We have also sought to maximise the benefits of OA, for example through partnering with the Open University to offer the massive, global and completely open CORE aggregation of OA material. 

"We note that the role of repositories in Plan S is focused on archiving and editorial innovation, and will work with funders, universities and others in the UK and beyond to realise this vision for them, for example via the Jisc Open Research Service shared repository, built on the infrastructure of the Research Data Shared Service.

"But OA is not enough on its own. As Science Europe notes, the rewards system in research needs attention to promote a culture in which openness is incentivised. Initiatives such as the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), the Leiden Manifesto, and the Open Science Career Assessment Matrix (OS-CAM) are steps toward this, and we look forward to continuing our work with the Forum for Responsible Research Metrics.

"With Science Europe, we recognise that all of this is a journey and, in cases such as monographs, it may take some time."

Growing numbers of apprenticeship providers are embracing digital technologies to help them reshape their offer following last year's radical shake-up of vocational training.

It saw the introduction of a new standards-based approach and a new funding model for apprenticeships, and brought fresh challenges for a sector that already has a lot on its plate.

Many apprenticeship providers are exploring blended learning approaches to enhance and personalise learning. We take a look at how some of our members are using digital technology to create apprenticeships that enhance learning and improve employability.

A pioneering approach to apprenticeship delivery

Carmarthen-based Cymru Care Training (CCT) is a member of the B-wbl consortium of learning providers, which is responsible for around 2,500 apprentices widely dispersed across south east and west Wales. The consortium is managed by Pembrokeshire College.

Over the last few years CCT has used digital technologies to transform learning and learning delivery for apprentices, and managing director Edward Jones says that learners have welcomed the change.

"At registration we give them the option to use our online resources and, to start with, reactions were mixed, but now about 90% choose the digital route."

CCT makes sure that all its learners are ready to start making progress from the day they register. The organisation uses G Suite for Education and at registration each candidate gets an account that gives them access to all the relevant Google education resources.

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They are introduced to Google Classroom and they can borrow a Chromebook laptop (or use their own device) to ensure that they have constant, seamless access to CCT's services. CCT's learner resources site is set as the Chromebook's landing page, with links to everything they're likely to need, from course notes and review exercises to information about their own health and wellbeing.

Edward says:

"We use e-track e-portfolios to ensure learning outcomes are recorded effectively and these can be accessed by learners, tutor/assessors, internal quality assurers (IQAs) and employers.

"We've revised all the course modules to fit with blended learning approaches and, over the last year, we've used Google Forms to break down exercises into manageable chunks so that people can spend 20 minutes here and there getting on with their course.

"This approach works because it provides snapshots of each unit and makes it more manageable. It's also a great benefit to learners who would typically struggle with an essay-style, traditional approach.

"With these digital systems and resources in place it's easier for people to take control of their learning and make progress even if they're based remotely, which many of our learners are. We're finding that our apprentices are zipping through their courses far more quickly with blended learning approaches, and retaining what they have learnt, too.

"And it's very easy for us to spot slowdowns in progress, which might indicate that people are having problems of some kind.

"In cases like this, that's when the personal approach is needed and we have training advisors who step in and make contact to help learners get back on track. And, of course, that personal element remains really important – technology frees up our staff to add value in other ways, for example, holding online discussions with learners via Google Hangouts and leading group workshops to ensure that people can learn and practice core skills."

Simulations

At Prospects College of Advanced Technology (PROCAT) in Basildon and Canvey Island, Essex, simulators are being used in a variety of training programmes, including those in electrical and aerospace engineering.

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In aerospace engineering, apprentices are using Aerosim simulators to create virtual maintenance environments and practice their technical skills safely. It means they can work any time and anywhere and revisit their coursework as often as they need to.

In electrical engineering, PROCAT apprentices use NI Multisim, an electronic schematic capture and simulation software that enables them to create virtual circuits and to collaborate and improve on circuit design more easily.

"When we're in our electrical principles class you can recreate a circuit in the computer. It's easier to change it."
(PROCAT apprentice)

E-portfolios

PROCAT uses OneFile e-portfolios so that teachers can set work for apprentices to carry out on site or wherever they choose to, and to submit their work on deadline even if they're working remotely.

"The tutor can set you work and then add stuff in that helps you while you're at work or anywhere else."
(PROCAT apprentice)

City of Glasgow College has also adopted e-portfolios and is having great success in using them to enhance learning and improve employability.

Simply by encouraging stonemasonry apprentices to focus on creating their new portfolio and to include photos and videos of their work, the college found learners more ready to reflect on their work and employers more willing to engage with apprentices' progress. Meanwhile the college's teaching staff are using the same imagery to inform their own continuing professional development (CPD).

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