Connecting dots of digital learning

Social Learning Analytics applied in a MOOC-environment

Published on Open Education Europa, a paper presents an example of a Social Learning Analytics Tool to visualize real-time discussion activities in a MOOC environment. Practitioners and researchers can read how to implement and use such a SLA tool as a plugin in practice. We will learn how a collaboration between a teacher (Susan Voogd), a SLA developer (Chris Teplovs) and two researchers from the OUNL (Bieke Schreurs and Maarten de Laat) resulted in a SLA Tool to visualize real-time discussion activities.

Social Learning Analytics applied in a MOOC-environment 

(licensed under CC BY-NC-ND)

Author(s): Bieke SchreursChris TeplovsSusan Voogd


In the Netherlands all higher professional education teachers need to be formally trained in assessment within a short period (Bruijn, van der Vleuten, Cohen – Schotanus, Dunnewijk & van Kalmhout, 2012; Rijksoverheid, 2013). Therefore the BKE MOOC is developed. In the course the participants are activated to: (1) fill in a personal profile page, comprising a self evaluation test of all 15 learning goals rated on a 5-point scale, (2) choose a personal learning path, which could consist of watching videos; reading literature; take a practical assessment; upload literature and tools and (3) participate in discussion fora, (4) participants can retake the practical assessment endlessly and change their learning path whenever they want. After each retake, participants get feedback about the overall score and feedback per question.

To stimulate networked learning activities the following interventions are implemented: (1) The course will be introduced by a live webinar with a start-up of the discussions; (2) forum discussions will be moderated by experts in the field; (3) emails will encourage participants to get involved; (4) live discussions are planned, (5) to receive feedback about their participation behavior compared to other participants the SLA tool, called the Network Awareness Tool (NAT) is integrated in the course.

Network awareness plugin

The works started from data capture, analysis to visualization, and the visualization includes:

Visualization of the network. None of this pays off unless stakeholders can interact with the analytics that render their connected world more visible (De Laat & Schreurs, 2013). Visualizing networked learning activities can help learners to decide which discussion topics they should join and which experts they should aim to connect with.

Social Learning Analytics applied in a MOOC-environment

Visualization of the content. We also had access to data regarding the topics that were being discussed, which provides some information about the content (or semantics). The content is represented in a tagcloud, reflecting the topics of the 15 learning goals of the MOOC.

Visualizing user information. We also have access to the self assessments about expertise. Mousing over any individual node will bring up a “tooltip” style panel that shows the self assessment of expertise information for each participant.

The plug-in, based on the Network Awareness Tool (De Laat & Schreurs, 2011), is designed to be compatible with any modern web browser and was developed using widely available JavaScript libraries.

Use of NAT plugin

The NAT plugin is developed to help teachers to stimulate and evaluate discussions as networked learning activities in a MOOC or other virtual learning environment. Participants can use the NAT plug-in as a Social Learning Browser to locate people who are dealing with the same learning topics. While most social networking sites focus on finding people with a certain expertise, the NAT plug-in also focuses on finding people who are interested in the same learning problem. By identifying topographically central people within the network, they can identify the most active people, as well as potential experts in the field.

From an ego-network perspective learners can see their own learning network, consisting of other learners with whom they have interacted. This means that the NAT plug-in has the potential to provoke learning-centric reflection by learners on how interact with peers for learning purposes. Learners can also see the content of the ties, summarized in one or more tags.

Educators can use the plug-in to guide students in the development of networked learning competences and to gain insight into the ability of groups of students to learn collectively over time. Using this plug-in, educators can detect multiple (isolated) networks within the online learning environment, connect ideas and foster collaboration beyond existing boundaries.

For researchers, the analysis of learning ties and networks helps clarify how professionals engage in learning relationships, as well as the value of this engagement.



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