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From Bricks to Clicks: how data could revolutionise Higher Education

Sharing student data in the Higher Education sector will “revolutionise” and introduce a “step-change” in the student experience, according to experts at The Open University.

  • Impact of data sharing in Higher Education explored in new report
  • OU experts endorse the sharing of student data across institutions
  • Using data could improve the student experience and enhance teaching and learning
  • OU is a forerunner, actively researching how online interaction data can be used to benefit students


The OU's Professor John Domingue (right) with Lord Norton, chair of the Higher Education Commission.

The OU’s Professor John Domingue (right) with Lord Norton, chair of the Higher Education Commission.

The sharing of student data sector-wide is one of the recommendations in a report from the Higher Education Commission, From Bricks to Clicks: the potential of data analytics in Higher Education. It says that Higher Education can lead the way in collecting and using data to improve student retention, target student support and enhance teaching and learning.

The Open University, as a pioneer in this field, contributed significantly to the report, sharing its experience in learning analytics – predicting the future assignment and course scores of its students – and the ethical use of student data.

Data can help support students
The report explores what the data revolution could mean for the Higher Education sector and student learning experiences. It recommends that by understanding data through the use of data analytics – and ensuring it is collected and used with student consent and robust safeguards – institutions can ensure students are better taught and fully supported throughout their courses.

John Domingue, Director of The Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute, who spoke to The Guardian about the potential of learning analytics, said: “Across all areas of life, we’re using data more and more – whether it’s monitoring how far we walk each day or finding the quickest way home on our sat nav. Data analytics can also provide students, tutors and institutions with especially powerful information to inform their learning, tutor support and overall strategic decision-making.

For example, predictive analytics can identify which students may not complete their course on time or even hand in individual assignments, which we have already deployed using our OU Analyse tool which identifies students who are at risk of falling behind. Apart from the OU, the Commission does not believe that any UK institution has made significant headway in this area.

Report outlines recommendations for the sector
The Commission outlined the future for Higher Education and the possibilities for institutions in a data-driven world; making key recommendations which include:

  • The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc) and Universities UK should collaborate to develop a sector-wide strategy for excellent and innovative data management, supporting and enabling sharing between institutions.
  • HESA should take responsibility for rationalising the data collection process across the sector, working in partnership with others.
  • All institutions should consider introducing an appropriate learning analytics system to improve student support/performance at their institution.
  • Institutions should put in place clear ethical policies and codes of practices that govern the use of student data in analytics and other digital systems.
  • To be equipped for the future of higher education, institutions should ensure that digital literacy, capability and good data management strategies are an integral part of their strategic plans.
  • University teaching and administrative staff need to be equipped with the necessary skills to perform their roles in a digital, data-driven world.
  • Institutions should be encouraged to use the information from learning analytics systems to identify and foster excellent teaching within their institutions.

Open University welcomes collaboration
Professor Domingue continued: “We welcome this report and look forward to working together with the rest of the sector to explore how data technologies can enrich Higher Education and the learning journeys of UK’s university students. Collaborating openly, and developing a sector-wide strategy for using data would cause a step-change in the experiences of UK students. Learning analytics has already made an impact and we believe that a comprehensive higher education data ecosystem will revolutionise the HE sector.”

About Author

Kath works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She is a skilled communicator with more than 15 years’ experience working in both the public and private sectors. She has a BA (Hons) English and American Literature from University of Warwick and specialises in stories from the Faculty of Social Science, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, BBC programmes, and student stories. In her spare time Kath enjoys touring the country in her hand-painted camper van, Trevor.

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