Data analysis and decision-making based on it are part of the daily routine in fields from health care to business. There is also keen interest in the potential of data analytics in the field of education.
Learning-related analytics is a multidisciplinary field where modern data analysis is applied to the research of learning. Learning cannot be analysed in the same way as business revenues or descriptive medical data. Functional and effective analytics of learning calls for multidisciplinary research, combining learning theories and analytical methods, as well as interaction between experts of different fields. In this context, it is essential to understand learners’ individual needs, desires and challenges as well as to respect their privacy.
Our multidisciplinary research team studies student agency by means of learning-related analytical methods. Student agency refers to how students can influence and direct their own learning in educational settings, operate actively and make use of the resources available in the learning environment.
Yet student agency has received little attention in university education. This is surprising, because the significance of the agentic role is nowadays highlighted in different areas of life, particularly in the expert work for which universities are supposed to prepare their students.
Agency is needed in any goal-oriented work, but especially in jobs that call for creativity, cooperation, problem solving and development or revision of work practices. At the level of individuals, agency is seen as important in, among other areas, the development of meaningful work careers and continuous learning. Education policies mention agency as a long-term goal of education.
In our agency analytics research team, we see the enhancement of student agency in university education as essentially related to the proactive role of education in society. This refers to the notion that university graduates are able to act as developers and active change agents in their field.
This kind of developmental orientation is not achieved solely by externally steered learning of skills and knowledge, however. Learning can be seen as involving two parallel processes. On the one hand, the subject field itself is perceived as a constantly developing entity and, on the other hand, the focus is simultaneously on personal change taking place during education. Student agency is essentially related to both these viewpoints. The first addresses student’s responsibility for knowledge acquisition and construction of new knowledge. The second has to do with experiential agency, where a person constructs an identity as a student of a particular field. This happens, for example, by constructing a view of one’s own strengths and possibilities for action.
Our research team integrates learning-related analytical methodology with recent educational research. We call this approach agency analytics. In our research we use an agency indicator developed and validated at the University of Jyväskylä. The agency analytics yields student-specific feedback, depicting the resources for student agency in the given course. The analysis can be used as a tool for the student’s own reflection and also as an aid for study counselling. The teachers of the courses can also use the obtained data in their pedagogical planning.
Ville Heilala and Päivikki Jääskelä
The research team of agency analytics at the University of Jyväskylä includes Päivikki Jääskelä (senior researcher, FIER), Päivi Häkkinen (professor, FIER), Tommi Kärkkäinen (professor, IT Faculty), Ville Heilala (project researcher, IT Faculty), Mirka Saarela (postdoctoral researcher, IT Faculty), and Kati Laine (project researcher, FIER).
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