Inside Track - Professor Neil Morris: Laying foundations to transform the student experience

Professor Neil Morris, Dean of Digital Education, outlines key developments in digital education to help transform our student experience at Leeds, and explains how you can get involved.

Professor Neil Morris, Dean of Digital Education

During this academic session, there has been a lot of activity in the digital education area to lay the foundations for a number of large-scale change initiatives which will help transform the student experience at the university. In this piece, I want to provide some background and context for two of these initiatives. I hope this will help to facilitate discussions happening across campus on these topics.


In January of this year, the Senate agreed the principles of an emarking policy which, along with other initiatives in the Student Lifecycle Programme (SLP), will transform the way we manage assessment and feedback for our taught students. Many universities have been moving to electronic assessment and feedback over the last five years, and a number of schools and faculties at Leeds have also been moving in this direction, with positive feedback from colleagues and students. Through the emarking project, and the project to digitise the movement and management of assessment marks in SLP, we hope to completely digitise the assessment and feedback process for the vast majority of coursework assessments, and allow electronic marking of examination scripts. 

The rationale for these projects is multi-dimensional. We hope to: 

  • improve the experience for students by allowing them flexibility to only submit coursework assessment digitally, and to receive feedback on their work digitally; 
  • improve the experience for colleagues by reducing manual processes, such as physical interaction with, and movement of, printed work, data entry, mark checking etc.; 
  • improve the accuracy of the marks we return to students, by reducing data errors; and
  • significantly improve our sustainability by reducing the amount of paper used for assessment activities.

We are aware that marking is a very subjective experience, and the prospect of changing established processes can be daunting, particularly when there have been poor experiences with technological solutions. So, we are committed to introducing emarking over a gradual period of three to five years, and providing robust and flexible technical solutions which cater for a variety of approaches to marking and feedback.

We will provide support and training for colleagues as these new tools are introduced and we will consult widely with colleagues and students about emarking through the Student Lifecycle Programme. Over the next six months, the SLP will assess current use of our existing e-marking solutions, identify barriers to adoption and areas of good practice. The programme will also engage with third party suppliers to understand their product plans and how new functionality could provide us with a robust solution which supports best practice and addresses barriers.

Learning Analytics

These projects will also contribute to another important data-based large-scale change initiative that we are commencing: learning analytics. This is "the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for the purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs." (International Conference on Learning Analytics, 2011). We currently collect lots of data from students, including attendance data, assessment marks, Minerva usage, lecture capture views, library usage, along with many others. 

These sets of data are currently viewed in isolation, if at all, by a range of colleagues and sometimes by students themselves. This means that some people at Leeds are already engaged in learning analytics. However, this is currently happening in a variety of ways, with differing consideration of the ethical, data and personal issues raised.

We want to establish a set of principles for how we will engage with our students’ data ethically, transparently and in partnership with them. This means that students will be fully informed about the data we store about them, how and why we use it, and how it is analysed for presentation in learning analytics systems. This is the basis for the proposed Code of Practice that we have produced with input from students and colleagues across campus, and which we are now publishing for widespread consultation. We want to encourage members of our University community to discuss this document and explore the implications of implementing such a Code. 

The Code of Practice sets out the responsibilities for colleagues, students and the University to ensure that learning analytics is carried out responsibly, transparently, appropriately and effectively, addressing the key legal, ethical and logistical issues which are likely to arise. We have also produced a strategy for the University’s engagement with learning analytics, which is also available for feedback.

We are committed to using learning analytics to enhance taught student education and support student success for registered students. This means that we will gather and analyse data relating to students’ education and present these in convenient and appropriate formats, to support students’ learning, progress and well-being. The University is also implementing learning analytics to provide support to students who may be thinking of leaving their course or the University, and to support students to reach their full potential.  

We recognise that data on its own cannot provide a rounded picture of a student’s progress, but provides an indicative picture of progress and likelihood of success. We anticipate that use of learning analytics data will enable teaching colleagues to have more nuanced conversations with students about their individual progress and support needs. To gain maximum benefit from learning analytics, we hope to combine a range of data sources to provide a single system-based dashboard view, for students and colleagues to use to support success.

At present, we do not know which data will be included in this dashboard, but we anticipate that it will include attendance data, Minerva usage (e.g. content views, online learning activities), assessment marks and lecture capture views, as a minimum. Over time, we may add in additional data sources which are proven to support enhanced student success. In the Code of Practice, we have listed all of the possible data sources that may be used to produce a dashboard view, and these will only be used where useful quantitative measures are available.  

Our intended use of learning analytics is entirely positive, to support student success. It is not intended for surveillance or intrusion. We recognise that learning analytics is a complex topic, and the ethical and data issues can be daunting, so we are committed to providing opportunities to gain knowledge and skills in this area.

I look forward to hearing from hopefully many of you through the consultation we have now opened on the proposed code of practice for learning analytics, which offers several methods to share your views.

Thank you in advance for your time and consideration of these strategically important developments at Leeds.

Professor Neil Morris, Dean of Digital Education

May 2019

Links from this feature article:

Proposed Learning Analytics Strategy

Proposed Learning Analytics Code of Practice

How to share your views

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