Data and the future of universities

I’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking about how we use data in education. In the last few years two things have combined – the computing ability to collect and analyse large datasets, allied to the movement by many governments and administrative bodies towards open data.

Yet despite all the excitement and hype about the potential of using such data in education, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. I have written before about issues with Learning Analytics – in particular that is tends to be used for student management rather than for improving learning.

With others I have been working on how to use data in careers advice, guidance and counselling. I don’t envy young people today in trying to choose and  university or college course and career. Things got pretty tricky with the great recession of 2009. I think just before the banks collapsed we had been putting out data showing how banking was one of the fastest growing jobs in the UK. Add to the unstable economies and labour markets, the increasing impact of new technologies such as AI and robotics on future employment and it is very difficult for anyone to predict the jobs of the future. And the main impact may well be nots o much in new emerging occupations,or occupations disappearing but in the changing skills and knowledge required n different jobs.

One reaction to this from many governments including the UK has been to push the idea of employability. To make their point, they have tried to measure the outcomes of university education. But once more, just as student attainment is used as a proxy for learning in many learning analytics applications, pay is being used as a proxy for employability. Thus the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) survey, an experimental survey in the UK, users administrative data to measure the pay of graduates after 3, 5 and 0 years, per broad subject grouping per university. The trouble is that the survey does not record the places where graduates are working. And once thing we know for a certainty is that pay in most occupations in the UK is very different in different regions. The LEO survey present a wealth of data. But it is pretty hard to make any sense of it. A few things stand out. First is that UK labour markets look pretty chaotic. Secondly there are consistent gender disparities for graduates of the same subject group form individual universities. The third point is that prior attainment before entering university seems a pretty good predictor of future pay, post graduation. And we already know that prior attainment is closely related to social class.

A lot of this data is excellent for research purposes and it is great that it is being made available. But the collection and release of different data sets may also be ideologically determined in what we want potential students to be able to find out. In the same way by collecting particular data, this is designed to give a strong steer to the directions universities take in planning for the future. It may well be that a broader curriculum and more emphasis on process and learning would most benefits students. Yet the steer towards employability could be seen to encourage a narrower focus on the particular skills and knowledge employers say they want in the short term and inhibit the wider debates we should be having around learning and social inclusion.

 

Learning about Careers: Open data and Labour Market Intelligence

I’ve spent a lot of the last two months writing papers. I am not really sure why – other than people keep asking me to and I really do have a built up load of things which I haven’t written about. But one bad consequence of all this is I seem to have abandoned this blog. So,  time to start catching up here.

This paper – Learning about Careers: Open data and Labour Market Intelligence – is co-written with Deirdre Hughes. It is a preprint and wil be published in RIED – Revista Iboeroamericana de Educación a Distancia (The Iberoamerican Review of Digital Education) some time soon.

The full paper can be found on Research Gate or alternatively you can download it here. The abstract is as follows:

“Decisions about learning and work have to be placed in a particular spatial, labour market and socio-cultural context – individuals are taking decisions within particular ‘opportunity structures’ and their decisions and aspirations are further framed by their understanding of such structures. This article examines ways in which learning about careers using open data and labour market intelligence can be applied. An illustrative case study of the LMI for All project in the UK shows the technical feasibility of designing and developing such systems and a model for dissemination and impact. The movement towards Open Data and increasingly powerful applications for processing and querying data has gathered momentum. This combined with the need for labour market information for decision making in increasingly unstable labour markets have led to the development and piloting of new LMI systems, involving multiple user groups. Universal challenges exist given the increasing use of LMI, especially in job matching and the rapidly expanding use of open source data in differing education and employment settings. We highlight at least six emergent issues that have to be addressed so that open data and labour market intelligence can be applied effectively in differing contexts and settings. We conclude by reflecting on the urgent need to extend the body of research and to develop new methods of co-constructing in innovative collaborative partnerships.”

 

A video tutorial: Getting started with the LMI for All API

Regular readers will know that together with Philipp Rustemeier, I have been working on  the UK Commission for Employment and Skills’ LMI for All project. Through the project we are developing a database providing access to open data around the Labour `market. This includes data about occupations, pay, present and projected employment, qualifications and much more. So far, UKCES has focused on the use of the data for careers guidance but I suspect it may have far wider potential uses, including for education and local government planning. When mashed with other data I see LMI for All as pointing to the future is of open data as part of smart cities or rather as providing data about cities for smart citizens.

The LMI for All project does not itself produce applications.Instead we provide access to a open APi, which developers can query to build their own desktop or mobile apps.

One thing we are working on is providing more help for developers wanting to use the API. As part of that we are developing a series of ‘how to’ videos, the first of which is featured above.The video was originally recorded in real time using Google Hangouts and  YouTube.  The 31 minute original was cut to about 15 minutes and a new introduction added.

Any advice about how to make this sort of video will be gratefully received. And the code which Philip developed live in the video can be accessed on GitHub

Predicting mid and long term skills needs in the UK

Labour Market Information (LMI)  is not perhaps the most popular subject to talk about. But with the advent of open and linked data, LMI  is increasingly being open up to wider audiences and has considerable potential for helping people choose and plan future careers and plan education programmes, as well as for use in research, exploring future skills needs and for social and economic planning.

This is a video version of a presentation by Graham Attwell at the Slovenian ZRSZ Analytical Office conference on “Short-term Skills Anticipations and Mismatch in the Labour Market. Graham Attwell examines ongoing work on mid and long term skills anticipation in the UK. He will bases on work being undertaken by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and the European EmployID project looking, in the mid term, at future skills needs and in the longer term at the future of work. He explains the motivation for undertaking these studies and their potential uses. He also explains briefly the data sources and statistical background and barriers to the wok on skills projections, whilst emphasising that they are not the only possible futures and can best serve as a a benchmark for debate and reflection that can be used to inform policy development and other choices and decisions. He goes on to look at how open and linked data is opening up more academic research to wider user groups, and presents the work of the UKCES LMI for All project, which has developed an open API allowing the development of applications for different user groups concerned with future jobs and future skills. Finally he briefly discusses the policy implications of this work and the choices and influence of policymakers in influencing different futures.

 

The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

As promised, a post on our stand and presentation at Alt-C on the LMIforAll Labour Market Data project, sponsored by UKCES. Working together with the Institute for Employment Research at Warwick University and Raycom, we have developed a database and APi providing access to a range of data about a wide variety of different occupations in the UK including data about:

  • Pay
  • Gender
  • Numbers employed
  • Future employment projections
  • Occupational profiles
  • Skills and competences
  • Job vacancies
  • University destinations

The API is self documenting and is available free of charge to both for profit and not for profit organisatio0ns and developers. Working with Loud Source we have run a competition for Apps built on the API and together with Rewired State we have organised a series of Hack Days and Mod Days. We are currently redesigning the website to provide better access to the data and to the different applications that have been built to date.

One strange thing that took people visiting our stand some time to understand was that we were not selling anything (I think ours and Jisc were the only non commercial stands).  The second thing was that we were not trying to ‘sell’ them a shiny out of teh box project. To get added value from our database and API requires some thought and development effort on the part of organisations wanting to use the data. We provide the tools, they provide the effort to use them. But when people got that concept they were enthusiastic. And most interestingly they were coming up with completely new ideas for where the data might be valuable. As you can see in our presentation above, we have largely focused on the use of LMIforAll for careers planning. University and Further Education researchers and developers saw big potential using the API as a planning too for future courses and curriculum. Others saw it as a valuable resource for measuring employability, a big agenda point for many UK institutions. It was also suggested to us that the labour market data could be mashed together with data derived from learning analytics, providing possibly a more learner centred approach to analytics than has previously been deployed.

If you are interested in any of these ideas have a play on the LMIforAll web site. And feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.