© Datapult, 2011

Schaffhauser, D. (2011) Blackboard buys into data analytics Campus Technology, February 8

Interesting report on the purchase by Blackboard of iStrategy, a data warehouse and analytics company.

Blackboard Analytics is a suite of programs that provides business intelligence operations for higher education institutions, including analytical reporting and data warehousing. The goal, said the company in a statement, is to help their customers “make better use of data to inform important decisions across the institution.”

See also:

e-learning outlook for 2011


  1. Tony,

    This note on Data Analytics worries me – although I appreciate that the system described is not simple I feel that the comcept is simplistic. Let me explain. If the analysis of exam results or school reports which are then printed out under manual supervision and collation could be described as First Generation Analytics, then Second Generation Analytics would include the pulling in of data from a range of MIS sources and dispatching to various Faculties or Departments. And I therefore see the system as described as only an improvement on 2nd Generation Analytics. I really wonder what “make better use of data to inform important decisions across the institution.” really means. Is it not the individual learner who need this information to make “important decisions”?

    What I would hope to see in the very near future is what I call ‘3rd Generation Learning Analytics’. In essence this would be a learner-focussed system that delivered real-time reporting, intuitively, at the point of need. It would include profiling, diagnostics and ‘predictive’ or formative feedback adjusted to the individual learner’s needs. Similarly, Learning Analytics would also provide Faculty with diagnostics according to their own delivery etc. Perhaps such a ‘Third Generation Analytics’ system might be termed ‘Semantic Analytics’.

    I might not have described this very clearly but it is something that I am presently mulling over. Certainly, in the not too distant future I see mainstream education requiring the collation of a whole range of interoperable data sources with the facility of delivering ‘real-time’ reporting on demand as the learner requires.

    I’ve blurted out this off-the-cuff response because the article only challenges my thinking. Is it really the vendors who design and produce such software which only improves on current practice – or do both learners and faculty have some say in what the future should look like?

    • Hi, Ray.

      I think you make several excellent points in your comment. The idea of learner analytics being used by learners for diagnosis, feedback and decision-making by the learner is quite exciting. It could also help a three-way discussion between teacher, parent and student.

      Your point about the analytics being determined by Blackboard rather than by instructors or students is also very pertinent. Indeed it may be even more worrying, because analytics were developed initially (as with many other educational technologies such as projectors and Powerpoint) for business purposes. They will need significant adaptation for educational purposes. I haven’t seen the latest Blackboard analytics, but I would hope they do more than their first round of analytics, which had pretty crude counts such as number of times an instructor or student had logged on, which has limited value.

      This brings me to a third point. If teachers and instructors are to use analytics, some hard thinking needs to be done about what data to collect and for what purposes. Just crunching data collected for other purposes, such as for system administration, won’t provide the data that would be most helpful to instructors. So I completely agree that teachers and learners need to be involved not just in analysis but in the design of learner analytics.

      Lastly, I have some concerns that like many oher things in life, there is also a dark side to analytics. They could easily be used in the way the Fraser Institute uses school performance tests, to distort or oversimplify complex issues for political purposes, or by over-zealous administrations.

  2. Thank you Tony for you kind response.

    I have been exploring this topic for a few weeks now, starting from the
    question of how formative feedback can help learner and practitioner. This
    started from looking at the JISC document and in particular the table as
    attached. Originally the JISC table only contained the green and blue
    criteria but thinking about it I added the red-shaded sections. These are
    somewhat brief and could be expanded further. See:

    However, searching wider, I came across the work of ‘Knowledge Advisors’ at
    http://www.knowledgeadvisors.com/ . Buried amongst their many resources is
    a graphic (see attachment) referencing some of the major players that they
    currently service. My conclusion is that if LA is so important to them,
    shouldn’t education be taking notice?


    Ray Tolley FEIDCT, NAACE Fellow, ACQI, MBILD
    ICT Education Consultant
    Maximise ICT Ltd


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