In this extra post, Jenny Scoles, editor of Teaching Matters, shares some analytics on Teaching Matters, and hopes that both readers and contributors of the blog will contribute to a research project that explores the impact of blogging beyond what is captured by statistical data…
I’ll be honest with you, as editor of Teaching Matters, I’m pretty obsessed with checking the readership statistics of the blog; I even check on the weekends on my phone. When I see over 400 reads one day, and realise a post could be ‘trending’, I genuinely get a buzz. Teaching Matters is a multi-authored blog , which means that there is:
- A central editorial team who commissions/collates posts from many different authors;
- Professional editing;
- A common format;
- A standard length for posts;
- A well-defined style;
- Promoted on social media.
Over 350 different authors (both staff, students and even alumni) have contributed to more than 450 posts on Teaching Matters. Readership has tripled since its inception in 2016, and now hovers around 6,000 reads a month. It has nearly 2,000 Twitter followers, with readers clicking in from all over the world.
Albeit relatively crude, WordPress offers some useful statistical data, which can help me track various patterns (readership is lowest on Saturdays), and compare average monthly viewing figures (March 2017 had 2,831 views, while March 2019 reached 6,273), I can watch the ‘total views’ figure trip past the 130,000 mark at a steady pace. And I can tell that the top three ‘clicked on’ (not necessarily ‘read’) blog posts these last three months are:
- Smile(y) and the whole student body will smile with you, by Ben Marder (925 views);
- Practical approaches to embedding access and inclusion into the curriculum (part of the Inclusivity in the Curriculum mini-series), by Rayya Ghul (365 views);
- An introduction to widening participation strategy at The University of Edinburgh, by Laura Cattell (324 views).
I guess we could call these statistical insights ‘learning analytics’.
According to a report by Jisc , learning analytics in higher education, “refers to the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about the progress of learners and the contexts in which learning takes place.” However, many would argue that learning analytics only reveal part of the story, or more worryingly, tell the wrong story. For example, if data shows that a student has logged on to the course page in the VLE numerous times, there is no causal evidence that the student has necessarily been more engaged in the course. We need other ways to explore these links that the data throws us (and I’d argue that these ways should be qualitative, and ideally ethnographic, but that’s for another post..).
It’s the same for the Teaching Matters analytics: I can gauge how many times a blog post is clicked on, but I have no idea how engaged the reader was: did they only skim it? What was their reaction to the content? Did they learn anything new? Did it impact their practice in anyway? Less than 10% of the blog posts generate online comments, and even fewer of these are written in a way to stimulate conversation, e.g., ‘thanks, great post’ (which is still great to read, but doesn’t invite dialogue).
A small research team at IAD have just launched a research project that aims to map some of this impact that eludes capture by analytics. For me, this has the potential to give me a much bigger buzz than the stats because I hope to uncover stories about how posts have actually impacted authors’ (and readers’) everyday learning and teaching practice. For example, we know other universities have embedded author’s posts into online courses, and contributors have been invited to give external talks after someone read their post.
We are also interested in exploring what impact reading colleagues’ blog posts may have on encouraging staff or students to try new things in their practice. In such research projects, there is a tendency to talk about ‘innovation’: ‘How have you innovated your practice? Are YOU being innovative?‘ ‘Innovation’ is an over-used, ambiguous, and I would even argue, empty word these days. Instead, we are interested in looking at practice-based innovating – how people play and tinker with their everyday practices, making small adjustments here and there, without grand claims to ‘look at me, I am INNOVATING’. In my view, it is these smaller, gradual bottom-up changes that lead to a larger cultural shift in learning and teaching.
We have launched two short questionnaires for readers and contributors (with an optional invitation to follow-up with a focus group discussion) to help us start mapping what these learning and teaching conversations look and feel like, and how they travel, both online and offline, as well as forming a better idea of the practice-based innovating that may be happening across the University.
We would be most grateful if you could complete the appropriate questionnaire (completion time 5-7 minutes):
For readers: https://edin.ac/2QxH1wF
For contributors: https://edin.ac/2QxUG73
We look forward to sharing the findings from this research project next year.
 Dunleavy, P. (2014). Shorter, better, faster, free: Blogging changes the nature of academic research, not just how it is communicated. LSE Blogs. Available at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/12/28/shorter-better-faster-free/ (accessed 15 June 2019).
 Sclater, N., Peasgood, A. and Mullan, J. (2016). Learning analytics in higher education: a review of UK and international practice, available at: www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/learning-analytics-in-higher-education (accessed 18 July 2019).