Rethinking Student Success: Analytics in Support of Teaching and Learning

Presented at the 2014 Blackboard Institutional Performance Conference (30 – 31 October 2014)

Passing grades and retention through to degree are essential to success in higher education, but these factors are too often mistaken for ends in themselves. A high-performing student environment has provided teachers and researchers at Emory University with a space to think critically about what success means, and about the extent to which data might inform the design of successful learning environments. This presentation will (1) discuss some of the unique challenges encountered by Emory University during its 2013-2014 Blackboard Analytics pilot, (2) describe several provisional insights gained from exploratory data mining, and (3) outline how Emory’s pilot experience has informed support of learning analytics on campus.

Learning Analytics: What Is It? Why Do It? And How?

My presentation deck from a brown bag talk recently delivered to students in the Emory University Laney Graduate School.
Analytics Cycle
Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs. Data driven approaches to teaching and learning are rapidly being adopted within educational environments, but there is still much confusion about what learning analytics is, what it can do, and how it is best employed.

This talk provides a general overview of the field of learning analytics, its terminology and methods, as well as contemporary ethical debates. It also introduces several open source and Emory-supported analytics tools available to students and instructors to facilitate the achievement of various learning outcomes.

Challenges and Opportunities for Promoting Success among the Successful using Blackboard Analytics™

Presentation deck and abstract from my session at Blackboard World 2014. I also posted a few remarks on challenges associated with learning analytics at an institution with already high levels of student success HERE

How can a university that already has very high levels of student performance and retention use data from its Blackboard® learning management system to identify effective teaching practices and at risk students? Based on experience gained from a year-long pilot of Blackboard Analytics™ for Learn at Emory University, this presentation will discuss (1) several unique challenges associated with the use of Blackboard Analytics™ to monitor high performing students, (2) the value of Blackboard Analytics™ as a data warehouse against which to run custom queries and apply more sophisticated data mining techniques, and (3) several preliminary insights obtained through the application of those techniques at Emory University.

Teaching the Unteachable: On the Compatibility of Learning Analytics and Humane Education

This paper is an exploratory effort to find a place for learning analytics in humane education. After distinguishing humane education from training on the basis of the Aristotelian model of intellectual capabilities, and arguing that humane education is distinct by virtue of its interest in cultivating prudence, which is unteachable, an account of three key characteristics of humane education is provided. Appealing to thinkers of the Italian Renaissance, it is argued that ingenium, eloquence, and self-knowledge constitute the what, how, and why of humane education. Lastly, looking to several examples from recent learning analytics literature, it is demonstrated that learning analytics is not only helpful as set of aids for ensuring success in scientific and technical disciplines, but in the humanities as well. In order to function effectively as an aid to humane education, however, learning analytics must be embedded within a context that encourages continuous reflection, responsiveness, and personal responsibility for learning.

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Exposing Humanism: Prudence, Ingenium, and the Politics of the Posthuman

Journal of Historical Sociology CoverI am pleased to announce the publication of my article, “Exposing Humanism: Prudence, Ingenium, and the Politics of the Posthuman” in the Journal of Historical Sociology. The research for this paper was funded by the Laney Graduate School at Emory University and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship. I would like to thank Professors Donald Phillip Verene, Ann Hartle, Cynthia Willett, and Debolina Roy, as well as the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and encouragement on earlier drafts of this article. Lastly, thank you to Samuel Timme, Sarita Alami, and Stephen Harfield for their helpful comments in the final stages of this manuscript’s preparation.


This article examines posthumanism and its relationship to humanism. First, it is argued that the term “posthumanism” relies upon an incomplete conception of humanism, and in a way that forecloses the possibility of looking to the humanist tradition for support. Addressing Foucault’s often quoted comments about the recent invention and imminent demise of man, it is argued that Foucault is not anti-humanist, but is rather critical of the use of humanism as an axis of reflection. Second, the posthumanist perspective is summarized as attending to a set of interrelated ethical and epistemological concerns. Calling into question the boundary between human and nonhuman animals, posthumanism also challenges the primacy of empirico-deductive reasoning and advocates a re-legitimization of rhetoric as a mode of thought. Lastly, using Ernesto Grassi’s interpretation of the early Italian humanists, this article demonstrates not only the compatibility of Renaissance humanism with posthumanist concerns, but also the fruitfulness of this tradition as a conceptual resource. Although the Renaissance notion of ingenium, the ability to adapt and make concrete situations meaningful without also affirming strong ontological commitments, is absent from posthumanist discourse, it is a concept that has the power to enrich the posthumanist project. Consequently, posthumanism is not actually at odds with the humanist tradition in general, but rather only with a very limited and relatively recent conception.

The Beast Without: Red Dragon, The Cleft Lip, and the Politics of Recognition

The film Red Dragon features a serial killer whose cleft lip is the primary factor motivating his murderous behaviour. Although the film initially capitalizes upon the tradition of linking cleft lip and palate with homicidal psychopathy, however, it does so through a keen awareness of the politics of identity formation, and so has the effect of ultimately shifting the locus of monstrosity away from the cleft lip, and toward those social systems of representation that would constitute the cleft lip and palate as such. With particular attention to the image of the mirror, this paper is concerned with offering a psychoanalytic reading of the film, through the Lacanian concept of the mirror stage, in order to demonstrate certain ways in which Red Dragon subtly deconstructs the filmic tradition that has thus far, failed to do justice to the cleft lip and palate as a social issue.

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