The Open UniversitySkip to content

Making sense of learner and learning Big Data: reviewing 5 years of Data Wrangling at the Open University UK

Rienties, Bart; Cross, Simon; Marsh, Vicky and Ullmann, Thomas (2017). Making sense of learner and learning Big Data: reviewing 5 years of Data Wrangling at the Open University UK. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-learning, 32(3) pp. 279–293.

Full text available as:
PDF (Accepted Manuscript) - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (422kB) | Preview
DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link:
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


Most distance learning institutions collect vast amounts of learner and learning data. Making sense of this “Big Data” can be a challenge, in particular when data are stored at different data warehouses and require advanced statistical skills to interpret complex patterns of data. As a leading institute on learning analytics, in 2012 the Open University UK (OU) instigated a Data Wrangling initiative. This provided every Faculty with a dedicated academic with expertise data analysis and whose task is to provide strategic, pedagogical, and sense-making advice to staff and senior management. Given substantial changes within the OU over the last 18 months (e.g., new Faculty structure, real-time dashboards, two large-scale adoptions of predictive analytics approaches, increased reliance on analytics), this embedded case-study provides an in-depth review of lessons learned of 5 years of data wrangling. Using semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders (10 senior managers/associate deans) and ten Data Wranglers (DWs), a clear mismatch was identified in terms of resources, expertise, and skills that can effectively address key needs from Faculties. Furthermore, inconsistencies in terms of reporting and responding to bespoke requests were noted by stakeholders. Given the essential role of DW for the OU, a new DW structure is proposed to ensure effective provision of in-depth, evidence-based data analyses, pedagogical insight, and actionable advice for Faculties. We will elaborate on the design of the new structure, its strengths and potential weaknesses, and affordances to be adopted by other institutions.

Item Type: Journal Item
ISSN: 1469-9958
Keywords: learning analytics; big data; data wranglers; qualitative research
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS)
Other Departments > University Secretary's Office
Other Departments
Item ID: 49085
Depositing User: Bart Rienties
Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2017 09:29
Last Modified: 02 May 2019 09:34
Share this page:


Altmetrics from Altmetric

Citations from Dimensions

Download history for this item

These details should be considered as only a guide to the number of downloads performed manually. Algorithmic methods have been applied in an attempt to remove automated downloads from the displayed statistics but no guarantee can be made as to the accuracy of the figures.

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU