PELARS - Using a universal design approach to create a learning analytics system for design and STEM education.

Donal Heallon




PELARS – Practice-based Experiential Learning Analytics Research And Support, STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), LAS – Learning Analytics System, Universal Design, technology integration, curriculum development, policy change.

PELARS (Practice-based Experiential Learning Analytics Research And Support) is a three-year research project funded under the European Union’s Research and Innovation programme, FP7, and involves twelve partners across Europe drawn from both academic and industry sectors.

It is a collaborative multidisciplinary project that seeks to innovate at the intersection between design, technology and education using universal design methodology.

The aim of PELARS is to develop a Learning Analytics System (LAS) and integrate this system into a physical embodiment (furniture and/or environment) suitable for three proposed learning contexts; third-level interaction design education, postsecondary engineering education and secondary-level high school STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.  With such a potential range of user variables and requirements, a universal design approach was taken to ensure the resulting learning environment that can be interpreted and interacted with by as many users of varying profiles as possible.

This paper explores the challenge of specifying, designing, prototyping and evaluating such a project with a universal design approach and describes the thinking and methods employed in order to ensure adherence to the relevant principles and guidelines.

The PELARS project is broadly divided into three parts. Year one consists predominantly of research with a literature review and qualitative research with a user-centred perspective. Year two sees the expression of the research results in iterative prototypes and technological development with user testing throughout. Year three then tests the efficacy of these prototypes with contextual or ‘in-the-wild’ user trials and evaluations.

The value of this research is manifold as the outcomes of the LAS seek to inform students, teachers and researchers as to what and how students are learning while engaging in hands-on education in design and STEM subjects. It is intended that this knowledge can be used to develop curricula and motivate policy change regarding the teaching of these subjects.

Currently, at the half way point of the project, findings consist of prototype designs in the areas of sensing and visualisation technologies, learning kits, furniture and environment, the learning analytics system and proposed curriculum developments. These prototypes will be integrated into a working model which will be further evaluated and refined in a cyclical iterative process.

The anticipated outcome of the project seeks to incorporate best practice in universal design so that the result is a fit-for-purpose LAS system, supporting kits and materials, relevant curricular activities and a suitable environment in which to implement these.