Exploring ONCourse Data a Little More…

Following on from my preliminary tinkering with the University of Lincoln course data API, I had a bit more of a play last night…

In particular, I started looking at the programme level to see how we might be able to represent the modules contained within it. Modules are associated with individual programmes, a core attribute specifying whether a module is “core” (presumably that means required).

oncourse programme core module

I thought it might be interesting to try to pull out a “core module” profile for each programme. Looking at the data available for each module, there were a couple of things that immediately jumped out at me as being “profileable” (sp?!) – assessment data (assessment method, weighting, whether it was group work or not):

oncourse assessment

and contact times (that is, hours of contact and contact type):

oncourse contact

I had some code kicking around for doing treemap views so I did a couple of quick demos [code]. First up, a view over the assessment strategy for core modules in a particular programme:

oncourse 0 assessment treemap

(I really need to make explicit the programme…)

Blocks are coloured according to level and sized according to product of points value for the course and assessment type weighting.

We can also zoom in:

oncourse assesssment treemap zoom

I took the decision to use colour to represent level, but it would also be possible to pull the level out into the hierarchy used to configure the tree (for example having Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 groupings at the top?) I initially used the weighting to set the block size, but then tweaked it to show the product of the weighting and the number of credit points for the module, so for example a 60 point module with exam weighting 50% would have size 60*0.5 = 30, whereas a 15 point module with exam weighting 80% would have size 15*0.8 = 12.

Note that there are other ways we could present these hierarchies. For example, another view might structure the tree as: programme – level – module – assessment type. Different arrangements can tell different stories, be differently meaningful to different audiences, and be useable in different ways… Part of the art comes from picking the view that is most appropriate for addressing a particular problem, question or intention.

Here’s an example of view over the contact hours associated with core modules in the same programme:

oncourse contact hours treemap

(Note that I didn’t make use of the group work attribute which should probably also be added in to the mix?).

Looking at different programmes, we can spot different sorts of profile. Note that there is a lot wrong with these visualisations, but I think they do act as a starting point for helping us think about what sorts of view we might be able to start pulling out of the data now it’s available. For example, how are programmes balanced in terms of assessment or contact over their core modules? One thing developing the above charts got me thinking about was how to step up a level to allow comparison of core module assessment and contact profiles across programmes leading to a particular qualification, or across schools? (I suspect a treemap is not the answer!)

It’s also worth noting that different sorts of view might be appropriate for different sorts of “customer”: potential student choosing a programme, student on a programme, programme manager, programme quality committee, and so on.

And it’s also worth noting that different visualisation types might give a more informative view over the same data structure. On my to do list is to have a play with viewing the data used above in some sort of circular enclosure diagram (or whatever that chart type is called!) for example. (See the next post in this series, which amongst other things made me realise how partial/fragmentary the data displayed in the above treemaps actually is…)

Having had a play, a couple more observations came to mind about the API. Firstly, it could be useful to annotate modules with a numerical (integer) attribute relating to a standardised educational level, such as the FHEQ levels. (At the moment, modules are given level descriptors along the lines of “Level 3”, relating to a third year course, akin to FHEQ level 6). Secondly, relating to assessment, it might be useful (down the line) to know how the grade achieved in a module at a particular level contributes to the final grade achieved at the end of the programme.

Playing with the data, I also found a little bug: in resources of the form https://n2.online.lincoln.ac.uk/module_links/id/273, the nuclues_url is incorrectly given as https://n2.online.lincoln.ac.uk/module_link/id/273 (i.e. the incorrect path element module_link which should be module_links).

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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