Does Exercise (and Learning) Count If Not Counted?

Dilemmas of learning analytics and the iOS Fitbit App

November 5, 2014

If exercise is not recorded by a fitness app does it count as exercise?  If my Fitbit app does not count my run towards my daily step total did that run ever happen?  

These are the questions I ask myself whenever I forgo audiobooks or music on my morning treadmill run (waddle, stagger), choosing instead to use my iPhone to watch video.  The problem with watching video on the iPhone while running (slowly) is not the size of the iPhone screen, it is the need to keep the iPhone stationary.  An iPhone resting on the little treadmill shelf does not record steps on the iOS Fitbit app.  It is like the run never happened.  

This is ridiculous.  Right?  Who cares if my Fitbit iOS is capturing my steps.  I know I’m exercising.  Nobody else cares.  The measurement of my steps shouldn’t change how I use my iPhone.  But it does.  Every time I set my iPhone on the shelf while running I need to quiet the nagging voice that is telling me to pick the iPhone up.  Just hold the iPhone out in front of my face.  The best of both worlds  - watch the video and get the steps.  Craziness.

Will learning analytics change how we teach?  Will learning analytics change how we learn?

Maybe the changes brought on by learning analytics will be similar to the changes encouraged by owning a fitness app.  I run and walk more because of my Fitbit app (need to get those 15,000 steps daily), and maybe I’ll do more things to improve learning if my learning is measured.  Maybe I’ll spend more time interacting with simulations and interactive learning objects.  More time viewing class videos.  I’ll do more formative assessment questions.  And I’ll post more discussion threads and reply to more class blogs.  Maybe.

But maybe I’ll do less of the learning things that can’t be quantified and can’t be measured.  I’ll spend less time thinking.  Less time talking other learners.   Less time listening.   Less time journaling.   Less time making things with my hands. Maybe.

Or maybe learning analytics will encourage me to teach differently.  I’ll move more work to digital platforms that are amenable to tracking, measurement, and reporting.  I’ll privilege action over contemplation.  Content over creation.  Answers over inquiry.  Maybe. 

I read somewhere recently that we use our tools, and our tools use us.  That will be true of learning analytics, just as it seems to be true of fitness apps and smart phones and Google.  None of this is a reason not to explore and experiment with learning analytics.  But we should do so cautiously and critically, always aware of how the platforms both measure and shape our behaviors.

What place do you think learning analytics will have in the liberal arts?


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