Advancing Equity and Access to Higher Education through Open and Distance Learning (ODL), known as BUKA, is a research project funded under the European Union’s programme, Erasmus+, in January 2020. The BUKA pilot project at the Open University Malaysia (OUM) is focused on promoting equity and access to higher education through inclusive instructional design and learning analytics in ODL. The research team at OUM consist of four researchers at two administrators. The project is also supported by four dedicated staff from the university’s Group Information and Communication Technology Services (GICTS) and ten staff (creative team members).
OUM’s management has been very supportive and allocated two rooms at Menara OUM in Kelana Jaya for setting up the Analytics Laboratory and the server room. The management also provided a seeding fund of RM50,000.00 at the project’s onset. The laboratory has been successfully furbished with the hardware based on the advice and assistance from the ICT team for the hardware (which consists of a server and workstations.) A humidifier is also added to the list using the seeding fund. The server and the humidifier were placed in the server room, while the workstations were placed in the Analytics Lab. The server and the workstations were delivered to OUM in August and December 2021, respectively, after almost one (1) year delay mainly caused by the pandemic. The hardware system was installed and configured by the GICTS team after verifying everything was in good working condition and as per the requirement.
The HP Proliant DL380 (Intel Xeon Gold 6244 8C 150W 3.6 GHz Processor) server and three HP Z2 SFF G5 Workstation units (with ThinkVision 23.8″ E24-20 IPS monitors) were programmed to store and integrate various forms of data related to more than 100,000 OUM learners to enable big data study eventually. A small part of these data will be used to integrate with the learning analytics data associated with the use of learning objects created by the participants for a meaningful depiction of the learner’s behavior. The workstations are designed to support: (i) predictive analytics (and later infographics); (ii) programming to enable testing of a learning environment that is supported by machine learning; (iii) compilation and evaluation of developing creative content (user experience).
The team had to contemplate and revise the second part of its procurement plan. The purchase of the intended Azure machine learning was aborted due to the cost uncertainty based on the data size used. Instead, the researchers engaged in capacity building for designing machine learning algorithms using Python (zero procurement cost). This opens up a window to support the project’s shift towards developing creative content / open educational resources. The project team is in the midst of purchasing design software to support the university’s academic staff (participants) in content creation. Analytics software purchase to support learning analytics is also in progress. Meanwhile, the development of learning materials to keep the focus group sessions in phase 1 has been in progress and will be completed in 2022.