My Data or Data Mining?

By Associate Professor Will Thomas, Suffolk Business School 

We’ve all experienced the wonders of data-driven marketing campaigns. Search for a new mobile phone on one site and you will see a stream of targeted advertisements promoting special offers and the latest handsets as you continue to browse. These can be useful – I often get interrupted in the middle of searching and find an advert reminds me what I was doing earlier, or I see a good offer on a product I know that I want to buy. Equally, they can be annoying – continuing to appear even after you’ve made your purchase or starting to feel like you are being pestered or hounded into a purchasing decision.


Recently though, we’ve heard about other uses of our online data – how companies might use it to profile us, to make predictions about how we might act, not just in terms of which trainers we might buy, but also about how we intend to vote or what issues are most important to us. Stories such as those about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook or about the use of data by the Gold Coast council highlight the importance of the personal information we keep online. In a world where our data is increasingly ‘out there’ and searchable many questions are raised about how companies should behave.

For marketing professionals, these questions are an ever-present part of their day-to-day practice. As they act to advise clients on the creation of marketing campaigns these questions about the appropriate use of data come up regularly. Those starting a career in marketing need more and more knowledge about where data comes from and the ways in which data can be used in creating personalised content. This is one of the reasons that the new BA (Hons) Marketing course at the University of Suffolk contains modules that will develop skills in data manipulation and the creation of online content as well as those that discuss marketing theory and practice – and we also discuss Business Ethics! We understand that the marketing world isn’t about understanding ‘digital’ but it’s about understanding data – and this course will ensure that our graduates are ready for a career that will be dominated by data.


Enhancing our uses of TEL at the University of Suffolk

On the 14 December, the University of Suffolk welcomed over 100 delegates to the Waterfront Building in Ipswich to take part in the Learning and Teaching day on Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL). We were especially excited by our keynote speakers: Professor Gráinne Conole, Independent e-learning Consultant, and Dr Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor in Information and Computer Technology at Plymouth University. The Higher Education Academy also facilitated a fantastic twitter chat: #UOSLandTDay2016.

Dr Suzanne Nolan was showing a poster presentation on ‘Designing a VLE for Retention and Engagement’, offering some practical tips for colleagues on creating an interesting and interactive VLE.


Do not reproduce without permission from Dr S Nolan


Do not reproduce without permission from Dr S Nolan

Technology Enhanced Learning in HE

Dr Suzanne Nolan recently presented at Abertay University’s ‘Seeing Learning Differently’ TEL conference in Dundee. It was a great opportunity to find out about some of the initiatives being developed at Abertay and other institutions and speak to HE professionals across the sector about the challenges we face.

Suzanne presented on designing a Virtual Learning Environment- VLE – for attainment and engagement, and offered some practical embedding second party applications into the VLE to ensure students don’t ‘click away’ and help minimise distraction. Designing a VLE to reflect the learning outcomes of a course and provide accessible and flexible learning can be difficult, and very often lather can become static and dull. Using the HTML functionality (without having to know anything about coding) can be an interesting way of including more interactive teaching styles in what is a virtual environment.


Throughout the day, it became clear that, as HE professionals, we need to think more carefully about the transformation of our teaching practices, rather than simply translating our current methods for a digital environment.

Kerr Gardiner, Head of Learning Technology and Media Production at the University of Glasgow, gave some eye-opening statistics:

Despite social media, smart phones, and the technology driven world we live in, only 50-60% of students are comfortable using technology in their academic studies

Simply translating our current learning and teaching methods for digital technologies are not going to help students develop the kind of academic digital literacy’s that we are coming to expect. Replicating what we have always done, but for a new medium, is not enough. We need to create a digital landscapes for learning on a course and institutional level; create authentic assessments; design courses in and for the digital environment.

Dr Kenny McAlpine wrote an excellent blog post summarising the issues from the conference, ‘Why do we still struggle with technology in teaching?

She concluded, as we all did, that there is no ‘quick fix’, and that – just as important – we need to change the culture of the organisations in which we work in order to keep ourselves up-to-date and relevant. Kerr Gardiner talked about the need for change management as part of this process – perhaps we should be looking to our Business School’s for support in embedding progress of this kind at an institutional level?

Dr Suzanne Nolan is the Lecturer in Employment Development at the Suffolk Business School, helping to develop student and graduate employability. She also works as a consultant on digital marketing.