Q&A with Learning Analytics alum Jay Winston

Following is a Q&A with Learning Analytics alumna, Jay Winston. Winston graduated in May 2023 with an MS in Educational Psychology: Learning Analytics, and is now working for the City of Madison. Read along to learn about Winston’s experience in the program and find out what she has been up to since.


Can you speak a bit about the travel scholarship you recently received, and the fellowship for the Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference?

The annual conference is through the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR). And that’s different from the Learning Analytics Summer Institute, which was in Singapore, and I did go to both of them this year.

The Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference I went to as a volunteer, and I was able to receive funding from UW–Madison’s Division of Diversity, Equity, and Educational Achievement (DDEEA) to attend as graduate professional development. And it was in this space that I served as a volunteer and really got to get entrenched in the SoLAR community to get connected with the leadership team and just really understand what takes place within a society.

So within the Learning Analytics program (at UW–Madison), a lot of our scholarly articles and research that we read came from SoLAR. It was just really cool to be in the space and to actually meet people, and I’m like, “Oh, wow, I actually read your article last semester.” I enjoyed myself so much, and they enjoyed having me.

From there I learned about the Learning Analytics Summer Institute. And they have a scholarship called the Erik Duval Scholarship, which allows them to honor researchers and students in the field of analytics who align with Erik’s values and philosophies. Through that, I was able to apply and was accepted and able to attend the institute in Singapore this year. They covered my travel, registration, and housing. It was pretty much a full package, which I’m very grateful for because the reality is that opportunity would not have been afforded to me without the support and the society’s commitment to equal opportunity.

Right away I saw the value being in the society and I was very vocal, and my actions were very aligned with the things that I was sharing as far as wanting to learn and grow in that space. The Singapore Summer Institute was workshop-based and hands-on. I was able to reconnect with people I had originally met at the Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference, so it was just super nice.

Some of the workshops and tutorials that I went to centered on analytics of self-regulated learning. So as a leadership and development specialist with the City of Madison I manage all the leadership and supervisor development programs, and when you work with adult learners that is a lot of self-regulated learning and self-directed learning that has to take place because you have to own the development journey for yourself. So it was very nice to be able to engage in some of the best practices around self-regulated learning, research around self-regulated learning, as well as different multi-modal data that people use to trace the self-regulated learning process and how that plays into different theoretical frameworks and how you can better support individuals along their learning journey.

Another workshop that I enjoyed was about fostering institutional adoption of learning analytics. I see learning analytics as a powerful tool to help corporate partners address some of their learning and development, skill development, and training-related issues as it pertains to telling the story of learning’s impact to the business and business outcomes.

Those two were a few of the highlights. I did a lot of learning, networking, taking my own pain points as a professional, and bringing it into the space and being able to lean on other people’s in their experiences and use them as thought partners, to kind of help me flesh out some things and and to be better equipped to come back and serve my organization through the work that I do.

What are you currently doing as a professional?

I currently serve as a leadership development specialist with the City of Madison. I’m in the human resources department, with the organizational development team. I manage all leadership and supervisory development programs. I facilitate and train. I work with our executive teams. I do executive team development, individual executive development, 360 reviews, coaching, and things of that nature. Most of what I do centers on enhancing leadership capabilities and ensuring that we’re setting our folks up for success. I also do a lot of research, embedding best practices into our programs, data analysis, evaluation of programs, and things of that sort. So I definitely utilize a lot of what I learned from the Learning Analytics program.

How did the Learning Analytics program help you get to where you are today? 

I was already kind of doing this work when I applied to the master’s program. I was working as a corporate trainer at Exact Sciences. So I was doing similar work — just not to the degree or at the scale in which I’m currently doing it.

The Learning Analytics program got me to where I want to be. Previously, I was doing a lot of training, orientation, workshopping, and those sorts of things for the entire organization. I still do some of that but now I have a direct focus on leadership, supervisors, managers, and executives. So that was ideally where I wanted to go when I enrolled in the master’s program.

And when I think about my future state, I plan to return to school and obtain my PhD in counseling psychology, because I want to go into executive coaching and vocational counseling. I love the psychology component and really understanding how people think and leveraging the mind to get through the inevitable ups and downs and still come out successful. There is a lot of one-on-one coaching and development that lives in that space — and learning analytics and those tools and techniques are really powerful and allow me to dive deeper into qualitative analysis, quant analysis, mixed methods, even some quantitative ethnography just to really understand what’s really happening in a particular domain. And based upon that information and insight, how can we use that to inform our path forward and improve the path that we’re on?

How did you get interested in this field of study and this kind of work? 

I was getting emails about this UW program. But you get so many emails, you just kind of bypass things. And a mutual friend of mine had posted information about the program on LinkedIn. But instead of talking about the program more generally, they were talking about the Committed Scholars program, which is a scholarship program that highlights and recognizes individuals whose work is dedicated to educational equity. So there’s definitely an equity lens and focus in this work. And it was through them posting about it, which had me like, “Okay.” So I’m learning more about the Committed Scholars program and came to find out the Committed Scholars program was tied to the very master’s program that I kept looking over in my email.

I love education. I’m truly fascinated with psychology. Now I’m learning about the psychology of education. And then we throw on the learning analytics track, which allows you to harness that data and then the analysis of the data to inform the teaching and learning process — everything was just kind of coming together at one time. And I finally said, “I think this is exactly what I need to be doing.” And it was a wonderful program to be a part of. It’s just been an absolutely beautiful opportunity to grow in my leadership. And to see so many wonderful people who come from all of these different backgrounds and are working in similar professions but in different ways. And to think about how this program brought us together. It was just really, really awesome.

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