- Open Access
iSAT: a visual learning analytics tool for instructors
© The Author(s) 2016
- Received: 15 January 2016
- Accepted: 9 August 2016
- Published: 1 September 2016
Interactive Stratified Attribute Tracking (iSAT) is a visual analytics tool for cohort analysis. In this paper, we show how instructors can use iSAT to visualize transitions of groups of students during teaching-learning activities. Interactive visual analytics gives the instructor the affordance of understanding the dynamics of the class of students and their activities from the data collected in their own teaching-learning context. We take an example of a peer instruction (PI) activity and describe how iSAT can be used to analyze its clicker responses. During PI, typically instructors only use histograms to visualize the distribution of clicker responses in the pre- and post-discussion phases. We show that the use of iSAT to analyze clicker data in real time to trace transitions of participants’ responses during various voting phases can support them in planning for their post-PI activities. Seven patterns of transitions that emerge are aligned, returns, starburst, slide, attractor, switching, and void. We interpret them in the context of the example. Such transition patterns are neither available in multiple histograms of individual voting phase nor generated in real time to be visualized as a flow diagram. We had conducted two workshops to introduce iSAT to the instructors and demonstrated the workflow of using iSAT with their dataset. Here, we report usefulness and usability data collected from those workshops. In conclusion, we highlight the power of iSAT for instructors to do cohort analysis in their teaching-learning practice.
- Active learning
- Peer instruction
- Learning analytics
- Cohort analysis
- Visual analytics
- Teacher training
Technology-enabled active learning practices are transforming both in-class and online teaching-learning scenarios. Many of these active learning strategies can benefit from the availability of logged data. Learning analytics on the data logged during such activities can further help instructors to gain insights and reflect on their practice (Duval, 2011).
Similarly, users can consider any data attribute collected across a period of time and define cohorts based on stratification criteria on attribute values. iSAT helps to analyze their temporal trends. They can also analyze transitions across attributes, for example, performance and perception, and probe queries like what proportion of high achievers perceive a certain classroom activity as engaging. Such transition patterns remain implicit in the data when stored in a table. Across two attributes, a contingency matrix can capture the transition patterns. But if one needs to track more than two attributes, it becomes difficult to retrieve from a table. iSAT addresses this gap by letting the users to simply upload their dataset, while the tool computes the proportions of the underlying cohorts and visualizes them. This visualization adds value by explicating the transition patterns and highlighting it to visual perception rather than a table matching operation. Further, the tool affords interactive exploration of the transition patterns to find proportions of cohorts in the dataset.
To report patterns in the dataset and get insights in their research context, researchers have previously used the iSAT tool and its analysis method. In this paper, we focus on the instructors and how iSAT can help them to understand the dynamics of their teaching-learning environment and assist in instructional decision-making. In the next section, we introduce a working example of peer instruction (PI), another active learning context, and elaborate how tracing transitions of students’ response through iSAT can help instructors take instructional decisions in that context. We then describe the workflow of how any instructors can use iSAT with their dataset. We report a study of usefulness and usability results of iSAT, done as a part of two introductory workshops on iSAT for instructors. At the end, we summarize the work done and its limitation and indicate future directions of iSAT research and development.
Smith et al. (2009) further extended the classic versions of PI for an undergraduate genetics course and added an isomorphic question (Q2) as a third phase of voting (see Fig. 2). An isomorphic question is on the similar concept as Q1 but has minor variations. Later, Porter et al. (2011) investigated the effectiveness of PI with isomorphic questions in the domain of computer science (CS) education.
A reconstructed response dataset of a PI activity
Limitations of multiple histograms
The response data captured across multiple student voting activities contain details, but its granularity is lost if we consider only aggregate level count and plot it as a histogram for each phase. Such aggregation may limit the understanding of classroom trends by the instructor. Importantly, separate histograms do not convey the pattern of change of students’ response across different activities. The instructors do not know how many students are actually improving after the intervention. It does not highlight portion of the cohort that re-votes an incorrect option or changes from a correct answer to an incorrect one. There is possibility of transition from one wrong option to another one during re-voting. Such cohorts are also missed in the aggregate-level view of the class. For example, from Fig. 4, the instructor does not get to know what proportion of the 21 % of students who voted option 3 are present in the 73 % cohort in the next phase.
Researchers initially were interested to analyze only aggregate-level learning gain during such activities (Hake, 1998). Later, others (Smith et al. 2009; Porter et al. 2011) analyzed transitions of accuracy across attempts by using flowcharts. It is to be noted that the transitions among alternate conceptions, as reflected by responses across the two attempts, are not highlighted. It is interesting to observe those transitions (Wittmann and Black 2014) as they help to decide post-discussion activities (Majumdar and Iyer 2015). To the best of our knowledge, there are no tools available that can assist instructors in tracking the transitions of responses and analyzing patterns in real time. Our earlier paper (Majumdar and Iyer 2015) reported details of various alternatives that researchers had used to analyze PI responses, their limitations with respect to visual analytics, and the advantages of using iSAT. Here, we take the PI context as a working example of instructor’s use of iSAT.
In subsequent sub-sections, we illustrate the detail visual structure of iSAT visualization and the transition patterns it explicates.
Structure of iSAT visualization
Each phase of iSAT is visualized as a column (see element A in Fig. 5). Each stratum in a phase is represented as a colored bar on the right edge of the column. The height of the bar encodes the proportion of the corresponding stratum in that phase (see element C in Fig. 5). The stacked bars on the left of the column represent the proportion of the stratum that is migrating from the previous phase. For a given stratum, each bar on the left has the representative color of the stratum of the previous phase and height proportional to the number of records that is migrating to the current stratum (see element E in Fig. 5).
Each stratum represents a cohort based on the attribute value in a phase. The links also represent cohorts based on specific transition paths across the phases. For example, the orange upward link (element D in Fig. 5) is the transiting cohort that is incorrect at the first phase and then becomes correct. iSAT helps to visually represent both of these cohorts. The click interaction on both the strata and links provide the corresponding proportion values to the user. This affords the user to interactively explore transition and its proportions.
Overview of PI dataset visualization
The Overview mode provides an overview of the transitions. For example, in Fig. 7, the top block in the second column conveys that 73 % of the students voted option 1 during the re-voting phase. It is seen that the right wall is proportional to 73 % of the full column. The left wall of that block gives distribution of those 73 % cohort with respect to the previous phase. The links (band) on the left and right visualize the cohort that is transiting between any strata of two consecutive phases. The width of the band is proportional to the transitional ratio with respect to the whole population size.
Exploration of PI dataset transitions
To explore details of proportions, the users can click/tap on either boxes corresponding to the stratum or links corresponding to a specific transition. It helps users to select the cohort whose details need to be explicated. When the cohort corresponds to a specific category in a phase, then there is a transformation of the diagram and in each phase, the distribution of the corresponding cohort is visualized. For example, in Fig. 9a, when the users click on the correct category of response in Q1ad (option 1), they get the details of that 73 % cohort, in which strata and what proportion do they belong in Q1, and their response distribution in Q2. So instructors are informed that 59 % of the people who are correct after re-voting were initially correct and 73 % of them answered the Q2 correctly.
When the user clicks on the band representing a transition cohort, the diagram highlights the migration pattern for that cohort of students across the phases. For example, in Fig. 9b, iSAT visualizes and tracks the cohort that was correct in Q1 and Q1ad. Forty-three percent of the population belongs in this cohort. It compromises 86 % of the correct response group during individual voting and 43 % of the correct response during re-voting. Further, it conveys that 77 % of that cohort answers Q2 correctly and in the 23 % of the incorrect responses, 19 %’s answer is option 3.
Based on the transitions that iSAT visualizes, there can be patterns that aggregate transitions of a certain category which can then help interpret the context in which the data is collected. The iSAT tool interactively assists in tracing such patterns across phases and visually representing them.
Transition patterns in PI dataset and how instructors can interpret them
iSAT explicates the rich transition patterns in the three-phase isomorphic PI activity response. The structure of the visualization gives the instructor an overview of the pattern, and the interactive tool then allows them to explore further details about those transitions. We explored all the 64 possible transition patterns across three voting phases each having four options. Out of them, we defined seven categories of specific transition patterns, which can be interpreted by the instructor who is conducting the PI activity. It also signifies cohorts of interest. Some of the patterns of interest were adopted from the consistency plot analysis done in the context of physics education research to analyze pre-post student responses (Wittmann and Black 2014).
A portion of the cohort that transits from a desirable stratum in the pre-phase to a less favorable stratum in the post-phase generates a slide pattern. In the PI case, the transition from a correct answer to an incorrect answer across two phases of voting generates a slide. Since slide from the correct to incorrect is undesirable, the instructor can create specific activities that address the misconception that may be causing the slide. Figure 11b highlights the cohort that slides from a correct answer to an incorrect response across voting phases in our example. Seven percent of the students slide after individual voting, and 20 % slide during Q2.
A portion of the cohort that migrates into a particular stratum in a post-phase from other strata in the pre-phase generates an attractor pattern. Considering the answer option 3, the attractor pattern would highlight the cohort that has transitioned from other strata in the pre-phase to the one of option 3 in the post-phase. For only one desired stratum, tracing the attraction pattern corresponding to option 1, we shall get the same plot as starburst. The instructor can compare attractor patterns of the incorrect response options and can correspondingly decide which alternate conception can be addressed in the post-PI discussion.
When no transitions take place between any two strata, they form the void pattern. For example, there is no cohort that migrates from a correct answer to choose the incorrect option 2 during re-voting (see Fig. 12b). Similarly, none of the students change from option 2 to 3. Void transitions between a correct to incorrect response are desirable. If there is void in an incorrect category, then it indicates that such alternate conceptions no longer exist after the intervention. In our regenerated dataset, proportion of option 2 as response in Q1ad decreases with respect to proportion in response to Q1. In response to Q2, none of the learners choose that. Linking this to alternate conception, the pattern highlights the possibility that the PI activity helped in conceptual understanding of the student to eliminate the specific wrong approach in option 2 totally over the isomorphic question activities.
Patterns of transitions in iSAT
Cohort that remains in the same stratum across phases
Cohort that transits from a particular stratum in a pre-phase to other more desirable strata in the post-phase
Cohort that transits from a desirable stratum in the pre-phase to a less favorable stratum in the post-phase
Cohort that is in an initial stratum in first phase but transits to a different category in the second phase and later returns back to the original stratum
Pair of cohort that represent a switch between initial categories across consecutive phases
Cohort that migrates into a particular stratum in a post-phase from other strata in the pre-phase
When no transitions take place between any two strata
Technology enables gathering of data towards informed teaching-learning practices (Vickrey et al. 2015). Often, learning dashboards visualize and make data accessible for various stakeholders in education. In a review study analyzing 24 dashboards, Verbert et al. (2014) suggest that there are three contexts in which these dashboards are utilized. These contexts are traditional face-to-face lectures, group work or classroom orchestration, and blended and online learning. Typically, data analyzed are artifacts produced by learners, social interactions among them, resources used, time spent, and various assessment results. But 23 out of the 24 dashboards essentially process data from captive logs of the application that they are associated with and do not allow users to upload, visualize, or interact with their own dataset independently. iSAT allows users to upload their own dataset locally on their own browser and analyze transition patterns across their attributes to gain insights.
We described the intricate patterns that emerge if we visualize the clicker responses of the example PI activity with isomorphic question. Face-to-face instructors can use iSAT to analyze interesting transitions in students’ attribute values during a classroom activity or across their course. For example, apart from performance patterns across a period, they can analyze temporal variation in students’ quantified motivation, engagement, etc. It can draw their attention to whether the consistently low performers are above the concerned threshold proportion in the class. Thus, iSAT can help visualize and analyze patterns of temporal variation of the same attribute.
iSAT can also visualize transitions across attributes like performance and perception. Stratifying performance level for instance as high, medium, and low and perception as agree, neutral, and disagree, iSAT can then help to highlight patterns like what percentage of high performers agree to a certain perception in a given student survey. Based on such transition patterns, the instructor can estimate effectiveness of their instructions.
Similarly, instructors who are using online medium can analyze different data that is logged in their system. Instructors can possibly find interesting patterns while visualizing transitions between resource use and active engagement or performance. The combination of the attributes chosen to trace the transitions can help the instructor with specific instructional decision-making. Note that there are cases, for example, visualizing transitions between perception and performance, one should not interpret causality from this visualization. In the next section, we explain the workflow of deciding the phases and strata of iSAT from a given dataset that instructor wants to visualize and interactively analyze.
How can instructors use iSAT
Earlier research use of iSAT
In earlier works, mainly researchers used the SAT diagram to trace transitions in dataset. One study defined a model of engagement during different phases of Think-Pair-Share (TPS), an active learning strategy, using the SAT diagram (Kothiyal et al. 2013). The diagram also traced transition in pre-test and post-test performances in the two-group study that evaluated effectiveness of TPS in a large undergraduate CS101 course (Fig. 1 visualizes the transition pattern for the experimental group. It is used as an example in this paper) (Kothiyal et al. 2014). Other research studies used iSAT visualization to trace transition patterns across multiple attributes of learners. Mishra and Iyer (2013) traced students’ performance across paper tests and problem posing activity. Warriem et al. (2013) tracked online learners’ performance in participation for completing and submission of assessment. Majumdar and Iyer (2014) studied consistency of survey responses across different questions asked to understand student’s perception, using iSAT. Readers who are interested in details of evolution of iSAT across its design iteration can refer to Majumdar et al. (2014).
We conducted two hands-on workshops to introduce the iSAT tool to the instructors’ community. In this section, we discuss the context of the workshop and then report a study done as a part of it. We could validate the steps developed to visualize transitions and its method of analyzing educational dataset. The preliminary study indicated that instructors, who were participants in those workshops, perceived the tool was an acceptable system relevant to their job.
iSAT training workshops
Out of the two workshops, the first one was a part of the Mentoring Educators in Educational Technology (MEET) 2015 workshop (Warriem, 2015). The second opportunity was at IEEE Technology for Education (T4E) conference, where it was accepted as a workshop (Majumdar and Warriem 2015). During T4E, the same training session was repeated twice to accommodate willing participants. All the sessions were 1.5 h in duration.
The overall objective of both the workshops was to introduce iSAT as a tool for analyzing the data that instructors deal with in their classroom activities. It was in alignment with the MEET workshop objective to facilitate engineering college instructors to reflect on their instructional practices by conducting classroom action research. The iSAT session there focused on analyzing cohorts in the classroom. During T4E, the objective was to introduce iSAT as a visual learning analytics tool to trace educational dataset.
The first training session during the MEET workshop had 14 participants. Eleven of them were in-service engineering college instructors with minimum of 2 years of teaching experience. They were from Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering departments. Among the participants, two had a PhD degree, three were pursuing part-time doctoral program in their respective domains, and three were Masters students of Computer Science.
The training workshop during T4E had a total of 42 participants. In a pre-workshop demographics survey, 28 of them said they were college-level instructors.
The workshop introduced iSAT with examples using data collected in the context of several/various active learning interventions. Peer instruction (PI) was selected as one such context, and patterns in user response transitions during PI were used to demonstrate iSAT. Then, limitations of multiple histograms and usefulness of iSAT were highlighted through series of questioning activities given to the participants. Then, the participants used the iSAT tool with sample data from prior study (Kothiyal et al. 2014). It consisted of pre-test and post-test performance data of two groups of learners. One group participated in a TPS activity versus others had regular lecture-based instruction in a CS101 course.
Example of participant tasks
Levels of task and their examples
Levels of task
Identify characteristics of the phase
What percentage of students from the control group performed low in the post-test?
What is the ratio of low performers to high performers for the post-test in the experimental group?
Identify characteristics of the transitions
How many low-scorers in the pre-test within the control group improved to high scores in the post-test?
Is this statement about the experimental group true: “More than half of the high scorers in the pre-test scored high even at the end of the post-test”?
Identify patterns in the transitions
What is the percentage of learners showing the same level of performance in the pre-post-tests within the control group?
Find the ratio of the number of learners whose performance improved to those whose performance deteriorate across the pre- and post-tests within the experimental group.
Compare two SAT diagrams
What is the ratio between transitions from low-high in the control group to the same in the experimental group?
Compare and contrast effects of TPS on high achievers in the control and experimental groups.
Preliminary usability and usefulness study with instructors
We carried out a research study to evaluate the usefulness and usability of iSAT. Our research questions, methodology, and analysis technique are discussed in this section.
The workshop introduced a method of cohort analysis with educational data that instructors collect in their teaching-learning environment. The iSAT tool has multiple functionalities, which assists the user from uploading their dataset to exploring transition patterns interactively. Hence, we wanted to separately study the usefulness and the usability of the tool.
Our first research question (RQ1) is as follows: How useful is iSAT as perceived by the instructors? We studied the usefulness of the tool with respect to the intention of using the tool by the workshop participants, its perceived usefulness after the introductory session, and the relevance of such analysis in their job.
Our second RQ2 is as follows: How usable is iSAT as perceived by the instructors? Given the multiple functionality of the tool, we studied how useful was the tool for the workshop participants.
Instruments for data collection
We have used survey questionnaires as the instrument to evaluate the usefulness and usability of iSAT. To answer RQ1, we had chosen constructs from the Technology Acceptability Model 2 (TAM2) (Venkatesh & Davis, 2000) and adopted eight items related to the intention to use (Q1 & 2), perceived usefulness (Q3–Q6), and job relevance (Q7–Q8). For RQ2, we have used SUS (Brooke, 1996) as our instrument. With each SUS item, we had requested to elaborate the reason for their response. We also received verbal feedback from certain participants after the workshop that expressed how iSAT was useful in their own context.
The participants of the two workshops together are considered as the sample of the study. There were a total of 56 participants, who entered the demographics data. Among them, we received 30 SUS responses and 12 responses for the usefulness survey.
The TAM2 items had 7-point Likert’s scale response, and the SUS survey asked 5-point Likert’s response. To answer RQ1, Likert’s scale data was aggregated in three groups, viz agree (combining responses 5 to 7), neutral (response 4), and disagree (combining responses 1 to 3). We further analyzed the transitions of response from one group to another across the survey items by using iSAT. This helped to explicate patterns across the three constructs chosen from the TAM2 survey. For RQ2, we considered the total SUS score and evaluated its usability with respect to empirical results of SUS score (Bangor et al. 2008). We examined the reason that participants gave corresponding to their response to each items to find the major perceived reason.
Results and interpretations
Analyzing the transitions in survey response through iSAT, we further found three responses (25 %) were consistently agreeing across all the three constructs. Within the construct of intention of use, there were two items. Seven responses (58 % of total and 87.5 % of the responses which agreed in individual items) agreed in both the items, and two responses (16 %) switched options across these two items, one from being neutral to agreeing and the other vice versa. Three (25 %) were neutral for both the items. None of the responses disagreed about the intention of use. This established that participants intended to use iSAT. Only one response consistently disagreed to the perceived usefulness and job relevance of iSAT, though it also presented intention to use. Though the survey used validated instruments to elicit participants’ response, it has certain limitations. The survey was taken immediately after introducing iSAT in a 1.5-h workshop session. That might have an overwhelming effect, which resulted higher agreement in intention to use. Similarly, higher percentage of neutral response in the job relevance construct is because the participants wanted to explore the iSAT tool further before estimating the relevance.
The mean SUS score was 71.58 (s.d. 18.02, n = 30). The score reflects that iSAT is an acceptable system. The reasons noted by some users corresponding to each item in the SUS survey confirmed why iSAT was perceived usable and highlighted some of the issues that the user faced. The participants mentioned “the tool (iSAT) can be used for other type of analysis than Statistical analysis,” “its easy to understand the GUI,” “no need of an expert to learn to use the tool, because as you start exploring the tool, the transformation in the pattern itself gives an idea of the cohort,” “could use the functions efficiently which gave clear results,” and “results seems fairly correct.” Other feedback were “without using for couple of times we cannot answer it (whether cumbersome to use),” “practice will make it user friendly,” “(cumbersome to use) may depend on how many parameters,” “(I felt confident) because it is shown how to use,” “few things which anyone can get through,” and “It is not complex, but without a guide it might be little difficult to figure out certain functions.” All of these feedback statements gave us inputs on what is required to emphasize for the next set of workshops and possible modifications in the iSAT tool itself to support them more regarding organizing the data.
Usage of iSAT by workshop participants
There were two instances where workshop participants used iSAT after attending the session and reported findings in international conferences, though this usage does not intend for real-time instructional decision-making. But both the instructors mentioned that analyzing their data with iSAT helped them to investigate and demonstrate the dynamics of their class.
One participant from the MEET workshop later collaborated with her colleague and conducted a project-based learning (PBL) activity in an automobile engineering course across a semester, in her college. They investigated the transition of students’ performance while they participated in the PBL activity. The instructors designed assessments of higher order thinking skills (HOTs) and lower order thinking skills (LOTs). The phases for iSAT were the different assessment topics in LOTs (recall and apply) and HOTs (analyze, evaluate, and create). They defined high-medium-low performance level and traced the transition patterns of students across the assessments, separately for the two levels of thinking skills. Further, cumulating the score for LOTs and HOTs, they could analyze transitions between the two levels of thinking skills. Mistry et al. (2016) reported their findings in Learning and Teaching in Computing and Engineering (LaTiCE 2016).
Another participant who attended the T4E workshop used the tool the very next day to present her data during the paper session. Later, we had corresponded with her on mail to gather details of how she utilized iSAT. To quote her, “I have used the tool for analyzing the POGIL INDIA data that I have collected from my class rooms. … this tool (iSAT) made a way for me to show my data in a proper form.”
Earlier studies on iSAT have demonstrated its development process over three research-based design iterations (Majumdar et al. 2014) and its potential to be used for learning analytics (Majumdar and Iyer 2014). In this paper, we describe the utility of iSAT for instructors. Our iSAT tool enables an instructor to explicate transition patterns across attributes in their dataset at an appropriate level of granularity and explore them interactively in real time. To illustrate with an example context, we choose an extended version of PI that has an isomorphic second question. The transitions observed were across the voted options in the three phases of voting (Q1, Q1ad, Q2). Well-designed PI questions link alternate conceptions to the wrong options. iSAT can then help the instructors to visualize such transitions of the alternate conceptions as evident from their students’ response data. We identified seven possible patterns that are relevant to analyze the three-phase example activity. Given different contexts, those patterns can be interpreted accordingly. Identifying the cohorts from the transitions and its patterns can assist the instructor to estimate the trend and take informed decisions.
The workflow of using iSAT with dataset (see Fig. 14) gives a step-by-step procedure to determine what are the phases and corresponding strata that can be visualized. Depending on the specific attributes that the instructor wants to visualize, one can get informed about temporal trends (e.g., variation of performance across assessments), trends across different attributes (e.g., transitions across performance and perceptions), or even a mixed analysis (e.g., transitions across the performance across pre-post-tests and perception data).
The iSAT introductory workshops for the instructors helped us to gather their perception regarding the usefulness and the usability of iSAT. While the MEET participants agreed iSAT was an interesting tool to adopt in one’s teaching-learning environment, they also emphasized that more exposure to the tool and its context is required before they could integrate in their practice. Based on their feedback, we added an active example of PI during the T4E workshop. The participants had to respond to the PI questions in phases. Then, their collected response dataset itself was used to demonstrate the iSAT tool. This helped in having a current context, which assisted them in interpreting the transition patterns. Also, the four levels of queries given in the worksheet were structured during the second offering. The survey results indicate the usefulness and usability aspect of the iSAT tool as perceived by the participating classroom instructors.
We are still improving iSAT based on the feedback received from the workshop participants. We plan to extend the interactive visualization for more than three phases. But we have seen that the transition patterns often become complex and difficult to analyze. Hence, we are working to add a pre-module to assist the users to decide the required phases and strata based on the attributes of their dataset. A set of guided questions would be presented to the users, at the end of answering which they can decide what are the transitions they want to trace. We believe having clarity of what transitions the users want to trace would also help them to interpret those transitions in the context of the data collected. Then, choosing appropriate three phases for analysis can also give insights to the context. Though the participants’ perception survey indicates the preliminary usefulness and usability, once instructors adopt and utilize iSAT for in-class instructional decision-making, further user study can be conducted to investigate the mechanism of how iSAT actually assists them. We are currently examining utility of iSAT to analyze data gathered from a MOOC setting. Having MOOC participants’ data regarding their engagement, performance and perception, iSAT can highlight the patterns of transition across these attributes. It shall help the various stakeholders of MOOC to understand the dynamics of the cohorts in the offered course. MOOC instructors can possibly decide specific intervention for certain cohorts and further compare patterns across offerings of the same course to determine its effectiveness.
RM carried out the development and research of iSAT under the guidence of SI. RM drafted the manuscript, SI checked it and after review both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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