Academics call for guidelines on use of online learners’ data

Delegates at California convention produce framework on use of personal information

June 29, 2014

Guidelines to ensure the ethical use of data gathered from online learners need to be developed, to prevent the misuse of personal information, a group of academics has said.

Delegates at the Asilomar Convention for Learning Research in Higher Education, which took place in California earlier this month, have produced a framework to promote the appropriate use of both learners’ personal information, and any research based on their activity.

The document states that six principles should inform the collection, storage, distribution and analysis of information gathered from people who engage with online learning resources such as massive open online courses.

These include having respect for the rights and dignity of learners and ensuring that digital technologies never erode the relationships that make learning “a humane enterprise”.

“Virtually all modern societies have strong traditions for protecting individuals in their interactions with large organizations, especially for purposes of scientific research, yet digital media present problems for the inheritors of those traditions,” the document says.

Jeff Haywood, chief information officer at the University of Edinburgh, who spearheaded the institution’s early adoption of Moocs, was one of the delegates who helped produce the document.

“It is very clear that there is a rising interest in the power of digital data about learners and their learning – it’s [a] worldwide [trend] and has been given a new impetus by Moocs with their very large datasets,” he told Times Higher Education.

“The desire to use such data is laudable, however the ability to link a learner’s behaviour online to a real life identity – either directly because they have given it to you or indirectly by mashing up one dataset with others – carries high risk for the learner if those data are lost, stolen or misused.”

chris.parr@tsleducation.com

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