Many researchers and educational research institutions have recognised an ethical dimension in terms of personal privacy within the practice of learning analytics (LA). Examples are Avella, et al., (2016), Pardo & Siemens, (2014), McNeil, et al., 201, Slade & Prinsloo, (2013), Cardinali, et al., (2015), and Kay, et al., (2012). In 2015, JISC released a Code of Practice for learning analytics, drawing on data protection legislation, emphasising the need for educational institutions to “ensure that learning analytics is carried out responsibly, appropriately and effectively, addressing the key legal, ethical and logistical issues which are likely to arise” (JISC, 2015). These, along with the upcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation, requires LA practitioners to take stock.
It is of interest then to evaluate what concern is given to issues of personal data privacy and related ethical aspects in existing published academic literature involving learning analytics.
The author systematically searched for publications from academic peer-reviewed journals using the search term “learning analytics”. Appropriate inclusion / exclusion criteria were applied.
In total, 52 articles were deemed suitable. They ranged from the years 2012 to 2016 inclusive. Each article was perused with the view to identifying what (if anything) was said about participant ethics and privacy.
39 articles did not mention the ethical process undertaken with respondents, or privacy of their data. That is, three-quarters did not deem privacy important enough to discuss in their methodology. While this is not to suggest that ethical considerations were not taken, it is a surprisingly high proportion.
The remaining 13 varied in their coverage. At the lowest level were those who merely mentioned privacy as being important but didn’t actually say what they did. The most impressive, Dyckhoff, et al., (2012) drew on data protection law and recognised that research involves a trade-off of “data privacy” versus “pedagogical useful indicators".
Ultimately, personal data is becoming the life force of any aspect of education that moves online. There is a large-scale task involved in ensuring that we as educators are sufficiently responsive to and cognisant of student rights to data privacy.