Whose data is it anyway?

I’ve just caught up with the recent #etmooc webinar featuring Audrey Watters titled ‘who owns your education data?’. At the start of her talk Audrey said she wanted to plant some “thought bombs” for participants. I’m not sure this post is particularly explosive, but her talk has prompted me to try and share some thoughts which have been mulling around my brain for a while now.

Audrey’s talk centred around the personal data, and asked some very pertinent questions in relation to educational data; as well as the more general “data giveaway” we are all a part of when we all too quickly sign terms and conditions for various services. Like most people I’ve never actually read all the terms and conditions of anything I’ve signed up for online.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been increasingly thinking about data and analtyics (not just learning analytics) in education in general. And I keep coming back to the fundamental questions Audrey raises in the presentation around the who, what, why, where, when and how of data collection, access and (re)use. Audrey focuses on the issue from the individual point of view, and I won’t try and repeat her presentation, I would recommend you take half an hour to listen to it. One thought bomb that is ticking in my head is about data collection and use at the institutional level.

As more and more systems offer analytics packages, and in particular learning analytics solutions, are we sure that at an institutional we can get the data from the systems, when we want it and in a format we want it and not just be given data reports/and or dashboards? At these relatively early stages for learning analtyics, are institutions in danger of unwittingly giving away their data to companies who have solutions which suit today’s needs without thinking about future requirements for access to/and use of data? There is a recognised skills shortage of data scientists (not just in education) so at the moment it is often easier to buy an off the shelf solution. As we all become more data aware and (hopefully) data literate, our demands for access to data and our abilities to do something useful with it should develop too.

This is an issue John Campbell (Purdue University) raised at his presentation at the Surfnet Conference last November. We had several conversations about the potential for turning some of the terms and conditions for data on its head by having having some (community created and shared) clause which system vendors would have to agree to. Something along the lines of “if we use your tool, we have the right to right to request all data being collected for return to the institution on a timely basis in a format of our choice”. I can see a clause like that being useful at at personal level too.

Wherever we sit we need to continually use the fundamental questions around who, what, why, where, when and how of our data collection systems, policies and strategies to negotiate appropriate access.

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