Student data - Who has access to it?

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

(Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

How are educational technology companies seeking to personalise learning for students? What research do they draw on? Who has access to and controls the data that is generated when students use apps at school? How are the skill requirements for work likely to change by the year 2030?

This week we've been spending our evenings reading and thinking about global education systems and practices, how work is changing and what the future of learning might look like. We always seek to be curious about how exponential technologies and disruptive innovation are transforming how we work, what new skills and competencies will be essential to thrive, and what this means for how we organise and facilitate learning. This week's focus is:

1. One example of the type of educational research that educational app developers draw on when developing their products.

2. What happens to the data that's generated when students use technology and apps at school, and why tracking who has access to it is not a straightforward process.

3. Why the magnitude of the coming change in the workforce is unlike anything we've ever seen before, and why social and emotional skills will be so important.

We start by sharing one example of the development of personalised learning through the use of technology. Some argue that personalised learning through tech. (that responds to and provides for diverse student needs) is an essential next step for scaling quality learning, while others suggest that while useful, it may not be a panacea. As we've seen in recent posts, any development in learning through educational technology also requires the infrastructure to support it, such as quality professional development, staff to lead implementation, tech. support, appropriate devices and high speed internet.

Yet the search continues, and this tool developed by Learner Positioning Systems (LPS - provides us with a glimpse of how app developers are catering to learner variability by translating learning sciences research into models for designing products and practices that meet the needs of diverse learners. It's open-source, free, and has a strong team behind it. Have a look at the video.

Gathering student data and using it to inform decision-making about learning, resourcing and educational policy is already well established, with the amount of data gathered likely to not only continue but expand massively. We have posted previously about wearable tech. that tracks student attention spans, learning apps that follow and share learning, and schools in China have started using facial recognition technology - all generate huge amounts of data. So who is actually responsible for storing and protecting it?

This is a timely article from Saro Mohammed, Ph.D., who argues that stewardship of data is paramount, especially as data can and is stored by multiple groups, for example schools, technology developers and governments. Each group can have different criteria regarding the safe storage and use of data, which can be problematic as seen in the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Saro Mohammed argues that while laws and ethical guidelines regarding use of data do exist, enforcement can be inconsistent, and we would not be wise to rely on these alone to protect student data. Instead, she argues for a community-minded approach, in which all stakeholders from parents and principals to policy makers share a collective responsibility for protecting data - each needs to demand and see evidence that data is protected. If we don't, then the danger that others will use it for nefarious purposes is increased.

Continuing the student data thread, here's a good example via the Hechinger Report of what can happen with student data if it's not handled and stored properly. As we know, data about students that are collected by apps and other technologies that are used in schools can be stored in multiple locations under the authority of different stakeholders.

Despite laws protecting the misuse of student data, the linked report within the article from Fordham University ( identifies how data brokers can gain access to student data, and how their activities are not restricted by data laws. The report identifies 14 companies that market student data to commercial interests, with lists such as “Jewish Students in New York by Education Level,” “Rich Kids of America” and “The Awkward Years – High School Students” for sale. It's unclear how accurate the information is, but it is clear that schools are not selling the data, and that it is being gathered from various third parties. Of particular risk appears to be surveys conducted by senior students with 3rd party companies that promise to provide career pathways information.

As data-driven learning and decision making becomes more embedded in our schools and education systems, institutions need to ensure that they have policies around what happens to the data that is collected, and a clear understanding of which third parties control or have access to student data, and what is or is not allowed to happen to it.

To conclude this week, Harvard Business Review shares research which examines how skill requirements for work might change by 2030. The research acknowledges that the nature of work and the skills required will change according to the each different national economy (something we've looked at before), and also notes that shifting skills in the workplace is not new. What is new is the likely magnitude of the coming change, with the research identifying 1 in 3 workers as needing to adapt their skills mix in the coming 12 years. The report also states that:

"The need for social and emotional skills including initiative taking and leadership will also rise sharply, by 24%, and among higher cognitive skills, creativity and complex information and problem solving will also become significantly more important. These are often seen as “soft” skills that schools and education systems in general are not set up to impart."

These findings are consistent with all the research we see about how work is likely to change, and how learning systems are not geared towards providing the skills and competencies workers will need. With such dramatic changes coming to the workforce, how students learn at school will need to change, and quickly. In addition, all learners and workers will need to shift to a mindset focused around the need for life-long learning and constant up-skilling.

How can we have conversations with students, teachers, parents, principals, communities and policymakers about how work is likely to change and the type of learning and mindset that needs to take place? We need to transform how we learn and develop human potential, and prepare for a world of huge opportunity and abundance.

Thank you for joining us this week. Please don't forget to comment on our articles and posts - we want to share ideas, critical thought and constructive feedback.


#Technology #Data #Personalisedlearning #Work #SoftSkills #Modernworkplace

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