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Stanford and Ithaka S+R Project on Responsible Use of Student Data in Higher Education

Newly available student data are making it possible to understand, improve, and represent student postsecondary learning and other outcomes in profoundly different ways. Yet the potential of these new uses remains under-realized. In addition to technical and coordination challenges, researchers, administrators, and instructors are facing complex questions about how to use these data responsibly.

Ithaka S+R and Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Research through Online Learning (CAROL) have partnered on a new initiative to catalyze discussion, create resources, and begin to build a set of principles and a framework for governance of responsible use of student data. The project website, “Responsible Use of Student Data in Higher Education,” is the portal for project activities and resources.

We launched this partnership in June 2016 by hosting a convening at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California, for a group of about 70 higher education scholars and leaders from a diverse set of schools and other education organizations. The goal was to lay groundwork for a shared understanding of the purposes, needs, and responsibilities of those working with student data in new ways. We organized discussion around three broad topics pertaining to student data use: research to build basic knowledge, application for educational improvement, and representation of learning and accomplishment.

While participants developed particular insights on each of those topics, they also collectively considered a model policy focused on four basic principles of responsible use that apply to them all:

  • Shared Understanding. Instructors, administrators, students, and third ­party vendors all contribute to the process of data production. All of these parties deserve to have a shared understanding of the basic purposes and limits of data collection.
  • Transparency. Clarity of process and evaluation are hallmarks of humane education systems, and must be maintained even while those systems grow more complex. Students are entitled to clear representations of the nature and extent of information describing them that is held in trust by their institution and relevant third ­party organizations; to explication of how they are being assessed; and to request that assessments be reviewed through a clearly articulated governance process.
  • Informed improvement. Learning organizations have an obligation to study student data in order to make their own educational environments more effective and to contribute to the growth of relevant knowledge generally.
  • Open futures. Education should enable opportunity, not foreclose it. Instructional, advisement, and assessment systems must always be built and used in ways that enable students to demonstrate aptitude, capacity, and achievement beyond their own or others’ prior accomplishments.

Today, Ithaka S+R is publishing several of the documents created for, and informed by, the June 2016 convening:

Links to these reports, along with additional information and materials from the convening, will also be available on the project website.

As we continue to work with our partners at Stanford and convening participants, we also want to engage the largest possible academic community. We invite you to leave a comment below or contact us with your questions, comments, or opportunities for further discussion.

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