When talking to HE staff about Learning Analytics, the major concern that comes up is normally around privacy. ‘Big Brother’, ‘Snooping’, ‘Surveillance’, we’ve heard them all aimed at analytics at one time or another.
However, student surveys from countries and institutions that have adopted analytics tend to be pretty comprehensively positive. Students appear to have fewer concerns about their data privacy than us, the digital blow-ins to their digital natives. The commonly-held wisdom about this is that many of our students have grown up in a world of social media, where personal sharing is not only acceptable, it’s the whole point. When asked about his private life, a social-media-loving friend of mine once responded:
– I don’t have one; I only have a public life.
So, we’ve heard that students in areas where Learning Analytics is well known are overwhelmingly positive about it, but what of Irish HE students? No-one to date seems to have developed a sense of where our students stand on the questions around analytics and privacy. No-one until now that is…
On Tuesday, I was fortunate enough (and enormously grateful) to be invited to host a fringe session on Learning Analytics at the USI Congress in Ennis. We had about thirty student representatives at the session from across the sector and across the country.
I began by trying to gauge how many of them were aware of Learning Analytics and about six of them raised their hands. When I asked how many of them were confident that they knew what it was, only two hands remained.
So we spent the session explaining what analytics is and how institutions may look to use it to enhance the learning experience. That is to say, the explanation took up about a third of the session, with eager questions from the group comprising the main thrust of the hour. It was really terrific to see how engaged they were with its potential (incidentally, anyone who thinks students don’t care about learning is strongly advised to spend a little time being grilled by them about an aspect of it!)
It was very clear from their questions that they were not worried at all that their institutions may develop analytics platforms. On the contrary, many of the questions reflected their apparent concern that their institutions might NOT implement them. It was also noteworthy that, of maybe twenty questions, not one of them was about privacy.
At the end of the session, I asked for a show of hands from anyone with privacy concerns and three students raised theirs. I then asked anyone who wanted their institutions to adopt analytics to raise their hands and was met with a unanimously positive response. Even the three students with privacy concerns raised their hands.
So the picture we begin to gleam from this extremely small, utterly informal, but pretty interesting survey is that Irish HE students by and large don’t know what Learning Analytics is. But, like their international peers, having been introduced to it, they are very positive about it and are keen to get up and running.