Big Data, Higher Education and Learning Analytics: Beyond Justice, Toward an Ethics of Care

Prinsloo, Paul and Slade, Sharon (2017). Big Data, Higher Education and Learning Analytics: Beyond Justice, Toward an Ethics of Care. In: Kei Daniel, Ben ed. Big Data and Learning Analytics in Higher Education: Current Theory and Practice. Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 109–124.



There is no doubt that Big Data in higher education offers huge potential. However, there is a critical need to interrogate the underlying epistemologies and paradigms which inform our understanding of the potential of learning analytics to increase student engagement, retention and success. The harvesting, analyses and application of student data are not neutral acts and both flow from and perpetuate social, political, economic and cultural agendas. Therefore it is crucial to explicitly recognise and engage with the complications, contradictions and conflicts inherent in Big Data and learning analytics. The context of increasing funding constraints, the impact of neoliberal and market-driven curricula and admission requirements, and the proliferation of accountability and reporting regimes encourages higher education institutions to embrace the harvesting, analysis and use of student data without necessarily considering issues of justice and ethics. Considering higher education as a moral and political practice, this chapter proposes to formulate a framework for information justice based on an ethics of justice and care. The inherent tensions between an ethics of justice and an ethics of care allow for and necessitate a critical engagement with the hype surrounding Big Data in higher education.

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