An elephant in the learning analytics room: the obligation to act

Prinsloo, Paul and Slade, Sharon (2017). An elephant in the learning analytics room: the obligation to act. In: LAK '17 Proceedings of the Seventh International Learning Analytics & Knowledge Conference, ACM, New York, NY.



As higher education increasingly moves to online and digital learning spaces, we have access not only to greater volumes of student data, but also to increasingly fine-grained and nuanced data. A significant body of research and existing practice are used to convince key stakeholders within higher education of the potential of the collection, analysis and use of student data to positively impact on student experiences in these environments. Much of the recent focus in learning analytics is around predictive modeling and uses of artificial intelligence to both identify learners at risk, and to personalize interventions to increase the chance of success.

In this paper we explore the moral and legal basis for the obligation to act on our analyses of student data. The obligation to act entails not only the protection of student privacy and the ethical collection, analysis and use of student data, but also, the effective allocation of resources to ensure appropriate and effective interventions to increase effective teaching and learning.

The obligation to act is, however tempered by a number of factors, including inter and intra-departmental operational fragmentation and the constraints imposed by changing funding regimes. Increasingly higher education institutions allocate resources in areas that promise the greatest return. Choosing (not) to respond to the needs of specific student populations then raises questions regarding the scope and nature of the moral and legal obligation to act. There is also evidence that students who are at risk of failing often do not respond to institutional interventions to assist them.

In this paper we build and expand on recent research by, for example, the LACE and EP4LA workshops to conceptually map the obligation to act which flows from both higher education's mandate to ensure effective and appropriate teaching and learning and its fiduciary duty to provide an ethical and enabling environment for students to achieve success. We examine how the collection and analysis of student data links to both the availability of resources and the will to act and also to the obligation to act. Further, we examine how that obligation unfolds in two open distance education providers from the perspective of a key set of stakeholders - those in immediate contact with students and their learning journeys - the tutors or adjunct faculty.

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