University of Wisconsin–Madison

Associate Professor Alan Rubel on Data Mining in Higher Ed

Associate Professor Alan Rubel published A Matter of Trust: Higher Education Institutions as Information Fiduciaries in an Age of Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics in the December issue of JASIST. The paper’s co-authors are Kyle Jones and Ellen LeClere, both iSchool PhD graduates.

Higher education institutions are mining and analyzing student data to effect educational, political, and managerial outcomes. Done under the banner of “learning analytics,” this work can—and often does—surface sensitive data and information about, inter alia, a student’s demographics, academic performance, offline and online movements, physical fitness, mental wellbeing, and social network. With these data, institutions and third parties are able to describe student life, predict future behaviors, and intervene to address academic or other barriers to student success (however defined). Learning analytics, consequently, raise serious issues concerning student privacy, autonomy, and the appropriate flow of student data. We argue that issues around privacy lead to valid questions about the degree to which students should trust their institution to use learning analytics data and other artifacts (algorithms, predictive scores) with their interests in mind. We argue that higher education institutions are paradigms of information fiduciaries. As such, colleges and universities have a special responsibility to their students. In this article, we use the information fiduciary concept to analyze cases when learning analytics violate an institution’s responsibility to its students. Full article