Can we “quantify” students and protect their privacy?


When I was in high school, a moon or two ago, I was offered a “career aptitude test” that was supposed to determine what career was best for me based on my responses. Most of us laughed at the results that came of that test. It’s 2016 and some argue that this is the year of the quantified student. Will students today laugh at that concept 20 years from now?

At first glance, one would think that the more information we can collect, analyze and provide back to students would enable them to make better choices in their education and how they carve their educational and professional paths. The claim being that with better visibility in one’s own learning patterns and behaviors we can better control the outcome of our development. With increased use of computers and apps, students are generating massive amounts of data. Data that can tell a comprehensive story of that student’s learning history as well as learning patterns, strengths and weaknesses. If we can quantify our learning then we have better insight into ourselves. But is that really the case? How do students react to the information given to them about their reading skills or mathematic learning patterns? Will students be able to see this information as a useful tool, or will they allow algorithms to determine their path? And as exciting as knowing more about ourselves may be we need to take a step back and ask the question – is it to the benefit of the student to be quantified?

More data is not necessarily more beneficial data. School should be the environment in which students are allowed to make mistakes, decide to take a class so out of their comfort zone that they might discover something new. School is the time in which mistakes can be made without fearing permanent consequences. But if we quantify student learning to such granular detail are we preventing high school students from experimenting with opportunities that can guide them to a rich a college experience?

Let’s not forget privacy. Who decides what information can be disclosed or to whom? As the quantified data grows we increasingly profile students, making the risk of exposing their data much greater. Are we protecting the student’s data trail enough that they can sufficiently control what others can see? Thus the argument continues for how to balance the ideal amount of information to enrich a student’s learning experience and control disclosure without exposing an entire dossier of information on a particular student. It seems to me that as we increasingly quantify student learning we risk shifting the focus of student data from one that is for the benefit of students to one that is for the benefit of someone else. To me that is not what student data should be about. Student data should be created, analyzed and used for the benefit of the student. If we allow quantified student data to be made available to colleges to create market driven skill sets, we are in fact negating student ownership of data. Students cease to become the focal point of education and become a product being formed to satisfy a market need and we cannot ignore students in that way.

We must understand that while generating data to quantify student progress and learning is important, we cannot create an environment that is prioritizing market needs over student needs. A student should be able to determine the educational story they choose to disclose and not have only algorithms determine the path they are to take.




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