There is no question that we live in a world of big data. As users of social media, every comment we publish, connection we establish, locations we check into, and pages we visit are mined to present us with tailor-made advertisements. As consumers, every purchase made with a credit card is analyzed to determine spending habits, lifestyles, and potential risk. This is simply the way things operate in these fields, and while people may be uncomfortable with it, it is not going to change. However, what if post-secondary institutions began data mining student activity to identify a student’s ideal area of study, chances of academic success, and personal and financial issues? At Georgia State University this is already a reality.
Georgia State has analyzed the grades and information of millions of its previous students to create algorithms in order to identify signs of academic and financial struggles in its current students. The process of collecting student data and using it for analysis in higher education is legal and complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
There are myriad ethical concerns regarding the practice of data-mining students for predictive analysis. While post-secondary institutions do not possess the analytical capacities of an organization like Facebook they could theoretically track discussion forums, downloading of lecture materials, library access, and time spent reviewing online material. More personal data such as attendance in tutoring or financial-literacy sessions, or gym and eating habits could be analyzed when a student swipes their ID card.
Georgia State University says the predictive analysis is done with the students’ best interest in mind. And to be fair, identifying students who are struggling with course content or being able to identify the best learning style for a specific student can be advantageous.
It is likely that the use of predictive analysis in post-secondary institutions will become a more common process. There is potential for great benefits as well as significant concern which will be addressed and debated in the years to come. However, while the process institutions like Georgia State uses to collect data from students is similar to those of Facebook and Amazon the use of that data should not be the same. It is the role of post-secondary institutions to foster and motivate minds, not to market recommendations.
About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also board member of the Canadian Public Relations Society and contributes as a communications researcher with McMaster University.