7 questions you need to know answers to on legalities of ‘data’ in education
Everyone is in a tiz about data in education. Yet students don't seem to care and, if truth be told, there's not a great deal to worry about. Most of the fuss is from older folk who get all angsty about 'privacy'. Nevertheless, it's worth knowing where we lie on the issue and the law.
1. Are students queuing round the block for their data?
No. Students are not that interested, as they are generally brought up in a world where they know that letting people hold and use your data is the price you pay for free stuff. Don’t imagine for one minute that educational institutions have students queuing around the block demanding to see their data. Students are remarkably blasé about all this. That’s not to say it is not an issue or that it will not become an issue in your organization. Sure, there will be a small army of people wanting to deliver 'digital literacy' courses. That's always the solution to a problem in education. But there's no need for panic here, as students probably know as much about this as anyone. They just don't care.
2. Should we promise all data on demand?
So, if students demand it, should an institution promise to give them all data? No. In the UK, we have the Data Protection Act, which is a legal right. However, this is not a blanket rule and there are lots of exemptions, as well as practical issues. So don’t promise the world, as you may neither need to nor be able to deliver.
3. Are we legally bound to show them?
No. An important point, that is often missed, is that if they haven't asked, you don't have to provide the data.
4. What form of data?
Even if you were to be asked for data, it is likely, that in its raw form, it would be meaningless. Data is rarely useful unless it is analysed and then visualized. So don't give yourself a technical rod for your own (and not the students) back. Data is usually dead, inert stuff.
5. What about predictive models using analytics and adaptive learning?
Should we provide that data? First, you only have to provide 'stored' data, not data used on the fly, which is common in these adaptive systems. You also have the argument that much of this is not stored data but algorithms with inputs and outputs. It is not so much isolated data, as statistical inference or probability. Although try explaining that to a student.
6. Is all data declarable?
No. There are exemptions. You do not have to provide data where there have been infringements of IP by students, data to do with a crime/investigation or third party data provision.
7. Risk of prosecution?
Remember that the risks of prosecution are relatively low. The prosecution has to show that there has been monetary damage and that you have acted unlawfully. This is a quite remote possibility. Nevertheless, as we’ve seen in the US, in these days of onerous student loans, angry, unemployed students may have axes to grind.
Remember also, that if you’re thinking of loosening up on data, making it available to students, you have also to be very careful with access. Students are smart, savvy and skilled. Many have the ability look for access to change, say grades.
(Found JISC podcast very useful on this subject)