Jen Q. Public: Balancing big data and privacy in education

Digital Marketing Lead, Public Services Sector, IBM Analytics


July 17, 7:03 a.m.

Dear diary:

Recently, while vacationing with my selfie stick on overdrive, I took a selfie on the tour bus—several selfies, in fact, because I wanted to get it right. To my horror (and my later amusement), the passengers behind me photo-bombed every picture by making faces! Yet as I watch our kids share more and more pictures and other data online, I wonder who is invading their pictures, their data and their privacy.

The conversation—indeed, the debate—around big data and privacy in education has been heating up. And it’s a discussion worth having, especially considering how many apps children use and how much data children unwittingly share.

When is the “public” data that students share using social channels off-limits? Should we leverage such data to enhance children’s education? These are just some of the pressing questions people are asking today. Journalist Farai Chideya has indicated that “the fear is that the multi-billion-dollar education technology (or ‘ed-tech’) industry that seeks to individualize learning and reduce drop-out rates could also pose a threat to privacy, as a rush to commercialize student data could leave children tagged for life with indicators based on their childhood performance.”

The question now is whether the benefits of leveraging students’ public data outweigh the risks. I had the opportunity to listen in on a conversation among educators and a few pundits as they held court over the privacy debate in big data and education. I found their viewpoints enlightening, but what I really wanted was to be a fly on the wall while a cross-section of students discussed data and privacy among themselves. Now that would be interesting!

I love innovation and innovative products, such as Apple and IBM’s Student Achievement App. Yet I also understand the need to keep student data private. And so I wonder—what would a straw poll reveal on the issue of student privacy versus big data education? Perhaps I’ll go conduct one now.

Until next time,

Jen Q. Public

Use analytics to measure and monitor student success