Students, we’re watching you…

Rococo scene by Adriano Cecchi (1850-1936)

Eavesdropping on a student

According to Helen Warrell in her informative Financial Times article Students under surveillance: Universities are increasingly using personal data to predict performance (link), universities are using personal data to predict – in the first week a third level – a student’s final grade! This is done using algorithms to monitor how they spend their time then cross-referencing this with their socio-economic background.

This of course raises questions regarding the pervasive invasiveness, ethics, control and interference this requires but the universities don’t see it this way. For them, the concern is somewhat economic – trying to intervene before a student’s work slumps to the point they lose interest and leave (whichever comes first?).

If, though as has been suggested, as much as 20% of students drop-out in first year alone, you can see the multi-million loss to universities and third-level institutes globally each year.

But shouldn’t students feel free to drop-out? It would be less of an issue if “drop-out” hadn’t a negative connotation, such as “a person who has abandoned a course of study or who has rejected conventional society to pursue an alternative lifestyle.” The have “abandoned” their course, they have chosen  an “alternative” lifestyle (usually a caricature in itself, hinting at mad hippies), rather than an alternative course.

Yet Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were such drop-outs, weren’t they? Dropping out can be good for the individual and society.

Surely it’s better to teach students the virtues of values: responsibility, duty to one’s benefactors (including the tax-payers who fund grants), rather than monitor students, so they can be trusted to learn without surveillance?

“Already 130 U.S. universities use the Skyfactor student monitoring service.” It could be argued it is, at least inadvertently, using fear to promote their product (like vaccine manufacturers implying “take this or die”), a “risk management service to quickly see which students need attention now – before it’s too late.”

“Too late”? For whom – the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of this world? Unfortunately for the data monetizers, the Gates and Jobs of this world realise life and learning are far bigger than college.

Andrew Keens, author of The Internet is Not the Answer, says big data monetises human activity, so safeguarding student privacy is a concern.

Further Reading
To look beyond university, for the bigger picture: New York Times blogpost “A Life Beyond ‘Do What You Love.’”

Photo: WikiCommons

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