The research project will conduct a student-centered, three-year research agenda into student perspectives of privacy issues associated with academic library participation in learning analytics (LA) initiatives. Led by the primary investigator at Indiana University-Indianapolis (IUPUI), the team consists of research collaborators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, Oregon State University, Indiana University-Bloomington, and a site facilitator at Linn-Benton Community College. Six scholars and practitioner experts in the areas of assessment, library analytics, diversity, and information ethics and policy will support the team as they develop research protocols and disseminate findings.
Learning analytics (LA) is the “measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of [student and other data] for the purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs.” With LA, institutions are more prepared to describe (what is happening?), diagnose (why did it happen?), predict (what is likely to happen?), and prescribe (what should we do about it?) student learning by identifying factors that impede or promote success. Libraries are pursuing LA insights to evaluate the impact of library services, collections, and spaces on student learning. The success of LA depends in part on an institution’s ability to connect campus information systems—including those under the purview of libraries—to aggregate and analyze student data. But as institutions continue to surface granular data and information about student life, the risk to student privacy grows. It is unclear what rights to students have in relation to the data, and there is little evidence regarding student perceptions of LA—especially when libraries are involved.
Very little research has addressed LA and student privacy issues from a student perspective, and extant research suggests that the student voice is missing from LA conversations. To the team’s knowledge at the time of this writing, no scholarship currently exists that specifically considers student perceptions of their privacy when libraries are actively leading or contributing to LA initiatives. In fact, in Connaway et al.’s OCLC-sponsored study, the authors argue that “this topic is particularly fraught in the areas of assessment and academic libraries since there is a lack of established effective practices and standards addressing the methods and contexts that may threaten the privacy of students.” Because of these indicators, the team believes there is a national need to study library LA and the privacy issues from a student perspective.
The Research Agenda
The team seeks to answer this overarching research question: How do LA initiatives align with and run counter to student expectations of privacy; and with these insights, how might libraries maximize the benefits of LA while respecting student expectations?
Three iterative research phases structure this project:
Phase One: The research team will conduct preliminary interviews with students to identify themes about library participation in LA and LA generally with regard to privacy.
Phase Two: The research team will deploy a survey to undergraduate and graduate students at each researcher’s respective institution.
Phase Three: Each team member will run a series of scenario-based focus groups with students to explore possible applications of LA that respect and break expectations of privacy.
All three phases will lead to peer-reviewed scholarship, practitioner-focused conference presentations, workshop materials, and a toolkit for informing library practitioners about student privacy and LA.