Stanford CAROL and Ithaka S+R commissioned several papers to inform discussion of student data use and governance in the digital era.

Setting the Table: Responsible Use of Student Data in Higher Education

authors: Martin Kurzweil and Mitchell Stevens

      • Abstract
        Virtually all college and university instructors now share their teaching duties with providers of digital services. Learning management systems convey assignments, online forums scaffold discussions, AI-based tutors customize lessons, and myriad calling and conference platforms simulate face-to-face interaction across great distances. All of these services leave digital traces of instructional effectiveness, learning, and user preferences—information that may be used to improve student outcomes, build basic science, and sell products. In the wake of the spectacularly rapid rise in computational applications inside and around higher education, today’s inheritors of the ancient rituals of human instruction face a promising but largely uncharted future. We view the four principles from the Asilomar convening as an initial contribution to an ongoing conversation that will include a wide range of stakeholders. People from business must be at the table, because technology firms and the holders of private capital supporting them will play only larger roles in the provision of postsecondary opportunity going forward. But all of us in higher education must set that table. Notwithstanding its reputation for resistance to change, the higher education community has a long tradition of adapting governance to safeguard the autonomy and integrity of the academic enterprise. It is time to incorporate new colleagues into that tradition and enlist their help in defining responsible use of student data in a rapidly changing world. If educators do not do this for themselves, others will.

Student Data in the Digital Era: An Overview of Current Practices

authors: Rayane Alamuddin, Jessie Brown, and Martin Kurzweil

        • Abstract
          Newly available data are making it possible to understand, improve, and represent student learning and other outcomes in profoundly different ways. Yet the potential of these new uses remains underdeveloped. Individual researchers, higher education institutions, and other organizations working in these areas are often hindered by challenges related to technical and analytical capacity and institutional culture, as well as sorting out what it means to collect and use data responsibly. Addressing these challenges, and achieving the potential benefits of the new student data will require a set of guiding principles, coordination within and across institutions, and enhanced technological infrastructure. To provide an overview of this landscape, this paper reviews initiatives in three broad categories: (1) Research, in which student data are used to conduct empirical studies designed primarily to advance knowledge in the field; (2) Applications of student data in institutional practices, programs, or policies, to improve student learning and support; and (3) Representation of student data to report on the educational experiences and achievements of students to internal and external audiences, in ways that are more extensive and nuanced than the traditional transcript. Considering these three areas together brings to the fore cross-cutting trends that can serve as a basis for building a national, multi-disciplinary dialogue about the use of student data in the digital era.

Creating a Learning Higher Education Community

author: Timothy McKay, University of Michigan

          • Abstract
            Everyone involved in education has questions about what to do and how to do it well. The best way to answer those questions is by learning from the experience of everyone who has come before. To make this happen, we have to take advantage of the information age in which we find ourselves and dissolve the walls between research and practice in education. We need to gather, refine, understand, curate, protect, and attend to the extensive data produced by modern educational systems. We must build tools which help everyone in our community use this data to answer the questions they have. And it’s not enough to do this just occasionally, when we’re doing “capital R” research. We need to do it all the time, as part of everyday practice. The key to creating a higher education community which learns continuously, collectively, from experience is to break down the perceived divide between research and practice. If we’re to take full advantage of the transformative promise of research in improving education, we must work to create a learning higher education system, in which knowledge generation is embedded into the core of educational practice.

Applications of Student Data in Higher Education: Issues and Ethical Considerations

author: Sharon Slade, Open University UK

  • Abstract
    The second Asilomar convention organized by Stanford University and Ithaka S+R in June 2016 brought together a group of academics to facilitate a review of how student data is currently used in higher education. The discussions aimed to synthesize current best practices to specify norms for the ethical use of student data; and inform institutional, national and global policies regarding the research, application, and representation of adult student data. This paper focuses on the applications strand which sought to yield further insight into: (1) The main areas of focus and most promising types of applications for the postsecondary community over the next few years; (2) A shared understanding of issues (for example, data types or methodologies) that may warrant additional ethical consideration; and (3) The potential for guiding principles which seek to minimize the risks associated with the use of student data to guide or drive their learning. In particular, the discussion considered both the possibilities and limits of direct intervention in student learning on the basis of data flow, and any risks that should be avoided or at least minimized.

A Brief History of the Student Record

author: Ethan Hutt, University of Maryland

            • Abstract
              This paper provides a brief history of the development and evolution of the student record. It argues that this history is best considered as generally consisting of three distinct periods: (1) an early period (1840-1910) that was characterized by large variation in student record keeping and a lack of defined relationships and hierarchy among educational institutions and levels. Uniformity in student record keeping—particularly with the adoption of the Carnegie Unit—became a way of solidifying practices of record keeping but also of institutional status and belonging; (2) a period of rapid expansion of higher education (1910-1970) in which postsecondary institutions had to address the record keeping challenges posed by incorporating new kinds of students, new kinds of institutions, and new patterns of course taking and degree seeking; (3) the modern period (1970-Present) that was characterized both by the continued evolution of the postsecondary sector in terms of new institutions, programs, and types of learners and by new external demands placed on university recording keeping by student privacy and public accountability concerns. Cutting across each of these three periods are questions concerning which institutions may legitimately inscribe on the student record; what information, experiences, and achievements should be recorded; the reciprocal obligations among institutions that maintain student records; and the proper role of educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and governmental entities in addressing these issues.