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Sep 29 2015 - 09:16 AM
LearnSphere... to wonderings on Foucault
The Hechinger Report covers LearnSphere, a student data platform similar to InBloom, but which seeks to avoid student privacy issues through several layers of data anonymizing and not allowing any personal information from school records. Because the site is geared toward facilitating work for education researchers and software developers, LearnSphere is less concerned with demographic data, and more concerned with developing "a community data infrastructure to support online learning improvement" (LearnSphere). It sounds like a researcher's dream, to have easily accessible, cleaned up data repository to glean information on topics such as the how students interact with videos versus activities on MOOCs. This seems to provide an case for David Lyon's (1994) argument that we should put our dystopian imaginings and paranoia on hold while we consider the potentially positive capacities of surveillance in the information age (dataveillance). Does LearnSphere's design successfully handle concerns over surveillance and privacy? Could we also imagine a way in which such dismembered data is used for authoritarian social control instead of enhancing human services? What norms do we develop as we consider the creation, proliferation, and use of various information technologies? A thought from Lyon - "Modern society makes us all radically dependent upon the realm of expert knowledge, on people 'in the know.' They key question addressed here is, what difference for good or ill does it make to mediate that knowledge through powerful computer systems?"  Most simply, humans were data subjects before information technology.  Does the use of today's technology change our normative perspective on human data? A follow up from Foucault: In Discipline and Punish, Foucault argues that "a relation of surveillance, defined and regulated, is inscribed at the heart of the practice of teaching, not as an additional or adjacent part, but as a mechanism that is inherent to it and which increases its efficiency."  Does this claim change our normative attitudes toward educational data analytics? Lyon and Foucault would probably both identify LearnSphere's collection and distribution of data on learners as a (benign, positive) form of surveillance. If we disagree, is it a matter of the definition or connotation of surveillance? Or, if you don't think Lyon and Foucault would identify LearnSphere's data infrastructure as surveillance, is there a way in which InBloom qualified as surveillance and LearnSphere does not?  
Posted in: Normative Perspectives|By: Sarah van den Berg|291 Reads