Privacy Concerns with Learning Dashboards


Let me first get the name LARA.e out of the way. As we keep developing new learning dashboards, we constantly need to create new names which can get confusing very quickly. Therefore we rebranded the entire thing as LARA.e, which stands for Learning Analytics Reflection & Awareness environments. We’ve mentioned Navi Badgeboard (LARA.e1), a dashboard helping students become more aware of their activities and achievements in class and Navi Surface (LARA.e2) which creates a discussion environment by playing the role of a catalyst for reflection. The latest dashboard to join the family is called just plain LARA.e3.


LARA.e3 (see screenshot above) focusses on the teachers and provides them with a detailed overview of all activity traces of the class. It displays a massive amount of information regarding (in our case) blog posts, comments, tweets and badges, but can be modified to visualise any type of learning traces through multiple visualisations. Global filtering options allow the teacher to drill down on time frames, students and group. Students and groups can be easily compared and with the addition of course grades (left out of the screenshots for privacy reasons), student activity can be compared to their actual results in class. LARA.e3 can be displayed on large displays, smart boards, digital tabletops and more, allowing the teachers to consult the data individually, with colleagues as a base of discussion or in class with the students.

LARA.e3 is all about awareness and reflection regarding the teacher: awareness about activities across the entire class can help teachers intervene regarding group or individual student issues. Reflection about the course structure and content helps teachers get a deeper understanding which in turn helps find and address issues with the course.

Any student reading this blog post will most likely cry Big Brother, something I’ve tried to address in the previous post. We do have access to all their data and with LARA.e3, we do see everything. And while we can tell them it’s all about self-awareness and this doesn’t affect their grades, it’s impossible to really convince them not to worry or be wary of our motives.

It’s a trust issue, present in student-teacher relationships just as it is in employee-employer relationships (We’ve all heard the company badge/fire security excuse before right?). The only real solution I see is anonymization.

To convince students of their anonymity, they need full control over their identity. The teacher nor other students should be able to figure out the true identity of the users displayed on the dashboards by any means. Only then might we create a real trust and convince them of a true Quantified Self learning environment, where the focus is self-awareness without the underlying fear of being watched.

Anonymous data can still provide us with interesting insights. While LARA.e3 will not help find the individual straggler, intervention can still be possible at a class level. But every other benefit of the dashboard remains.  Personal student dashboards (e.g. LARA.e1) do not lose any of their functionality. Another plus can even be better data as less students might attempt to game the system.

To end this post, I’d like to ask if any teachers reading this have any interesting stories of students’ reactions to the introduction of learning analytics in their courses and how they handle this trust issue in case there was any. To the students, feel free to share your thoughts on anonymous dashboards (or the not so anonymous LARA.e3).

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