In the library in the gym, Big Brother is coming to universities

John Domingue, director of the Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute and professor of computing science, who contributed to the report, says more comprehensive use of learning analytics could transform the sector. “Each week students are making moves as you make moves on a chess board,” he says. “Some combinations of these moves lead to success and some lead to failure so we push students to take the nearest path that students like them have taken to lead to success.”

He concedes that there are ethical issues involved in gathering and combining such detailed data, but argues it would be unethical to ignore its value. “We are morally obliged to use this information we have to make sure we maximise outcomes for these students,” he says, adding that once students paying thousands of pounds in fees realise the possibilities for their learning, they will start demanding it.

His only concern would be if it were used for reasons other than to benefit students – for example if employers wanted to buy data on student performance and motivation to help decide who to recruit.

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