LIS Syllabi and Student Privacy

About the Project


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” (Siemens, 2011). It is a socio-technical form of surveillance that monitors student behaviors and measures learning outcomes by flowing data from information systems to central data warehouses and an array of institutional actors for downstream analysis.

Research Questions

In light of these emerging practices and the ways in which they raise student privacy questions and concerns, the research team (Kyle Jones and Amy VanScoy) seeks to answer these two questions:

  1. How do library and information science (LIS) faculty discuss student privacy in their syllabi?
  2. What student privacy resources do LIS faculty provide their students?

Reasons for Analyzing Syllabi

Syllabi capture an instructor’s values, expectations, and policies for administering a course. They also include language related to institutional policies and rules. As such, they “set the tone” for what is important in a course, what rights students have, and how student behavior will be regulated and by whom. We analyzed syllabi from programs with online course offerings due to an assumption that these courses will possibly use educational technologies at a higher rate than their face-to-face peers, including make greater use of learning management systems—a target for LA analyses.

Progress So Far

We scraped LIS syllabi available on the open web using Web Scraper, a Chrome add-in. We attempted to sample 52 ALA-accredited LIS programs with the following ALA descriptions:

  • Primarily face-to-face with select online courses offered
  • Primarily online with some face-to-face courses required
  • 100% online program available

Only 16 programs had publicly available syllabi, but this still created a dataset of 7,007 syllabi. We then searched all syllabi for instances of “privacy” using Adobe Acrobat Pro. Only 7 programs had a syllabus or syllabi with language referring to “privacy” outside of learning objects (assessments, readings, and unit/module headings). Our final dataset included only 40 syllabi.

Jones open coded the syllabi first; VanScoy followed using Jones’s codes and referenced his code definitions, but she was blinded to his application of the codes. After this first round of coding, both researchers examined matches and mismatches in coding. Together, they reconciled the mismatches and developed an edited coding dictionary with 33 unique codes. The final coded corpus included 237 codes applied to the 40 syllabi.

Find out more about the initial results by looking at the research team’s Works-in-Progress poster for the Annual Meeting of the Association of Library and Information Science Education.

Next Steps

We’ll begin contacting administrators from the LIS programs we were unable to acquire syllabi from for access to their syllabi. We will also make announcements on listservs requesting faculty to volunteer their syllabi for analysis.

Submit Your Syllabus for Analysis

I have read the IRB-approved information sheet

Related Work

Jones, K. M. L., & Salo, D. (forthcoming – 2018). Learning analytics and the academic library: Professional ethics commitments at a crossroads. College & Research Libraries.

Jones, K. M. L., & LeClere, E. (forthcoming – 2017). Contextual expectations and emerging informational harms: A primer on academic library participation in learning analytics initiatives. In P. Fernandez & K. Tilton (Eds.), Applying library values to emerging technology: Tips and techniques for advancing within your mission. Chicago, IL: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Jones, K. M. L. (2017). Learning analytics and its paternalistic influences. In P. Zaphiris & A. Ioannou (Eds.), Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Learning and Collaboration Technologies: Technology in Education (LCT 2017, HCI International 2017) (pp. 281–292). Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-58515-4_22

Rubel, A., & Jones, K. M. L. (2017). Data analytics in higher education: Key concerns and open questions. University of St. Thomas Journal of Law and Public Policy.

Rubel, A. & Jones, K. M. L. (2016). Student privacy in learning analytics: An information ethics perspective. The Information Society, 32(2), 143–159.