New Publication Available: “A Measurement of Faculty Views on the Meaning and Value of Student Privacy”

It’s a great pleasure to announce my co-authored piece forthcoming in the Journal of Computing in Higher Education and provide early access with a preprint.

The paper was authored with Amy VanScoy (associate professor, University at Buffalo), Kawanna Bright (assistant professor, East Carolina University), Alison Harding (doctoral student, University of Maryland), and Sanika Vedak (master’s students, Indiana University-Indianapolis). The paper reports findings from phase one of the IMLS grant-funded Datafied Classroom project, which was a survey-based research design.

To read the paper, access the preprint in my research repository. You can also view, adapt, and reuse the survey itself; it’s accessible in the team’s research repository.

Abstract

Learning analytics tools are becoming commonplace in educational technologies, but extant student privacy issues remain largely unresolved. It is unknown whether faculty care about student privacy and see privacy as valuable for learning. The research herein addresses findings from a survey of over 500 full-time higher education instructors. In the findings, we detail faculty perspectives of their privacy, students’ privacy, and the high degree to which they value both. Data indicate that faculty believe privacy is important to intellectual behaviors and learning, but the discussion argues that faculty make choices that put students at risk. While there seems to be a “privacy paradox,” our discussion argues that faculty are making assumptions about existing privacy protections and making instructional choices that could harm students because their “risk calculus” is underinformed. We conclude the article with recommendations to improve a faculty member’s privacy decision-making strategies and improve institutional conditions for student privacy.

Important Contributions

To me, we have made four major contributions to the literature and practice—and hopefully technology and policy development.

First, very little research has examined the question of whether or not and to what degree faculty value student privacy. We assume this is true, but we haven’t had empirical evidence to really depend on; now we do. Important;y, the sample closely matches faculty demographics across the United States regarding race, ethnicity, traditional gender definitions, and institutional representation. We also were able to inquire into disciplinary differences. The sample size enables generalization. So, this allowed us to do some deep investigations into whether or not professional and personal demographics had any influence on how participants answered questions—and they did, but in only minor ways.

Second, for decades privacy scholars have been defining privacy according to different characteristics, aspects, and contextual factors (e.g., intellectual privacy, contextual integrity, etc.). There is some agreement on what this taxonomy of privacy definitions now looks like, so we were able to ask participants to define 1) personal privacy and 2) student privacy to narrow down how they conceptualize privacy in these unique ways. Most participants chose “Privacy lets me limit other people’s access to information about me” as the definition (“information access”) that explained their personal view of privacy… and student privacy. This was a surprise to us because intellectual privacy (“Privacy protects me when I’m doing intellectual activities (e.g., searching for information, writing, thinking)”) supports student behaviors and needs.

Third, the findings demonstrate that faculty value student privacy and “80.1% (n = 402) stated that they believed students care about their privacy.” We know from student-focused research that students have expressed nuanced views on their privacy vis-à-vis learning analytics and educational data mining. Now we know that faculty care about student privacy and perceive that students care about their own privacy. We can no longer accept any argument that students don’t care about their privacy or that it’s not worth the effort in higher education because it’s not important; there’s too much empirical evidence to suggest otherwise.

Fourth and finally, the discussion section is strong. We have used Daniel Solove’s “privacy paradox” concept to clearly show how 1) a group of individuals can make claims of valuing privacy but 2) act in ways that “fail to practice information behaviors consistent with their values.” In pandemic times, it has become abundantly obvious that faculty are putting student privacy at risk through, inter alia, their use of predatory technologies (e.g., proctoring software) and by requiring disclosure behaviors that force students into situations that do not respect a student’s private life (e.g., forcing webcams to be on in Zoom when students are participating in their homes). It shows that their privacy calculus is ill-informed or underdeveloped, and we make recommendations for individual and collective improvements.

Final Notes

I’m first author on this paper, but this was a true team effort. Amy and I have collaborated on other pieces together (see: “The syllabus as a student privacy document in an age of learning analytics“), and I always appreciate learning from her methodological rigor. Kawanna was our statistics hero. Alison and Sanika started off as student research assistants but blossomed in their own way into full collaborators. I’m proud of this paper, and it wouldn’t be what it is without their significant contributions. I hope this paper somehow informs your views on student privacy.

Kyle M. L. Jones

Dr. Kyle M. L. Jones is an assistant professor in the Department of Library and Information Science within the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). Get in touch with Dr. Jones here.