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Data and Decisions at EDUCAUSE.

At the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, held Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 2017, in Philadelphia, more than 8,000 attendees gathered to discuss the latest IT trends and solutions affecting stakeholders and students at higher education institutions.

Learning About Learning Data

In The Wicked Problem of Learning Data Privacy, representatives from the University of California (UC) shared the importance of opening a dialogue on campus about privacy and learning data-data generated by students, teachers, and staffers that helps support student success. It is often personally identifiable information, such as names and courses taken, as well as quiz responses, discussion question responses, etc. Analysis of this data can inform institutional decisions, support educational research, and positively impact student outcomes.

Jenn Stringer (UC-Berkeley) described a bad experience with one learning analytics vendor that used an opt-out feature for gathering data. The feature was unclearly worded (students had to uncheck a box labeled "get career opportunities relevant to me" if they didn't want their data to be sold to outside companies). As Stringer noted, students would leave the box checked, because "career opportunities" sounds positive--but then they were bombarded by potential employers. Stringer complained to the vendor, and now that feature is opt-in and more clearly states that by checking the box, students' data will be shared.

Jim Williamson (UCLA) explained that he and his colleagues have labeled learning data privacy a "wicked problem"--a problem with no agreed-upon, unitary aims; no definitive formulation; and no neat ending. Privacy issues surrounding learning data are complex, he said. There's no one-size-fits-all solution.

Mary-Ellen Kreher (the UC Office of the President's Innovative Learning Technology Initiative) said that UC's approach is to always have a say in how vendors collect data. It's a central part of negotiations with them. The university also insists on using interoperable standards for transferring the data, so it's more accessible to various stakeholders. Additionally, it prioritizes transparency--students can opt out of anyone using their data if they'd like to. These solutions can't solve a wicked problem, but they can certainly go a long way toward defying the gravity of one.

Putting IT in Students' Hands

In Creating an IT Innovation Lab to Promote Student Career-Readiness in STEM Fields, staffers from New York University (NYU) IT Operations Technology Services and Support shared how they began taking on student workers as a way to prepare them for IT jobs. At their IT Innovation Lab, Meenakshi Baker and her team give students opportunities to learn skills such as problem-solving and teamwork.

Software engineer David Garwin discussed the aspects of NYUs lab that others could emulate: the importance of communication between developers and students working at the lab (they use Slack, Trello, and Microsoft TFS to stay in touch, but they're also together in a physical space), developers keeping up-to-date with the computer sciences industry so students know what potential employers will be looking for when they graduate, and students leading their own teams when developing new products so they can experience the process from inception to deployment.

Gregory Fisher, another software engineer, said that the students are held to the same standards as the lab's full-time employees. They are given detailed feedback on coding that doesn't make it into production so they can learn from their mistakes. And the mentoring aspect of the student-developer relationship means that many problems will be caught early and be fixable. The lab documents every part of the software development process as a way to maintain institutional knowledge and help developers learn from past efforts.

Choices, Choices

At one of the general sessions, behavioral economics expert Katherine Milkman shared her research on how organizations can get better outcomes by paying attention to how they present information. Decision Biases: Improving the Quality of Our Everyday Decisions introduced the concept of choice architecture--the way the environment shapes our choices. For example, in a cafeteria, the first item in the line of food choices will end up on the most plates. So in schools, staffers could place the healthy options at the front of the line to encourage better eating habits.

Organizations can consciously invoke positive choice architecture to influence behavior. Milkman showed a Volkswagen-sponsored video that asked whether people using an escalator could be convinced to use the set of stairs right next to it. The stairs were transformed into a working piano, with each step representing one key. The video showed people flocking to the stairs to make music with their feet, while the escalator stood empty.

She noted that choice architects should expect errors from people using their product or system (e.g., create cards that can be inserted into a machine and read properly even if someone puts one in upside-down) and make sure their product or system provides feedback (e.g., design digital cameras to click so users know a photo was taken, although they don't need to make that sound in order to work).

EDUCAUSE 2018 will be held Oct. 30-Nov. 2 in Denver.

Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today. Send your comments about this article to
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Title Annotation:report from the field
Author:Scardilli, Brandi
Publication:Information Today
Article Type:Conference news
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2018
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