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Whose data is it?

Whose data is it?

These days just about anything – from your toothbrush to your toilet seat – can generate data about you. This new information revolution is already being touted as a force that will transform education. We can turn Data from the troll under the bridge to a magical helper, serving brand new insights about your students. But as with any blog post that begins with “these days”, things might be quite a bit more complicated than they first appear.

I completely agree that ‘new data’ can transform schools, but only if schools transform how they think about data. Let’s start with a question:

Whose data is it?

You only need so many performance management meetings to convince you that your class’s data is your data. Why shouldn’t you take ownership? You’ll be the one held to account and most of your students probably don’t even care about the data.

Yes, this is the reality, but things get a bit more complicated when we consider the broad range of data students can generate about themselves. Should we take ownership of our students’ heart rate data? Their cognitive ability profiles? Their mood? Sleep? Productivity?

I am certainly not arguing that we should stop collecting this data. All of these metrics could provide valuable insights that enhance an individual’s lifestyle and learning. I’m arguing that we need to look at this another way. Data can be something our students do, rather than something we do for our students: I’m arguing for a model that is bottom-up before it is top-down.

The sociologist Deborah Lupton outlines five distinct ways of handling personal data:

  1. Private: For one’s own purposes only
  2. Communal: Shared with other self-tracking peers
  3. Pushed: Encouraged by others
  4. Imposed: Foisted upon people
  5. Exploited: Repurposed for the use of others

Chances are, your school is somewhere in the 4s and 5s (and if it isn’t, let us know about it). At best, you’re using data as the edifice within which students earn validation, and at worst, you’re using it as a stick to beat them with. And then maybe there’s all the data you keep secret from the students: the data you use to create focus groups, assign support, decide on setting or get tactical about which students will give the school the best results.

I’m not here to point fingers, but I would suggest that some of these practices are not appropriate for “new data”.

I hope to show in my research that once data stops being seen as the troll that termly wakes from beneath the bridge of whatever bulky data software you’re asked to use, it can take on new forms and become something that students willingly engage with.

Once data is

  1. Generated and owned by the student
  2. Clearly presented and frequently seen
  3. Responsive to concrete student behaviour rather than abstract criteria

It can become meaningful and motivating, without our complete top-down control. What’s more, if these interactions can also allow for peer sharing (and I’ll offer some suggestions in future posts) then the effect could indeed be revolutionary.

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