Data, tech, learning

What is the value of data in education and learning?
What problems does personalized learning attempt to solve?
Can technology provide accountability in education?
How do student data practices affect different kinds of students?
What is new about advertising in schools when it goes digital?

For the last year, the Enabling Connected Learning initiative at Data & Society has been exploring student data collection/analysis and technological development, digging into the hype and fear around tech in education, the tangled issues of privacy, equity, and efficacy.

Today we’re sharing some of what we’ve learned so far, a bundle of primers — Personalized Learning; Accountability; Advertising — and essays, which attempt to get a grip on the realities of education technology and the prospects for student empowerment and learning.

The conversation around student data and “EdTech” can be contentious and complicated. We hope that the materials we’re sharing can help the work of other researchers and educators tackling these issues. We welcome your feedback: feedback at datasociety dot net.


Personalized Learning: The Conversations We’re Not Having, by Monica Bulger, defines the boundaries of “personalized learning,” explores the needs that various personalized learning systems aim to meet, and highlights the tensions between what is being promised with personalized learning and the practical realities of implementation. Monica also raises areas of concern, questions about unintended consequences, and potential risks that may come with the widespread adoption of personalized learning systems and platforms.

The Myth of Accountability: How Data (Mis)Use is Reinforcing the Problems of Public Education (new today!), by Claire Fontaine, examines the construct of accountability as it functions in discussions around education reform in the American public education system. Claire considers the historic precursors to accountability, as well as the set of political, economic, cultural, and social conditions that led to test scores becoming the main measure of a school’s success. In addition to the historical context around accountability, the paper considers important questions about who accountability serves, what the incentive structures are, and how accountability is gamed and resisted.

Advertising in Schools, by Maxwell Foxman, Alexandra Mateescu, and Monica Bulger, investigates concerns that digital advertising might allow more pervasive marketing to children in schools than older, pre-digital forms. The paper aims to untangle what is new because of technology and what is an ongoing concern, arguing that recent debates have conflated practices like student data collection and third party data sharing. Many of these concerns are a result of the uncertainty surrounding what data is collected by learning technologies and the increasingly complex tangle of national and state laws that govern student privacy.



Additional essays are being posted periodically in the Enabling Connected Learning Medium publication; please follow along!

And subscribe to our joint newsletter with the Youth and Media team at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society: Student Privacy, Equity, and Digital Literacy.