Student Vulnerability, Agency and Learning Analytics: An Exploration

Paul Prinsloo
Sharon Slade


The increasing potential and practice of collecting, analysing and using student data necessitates that higher education institutions (HEIs) critically examine their assumptions, paradigms and practices regarding student data. There is a real danger that some current approaches to learning analytics within higher education ignore the fiduciary duty of HEIs and the impact and scope of the asymmetrical power relationship between students and the institution. In the light of increasing concerns regarding surveillance, higher education cannot afford a simple paternalistic approach to the use of student data. Very few HEIs have regulatory frameworks in place and/or share information with students regarding the scope of data that may be collected, analysed, used and shared. It is clear from literature that basic opting in or opting out does not sufficiently allow for many of the complex issues in the nexus of privacy, consent, vulnerability and agency. The notion of vulnerability (institutional and individual) allows an interesting and useful lens on the collection and use of student data. Though both institutional and individual vulnerability needs to be considered, this paper focuses specifically on student vulnerability. An earlier framework developed by Prinsloo and Slade provides tentative pointers to consider a range of responses to decrease students’ vulnerability, increase students’ agency and move students as participants in learning analytics from quantified selves to qualified selves.

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