Big Data Is Getting Bigger. So Are the Privacy and Ethical Questions

Big data is getting bigger. So are the privacy and ethical questions.

The next step in using “big data” for student success is upon us. It’s a little cool. And also kind of creepy.

This new approach goes beyond the tactics now used by hundreds of colleges, which depend on data collected from sources like classroom teaching platforms and student-information systems. It not only makes a technological leap; it also raises issues around ethics and privacy.

Here’s how it works: Whenever you log on to a wireless network with your cellphone or computer, you leave a digital footprint. Move from one building to another while staying on the same network, and that network knows how long you stayed and where you went. That data is collected continuously and automatically from the network’s various nodes.

Now, with the help of a company called Degree Analytics, a few colleges are beginning to use location data collected from students’ cellphones and laptops as they move around campus. Some colleges are using it to improve the kind of advice they might send to students, like a text-message reminder to go to class if they’ve been absent.


Others see it as a tool for making decisions on how to use their facilities. St. Edward’s University, in Austin, Tex., used the data to better understand how students were using its computer-equipped spaces. It found that a renovated lounge, with relatively few computers but with Wi-Fi access and several comfy couches, was one of the most popular such sites on campus. Now the university knows it may not need to buy as many computers as it once thought.

As Gary Garofalo, a co-founder and chief revenue officer of Degree Analytics, told me, “the network data has very intriguing advantages” over the forms of data that colleges now collect.

Some of those advantages are obvious: If you’ve got automatic information on every person walking around with a cellphone, your dataset is more complete than if you need to extract it from a learning-management system or from the swipe-card readers some colleges use to track students’ activities. Many colleges now collect such data to determine students’ engagement with their coursework and campus activities.

Of course, the 24-7 reporting of the data is also what makes this approach seem kind of creepy.

The founder of Degree Analytics had worked with an oil company that used remote sensors to monitor its far-flung wells to track whether any drill bits were about to fail. He’s now adapted that idea for his new company — except this time, it’s the students’ devices that are, in effect, the sensors.

Just having the information isn’t enough. Colleges need to know what to make of it. When it comes to using the information to improve student retention, Garofalo says the assumptions his company makes aren’t all that different from what a host of other data-analytics companies do with the data they collect. it just has richer information on where students are and when, as long as they’re on the Wi-Fi.

Ms. Blumenstyk is a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education covering innovation in and around academe. For more than two years, Ms. Blumenstyk has been curating the weekly Re:Learning newsletter. Going forward Goldie will be using it to share her observations on the people and ideas reshaping the higher-education landscape. 


Degree Analytics is only about three years old, and it’s moving slowly: It has fewer than 10 clients so far. But this fall it will begin a pilot project with the giant California State University system. It will start at the Sacramento campus, but Cal State uses the same Wi-Fi and networking equipment for its entire 23-campus system, so it could easily expand. The system’s chief information officer, Patrick C. Perry, isn’t sure how the experiment will unfold. But, as he told me, “we are piqued.”

I have no reason to doubt anyone’s good intentions. The founder and chief executive of Degree Analytics, Aaron Benz, seems genuinely passionate about using data science to help students. If his company wasn’t doing this, it wouldn’t be too long before another company did. Perhaps some already are.

My concerns are broader: Just because colleges and companies can collect this information and associate it with all sorts of other academic and demographic data they have on students, should they? How far should colleges and companies go with data tracking?

I’m not the first to ask questions like this. A couple of years ago, a group of educators organized by Martin Kurzweil of Ithaka S+R and Mitchell Stevens of Stanford University issued a series of guidelines for colleges and companies to consider as they began to embrace data analytics. Among other principles, the guidelines highlighted the importance of being transparent about how the information is used, and ensuring that institutions’ leaders really understand what companies are doing with the data they collect. Experts at New America weighed in too.

See how is enabling individuals to claim their data as PROPERTY


I asked Kurzweil what he makes of the use of Wi-Fi information. Location tracking tends toward the “dicey” side of the spectrum, he says, though perhaps not as far out as using students’ social-media habits, health information, or what they check out from the library. The fundamental question, he says, is “how are they managing it?”

St. Edwards says it didn’t make extensive disclosures during its one-semester test last spring because it didn’t examine individualized data. But the university says it would be more open if it ever got much beyond the current point of differentiating students by categories like commuter and noncommuter. It’s unclear exactly how Sacramento State will disclose its experiment to students.

When Degree Analytics begins discussions with a college, Benz says, “the No. 1 thing we talk about is privacy.” The company holds meetings with students and takes other steps to make sure they know how their data is being used. It also recommends that colleges create Wi-Fi login pages that explicitly and simply describe their use of the Wi-Fi data — with a clear opt-out option. Even for Degree Analytics customers that do integrate the Wi-Fi data with other student information, he said, the company makes sure that the information is aggregated to cover period of time or a particular event, and not for one-on-one individual tracking. It’s not designed, Benz said, to answer questions like “Where’s Jimmy at 8:01 p.m.?” But, he acknowledged, that’s because of company policy. The technology could easily allow it.

Benz said his company’s policies, if anything, make its use of the data a lot more transparent than most colleges are about how they might use Wi-Fi network information. Fair point. Really, do most students realize that their institutions could use the data now to suss out whether they’re cheating together on remote exams?

So is this the future? Benz, at least, certainly hopes so. Inspired by the Wi-Fi-based StudentLife research project at Dartmouth College and the experiences Purdue University is having with students’ use of its Forecast app, he’s in talks now with a research university about a project that would generate other insights that might be gleaned from students’ Wi-Fi-usage patterns.

He wonders, for example, whether the data could inform decisions about how mental-health facilities are being used. I wonder just how far these kinds of tools can go — and how mindful of the potential pitfalls colleges and companies will be as they take them there.

Reposted from the Chronicle of Higher Education January 31, 2018

Why Higher Ed Should Do More with Blockchain Tech

Oral Roberts University recently held a conference to persuade higher education institutions that it’s time to get on board the blockchain train. Its recommendations: Learn about the technology’s potential, test it out and collaborate.

By Dian Schaffhauser Published 08/09/18

digital code chain illustration

When Oral Roberts University hosted the one-day event, “Blockchain Essentials in Education,” all attendees received a blockchain-based certificate from the Tulsa university verifying their participation. Perhaps nothing else could have illustrated the potential of blockchain technology more appropriately.

As CIO Michael Mathews, the event’s organizer, explained, blockchain will be as important to transforming education as the internet was. He said he believes those colleges and universities that jump on the secure public ledger concept early enough and begin testing it out will be the ones who could see the biggest benefits.

Mathews believes blockchain will have the “biggest payback” within an organization’s processes where trust is essential as part of a “value chain”: student application processing, transcript evaluations, articulation agreements. Blockchain “templates” that run in the cloud could replace “entire cumbersome processes” — akin, he added, to when Microsoft Word templates were first introduced and people figured out how they could optimize word processing and mail merge.

During the event, Mathews asked attendees (who came from more than two dozen schools) to raise their hands if they could process a student application in less than a day. Nobody did so. Two days? The same. And so on. “The closest we got was six days,” he said. If food companies can track tomatoes (IBM) and parcel companies (FedEx) can track packages and speed up validation using blockchain, he mused, “surely education can start helping people get accepted faster. When somebody out there is thinking they want to get a degree and you take three weeks to get back to them, they could have changed their mind already.” Blockchain technology could “prove that all the information is correct and validate quicker to close out the deal.”

Blockchain isn’t the magic that “changes everything,” he emphasized. “It is the tool that finally lets people see that we should and could speed up processes and validation and security all at the same time.”

Establishing Digital Identity

ORU's Blockchain Essentials in Education certificate

To help issue those certificates as a demonstration of blockchain in action, Mathews called in Trusted Key, a startup focused on blockchain-based digital identity. As Chief Technology Officer Prakash Sundaresan described, his company approaches identity control by supplying a set of software services addressing the needs of the three parties involved in a transaction: the user, the “issuer” and the “relying party.” In education, that might be the student, the institution and the prospective employer, respectively.

The technology is intended to provide a “trust layer” that allows the participants “to work together in a seamless way,” he said. The Trusted Key App is a digital identity wallet controlled by the end user that allows the individual to receive and maintain “all the pieces of information from various issuers.” Using the Trusted Key Digital Identity Platform, institutions would use the “issuer” service to produce and distribute digital diplomas or certificates. A school could “upload a file with the information about the students they want to issue it to, and our platform takes care of all the rest,” Sundaresan said. “Students end up with that diploma in their identity wallet and then they are free to share that with whomever they want.”

In the case of the ORU event certificate, he noted, “Every certificate that was issued would be signed by a key that [the university] owns. Then anybody receiving that certificate would know that this came from [ORU].”

How to Get Started with Blockchain

Sundaresan had two “take-aways” from his participation in the event. First, “there’s a lot of enthusiasm for blockchain in the education community.” That also exists in other segments where his company focuses — healthcare and financial services — but “education is a little more forward-looking. People are looking to the future,” he said. Second, “We’re still very early. The pioneers are kicking the tires on what this can do.”

For people interested in kicking the tires themselves, ORU’s Mathews offered three recommendations for joining the blockchain train:

Learn about it. “You wouldn’t have sold the farm for the internet in 1992,” he observed, “but by the year 2000, you better have. With blockchain, pay attention to how it’s impacting industry and how it can apply to education.” Make sure the knowledge goes beyond the IT crew, he added. “Educate your leaders.” Sundaresan concurred: “When the business people start to get it, not just the technology experts, that’s when you start to see the real transformation take place.”

Test it. Take a low-stakes process that requires some form of verification and try blockchain “so you get the picture,” Mathews suggested. He calls this “micro-innovation.” “We’ll never invest everything in blockchain, but we will see processes, validation and security improved through it.”

Collaborate. Work with other institutions to help each other “on this emerging stuff.” When people bring up what they’re thinking of trying, he advised, listen closely in case there’s something that applies to your own college or university too, where you can co-participate.

“It is extremely complex to do all the things that all the departments want,” Mathews said. “They want more of their alumni, they want more of their prospects, more retention, more persistence, more better grades. And they’re looking for a system to keep improving that. But in my 30 years on campuses I’ve learned that systems make very little impact on those things. They accommodate it, but they don’t solve the real problem. What solves the real problem is somebody having the clearest line of sight and the shortest pathway to the person they’re trying to connect to. That’s blockchain.”

How It Works

Oral Roberts University’s “Blockchain Essentials for Education” event used technology from Trusted Key to demonstrate the process of receiving a digital certificate. Here’s how it works:

Screen 1 shows a user receiving an alert that the certificate is ready. The user clicks the “issue certificate” button at bottom of the e-mail. In Screen 2, the user receives the request in the Trusted Key Identity Wallet to approve the receipt of the certificate. In Screen 3, the certificate has been issued to the user’s Identity Wallet and appears in his or her “My Identity Documents” repository. In Screen 4, the user can open the certificate to see the details and a customized image, which could be made available to an employer, for example, as proof of participation.



Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media’s education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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Big Data Is Getting Bigger… So Are the Privacy and Ethical Questions

Big data is getting bigger. So are the privacy and ethical questions.

The next step in using “big data” for student success is upon us. It’s a little cool. And also kind of creepy.

This new approach goes beyond the tactics now used by hundreds of colleges, which depend on data collected from sources like classroom teaching platforms and student-information systems. It not only makes a technological leap; it also raises issues around ethics and privacy.

Here’s how it works: Whenever you log on to a wireless network with your cellphone or computer, you leave a digital footprint. Move from one building to another while staying on the same network, and that network knows how long you stayed and where you went. That data is collected continuously and automatically from the network’s various nodes.

Now, with the help of a company called Degree Analytics, a few colleges are beginning to use location data collected from students’ cellphones and laptops as they move around campus. Some colleges are using it to improve the kind of advice they might send to students, like a text-message reminder to go to class if they’ve been absent.

Read more at 

Apple to launch student ID cards for iPhone

Written by Lindsay McKenzie Published  June 6, 2018  on Inside Higher Ed

On many campuses, students must carry ID cards to access their residence halls, take out library books, go to the gym and pay for lunch in the dining hall. But this practice could soon be a thing of the past, with the launch of digital student ID cards on Apple Watches and iPhones.

Using Near-Field Communications technology, students will be able to access a multitude of services on campus just by waving their phone or watch near compatible readers.

Six universities have been working with Apple and Blackboard on the initiative, including Duke, Johns Hopkins, Santa Clara and Temple Universities and the Universities of Alabama and Oklahoma.

Rather than an app, the digital student ID cards will be part of Apple Wallet and linked toapplewatch Apple Pay. The service is expected to go live at the six collaborating universities this fall. Contacted by Inside Higher Ed, none of the universities expanded on details such as what model of iPhone or Apple Watch students would need to have to use the technology, nor whether they are planning an Android equivalent of the system. Presumably, the technology will supplement (rather than replace) existing student ID card systems, as not all students own Apple technology.

Joshua Kim, director of digital learning initiatives at Dartmouth College’s Center for the Advancement of Learning (who also blogs for Inside Higher Ed), said he is interested to see whether this initiative could be the “gateway drug” for other mobile educational experiences from Apple — particularly on the Apple Watch.

“Student IDs are an interesting start, but what is more fun is to think about other ways that Apple Watch could address some higher ed challenge,” said Kim. The fact that the announcement was made by Apple’s vice president of technology, Kevin Lynch, is a promising sign, said Kim.

Speaking at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference Monday, Lynch described the digital Student ID feature as an “exciting” development that will “expand to more campuses over time.”

At the end of 2017, Apple began a partnership with Ohio State University, which involves the joint development of apps for use on campus — a development that some observers said indicated a renewed focus from Apple on higher education.

Eric Stoller, a higher education thought leader and Inside Higher Ed blogger, said the Student ID announcement is a “big deal” that will provide Apple with “another useful entry point into higher education,” as well as good PR for Blackboard and the universities involved in testing the technology.

A spokesperson for Blackboard confirmed that the company was working with Apple to develop the student IDs, adding that Blackboard would be providing the compatible reader devices. The spokesperson said that the digital student IDs would offer students “heightened security and extraordinary convenience” on campus. Though not mentioned in the Apple announcement, CR80News reported that each of the institutions involved in the initiative is a Blackboard Transact client. Blackboard Transact is a subsidiary of Blackboard that manages campus ID systems.

A spokesperson for Santa Clara University said the university was “looking forward” to bringing its campus ACCESS Card to the Apple Wallet, adding that the technology would be available to students, faculty and staff to use on and around campus by the end of this calendar year. The University of Oklahoma echoed this statement, saying that its Sooner Card would also be available to students, faculty and staff.

In a tweet, Tracy Futhey, chief information officer at Duke University, said that the initiative would enable students to access buildings and make payments across campus in an “even easier way.” She added her institution is “continually looking for technologies that can improve student experience,” adding that working with Apple was a “natural fit.”

5 Ways Blockchain Is Revolutionizing Higher Education

By KEVIN ROEBUCK Published May 17th, 2018 in the Wall Street Journal

What is blockchain and how will it transform education and research? Let’s ask that question a different way: What is education and how will it change as a result of blockchain and other technologies?

Education is the collective pursuit of truth and the transfer of knowledge across generations. It’s based on trust in the authority of our institutions, in the veracity of the teachings and research they represent. And it’s a global community characterized by consensus, transparency and permanence.

Blockchain, the distributed ledger technology, represents most of those things. It promotes consensus because it’s a record-keeping platform. It’s transparent because participants in the chain can download and validate individual ledgers. And it’s permanent because those ledgers can’t be altered. Like education, blockchain is intended to transfer not just content, but also the value inherent in that content.

It’s no surprise, then, that blockchain is the next technological chapter in a long trend of decentralization in the higher education sector.

It’s been only eight years since the emergence of the white paper that defined blockchain’s trusted, peer-to-peer, distributed-ledger network model, initially incarnated in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. It’s still early days for blockchain’s use in education and research, but there’s a lot of promising experimentation and innovation going on.

1. Student records and credentialing. Education is changing to a personalized model. What is each individual’s talents, competencies and credentials? The reality is that a lot of learning takes place outside of the classroom as well as inside. People learn from many different sources throughout their lifetimes. Your academic record doesn’t nearly encapsulate that lifelong learning process—and it’s not owned by you.

Blockchain offers a model for the secure collection and sharing of all of your competency indicators, including academic records but also badges, certificates, citations, letters of recommendation and the like. Think of it as an immutable, updatable and verifiable e-portfolio of your learning-oriented life experiences. For similar reasons, blockchain will be instrumental in avoiding fraud, providing a trusted means to establish that you are who you claim to be.

MIT is a leader in blockchain-based credentialing, having developed an open standard for verifiable digital records with a company called Learning Machine. Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque last year began issuing “student-owned digital credentials” on a blockchain platform that the college plans to make available to other educational institutions in the state.

2. Partnership platform. The City College of New York is one of a handful of universities assessing Bitcoin as a method of payment. But blockchain’s potential impact on academia’s financial side goes far beyond cryptocurrency.

As mentioned above, higher education has been evolving into a distributed model for some time now—consider California’s three-tiered college system or the SUNY system in New York. Recently, colleges and universities have been creating consortiums to collectively aggregate their resources. One such effort, the Internet 2 Net+ Initiative, provides a range of application, computer and other cloud-based services that participating universities can access.

Blockchain’s peer-to-peer transaction-based model fits perfectly into such consortium efforts. Blockchain-based “smart contracts”—distributed, encrypted digital transactions among more than two parties—might be employed to ensure the speed and transparency.

3. Copyright and digital rights protection. Blockchain’s ability to manage, share and protect digital content makes it ideal for helping researchers, faculty members and other higher-ed principals create intellectual property, share it and still control the way it’s used. Professors, for instance, could be rewarded based on the actual use, and reuse, of their teaching materials, similar to how they’re rewarded based on citations in research papers and journals.

Blockchain will also be critical in the evolution of “community content repositories”—what we now call libraries. San Jose State University is a leader in the Library 2.0 movement. Blockchain could be used in curating digital content and protecting digital rights, among other areas.

4. Course curricula. Add blockchain to the list of emerging technology skills that employers will covet over the coming years.

Classes that teach the requisite blockchain programming skills will no doubt be important, but the technology presents a unique educational challenge because it sits at the intersection of so many areas of business and technology, including policy, law, commerce, transactions, intellectual property rights, cryptography and artificial intelligence. Thus, blockchain education requires an interdisciplinary approach, such as the program developed by the Berkeley Center for Law and Business that combines business, law, economics, computer science and engineering.

5. Innovation learning platform. Entrepreneurship is the lens through which many students view their educational opportunities. And many students see blockchain learning as preparation for the next generation of startups.

Carolina FinTech Hub, a community group representing businesses in North and South Carolina, recently wrapped up its Blockchain Generation Challenge (sponsored by Oracle). The group, which solicited student teams from local colleges to submit proposals for blockchain-based applications, received 31 proposals from 29 teams representing 68 participants. Judges from Bank of America, Wells Fargo, EY, Ally and Oracle, among other companies, picked 10 finalist teams, which developed applications aimed at the energy, finance, education and healthcare sectors. Don’t be surprised to see one or two of those blockchain applications implemented by Carolina businesses in the near future.

Students are also taking blockchain education into their own hands. Blockchain at Berkeley is a student-led 501C3 non-profit organization that offers blockchain-related education, consulting and research to local businesses. Elsewhere, the mission statement of Cornell Blockchain is to “develop, consult and support growing projects in blockchain and create a community of innovators.”

I’ve been in educational technology for 30 years. My father worked at Apple and brought home an Apple II computer early on. I met Steve Jobs and heard him talk about how the Apple II would transform education. Now other technologies and tech-based movements—blockchain prominent among them—promise to overhaul the educational experience. The Learn to Earn initiative at the Institute for the Future, for instance, describes a radical vision for a national learning economy.

Enter cloud computing. When blockchain becomes a cloud service, made easily accessible to educational institutions and their wide constituent groups, it will demonstrate results at a scale that will drive revolutionary change.

Kevin Roebuck is director of digital experience for education and research within Oracle’s Industry Solutions Group.

Can blockchain reinvent the college enterprise?


Illustration by Tom Vander Ark

Dive Brief:

  • The emergence of blockchain digital record keeping is becoming a component of the higher education enterprise, from student training to record keeping, credentialing and finance, the Wall Street Journal reports. Blockchain is a continuously growing digital list of records that are linked and secured using cryptography, the process of converting plain text into unintelligible text and vice versa. Cryptography protects data from theft or alteration, and can be used for user authentication.
  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the nation’s leaders in developing blockchain solutions for higher education, having piloted a digital records system using the platform, while the City College of New York is assessing how Bitcoin may be used as a form of tuition payment.
  • Blockchain is also being used for copyright protection of faculty member publishing and research, with San Jose State University serving as a leader in the Library 2.0 movement within higher education. It also is becoming a fast growing element of curriculum design and degree offerings, with students at the University of California, Berkeley having established a non-profit organization to position students as consultants and entrepreneurial creators in the new industrial space.

Dive Insight:

Seemingly, blockchain stands to serve as a central element of overhauling higher education from the tech perspective, as its uses and design provide pathways for corporate partnership, professional development and innovation. And with varying institution types piloting ways for blockchain to be used within the campus enterprise, it offers a view of how institutions can harness the technology to boost credentialing and professional training add-ons.

Blockchain offers one way of verifying credentials, as well as allowing students to “own” their proof of learning, according Phil Komarny, vice of innovation at Salesforce, speaking at a meetup held by Edsurge. Records would be in the hands of students and graduates, not the college registar.

But not all universities are eager to implement blockchain because of concerns about potential fraud and because not all students and graduates want their information in the system.


Published by Education Dive   May 31, 2018   Authored by 

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