Saturday, March 26, 2016

E-Learning: More Benefits of Big Data and Ethical Concerns to Be Wary Of

The benefits of Big Data mentioned in the previous post would on the surface give us cause to adapt the whole regimen as very worthwhile in the design of learning experiences. Having the ability to produce Big Data that is individualized to each learner should enable us not only to reach that elusive goal of instruction designed to the strengths and weaknesses of individual learners but also when a case is needed to present to education ministry administrators for the purpose of increased funding.  There is also the great benefit of the efficiency and expediency that Big Data affords. In terms of efficiency, the ability to stream strategies saves time in the design of learning experiences that is not only noticeable when employed in the education sector but also in the learning culture of business organizations.

Credit: Surya P. Mohapatra
Despite these benefits, there also exists some serious ethical concerns to be wary of.

  1. Gate Keepers of Big Data: In the previous post, I posted the Latin phrase: " Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?", which loosely translated means: "Who is to watch over the guardians themselves?"  With the incredible amount of data being produced every day on individuals in society in the online world, a very informative personal open dossier of individuals is available. Although this dossier has a vast amount of information on an individual, it does not mean that all the collected information is absolutely accurate or even true at all. Consider the fact that companies such as Google have and promote extensive services that include: email, document storage and processing, news, Web browsing, scheduling, maps, location tracking, video and photo sharing, voice mail, shopping, social networking and other tools of interest to users. From these information producing tools, personal data is collected, stored and cross-referenced. There are a number of important questions that need to be asked in regards to privacy:
  • Who will have access to this personal Big Data and for what motives?
  • Will this Big Data be protected from unauthorized access by individuals with motives other than the improvement of education for the learners? Data breaches of customer data is not science fiction but a serious reality and in the business world digital espionage is something to be prepared for. Are we ready?


  • Will governments use educational Big Data to improve the quality of real education for learners or will they use it for self promoted political agendas to slap down political opponents where learners and their schools, instructors and education districts are just pawns in a larger game?
  • Will learners themselves have access to the Big Data collected on them as well as the interpretations of that personal data?
If Big Data is the basis for decisions that will have an effect on the actions taken "in the best interest" of the learner, the whole path that the life of a learner will follow may be determined in ways that violate the learner's goals and future occupation.
2. Reducing Human Beings to Just Numbers: The concept of profiling learners can lead to the        dehumanization of learners. People can become just collections of objects and collections of facts rather than living, breathing thinking unique individuals. It is the extreme application of objective judgment.
3. Lying With Statistics: Correlation of data does not prove causation! The motives of the handlers and interpreters of Big Data always needs to examined. It is very easy in the heat of debate, especially in the political realm, to jump to purposed conclusions using Big Data and forget how many people's lives are going to be changed based on the interpretation of the Big Data.


Question: Do we have effective protocols in place to handle educational Big Data and address the ethics of using it?

Next.... Positive suggestions to address the concerns with educational Big Data

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