7 responses to “Blackboard Connect: Exposed (Blog 7)”

  1. Cornelius Reeves

    Thanks for sharing a nice article really such a wonderful site you have done a great job once more thanks a lot.

  2. Leah Macfadyen

    Hi Bryan, not sure if you’ll have come across this discussion paper, but from my perspective it’s one of the best I know of in terms of considering the ethical issues and dilemmas regarding use of data (in all directions). Worth a read!

    Slade, S., & Prinsloo, P. (2013). Learning analytics: Ethical issues and dilemmas. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(10), 1510-1529 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0002764213479366

    1. bryan short

      Hi Leah,

      I haven’t come across that paper before. There’s a lot of overlap between the issues it discusses and the blog series: the unequal power relationship between institutions and students (even the comparison to the panopticon!) and the discussion about informed consent. But there’s also a lot of things that I hadn’t considered.

      It was interesting to read about the bias that is created when grouping students. I also really liked “Principle 3: Student Identity and Performance are Temporal Dynamic Constructs” (1520), which argued that students’ digital identities are constantly evolving and shouldn’t judged too harshly on past behaviour. This theme is especially in relation to the Digital Tattoo. In fact, it goes on to say: “Student profiles should not become ‘etched like a tattoo into … [their] digital skins'” (1520).

      Likewise, I see the merit in “Principle 6: Higher Education Cannot Afford to Not Use Data” (1521). This article should be required reading for anyone working in the field of learning analytics and I regret not having read it before writing the blog series. It raises so many good points. These are exactly the kinds of things that students should be thinking about if they’re to give informed consent to the use of their data. It should be broken down and written as an easily accessible manifesto!

      Thank you for sharing!


  3. Leah Macfadyen

    Hi Bryan, it’s interesting to read about your first encounter with Blackboard data. I think it’s important to note, though, that what you’re actually complaining about is Blackboard (ie ‘Connect’) and what *they* are calling ‘learning analytics’ (and I agree that there’s lots to complain about). Actual ‘learning analytics’ as a field of research and implementation goes far beyond learning management systems (LMS) like Blackboard products, and may not involve LMS data at all. It encompasses many different kinds of data, intentions and analytic approaches. And much of it is still actively at the research and prototype stage. What Blackboard (the company) packages up as ‘learning analytics’ and flogs to educational institutions, and the claims they make about its reliability, accuracy, potential and uses, are a bit of a black box (no pun intended) and to the best of my knowledge not supported by any robust published research.

    If you’d like to explore the wider field of learning analytics, join us at the annual Learning Analytics and Knowledge conference (LAK17), hosted in March by SFU: http://lak17.solaresearch.org/

    You might even find some Blackboard folks hanging around whom you can pitch your arguments to directly.


    1. bryan short

      Hi Leah,

      Thanks for noting that I’m using the wrong term when writing about learning analytics on Connect. I’d love to learn more about the actual research field of learning analytics and what it has to offer students and educators. Even after listening to just one presentation at the LAVA meeting this week, I’m much more confident in its potential.

      I’ll make plans to attend some of the LAK17 conference. I’ll also be at the LAVA meeting on March 7th discussing this project and hearing more about the field of learning analytics.

      Thank you for sharing!


  4. Anne Coustalin

    Hi Bryan,
    Thank you for sharing this. I agree that the data can be very misleading. I think, for the most part though, that instructors are aware of that fact and use the data cautiously. I believe there is a place for learning analytics and that their potential should not be disregarded.The solution here is not to “throw out the baby with the bathwater” as it were. The best and most obvious solution, seems to me, to simply give all stakeholders the same access to the same data. That way, if a student looks at their data and feels it misrepresents their performance, they can make contact with their instructor. Similarly, if an instructor is concerned a student’s engagement with the course is diminishing off, they can make contact with the student. If nothing else, it opens the door to communication.

    With the current distribution of access to data, there is the undeniable potential for instructors to misconstrue the data and use the data as the basis for unfair grades but if we could all access the data, we could use it to inform and empower our learning (as students), inform and enhance our instruction and assessment (as instructors) and identify problems with the analytics and suggest solutions (as a community).

    1. bryan short

      Hello Anne,

      Thanks for reading. I absolutely agree with you that there’s both good and bad potential for Learning Analytics. My exploration is largely focused around the bad because Blackboard has provided plenty of rhetoric around the good. But I’ve yet to hear of any examples struggling students being identified and assisted at UBC through Connect’s Learning Analytics. (This despite internal requests to be put in contact with instructors using Connect to this end, and external postings soliciting instructors to provide feedback on Connect.)

      However, since publishing these blog posts and writing about the very real threat that Learning Analytics poses to the fair and unbiased assessment of students, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and speak with several UBC instructors who refuse to look at the analytics or use Connect for these very reasons. Not to be overly pessimistic, but to borrow from your analogy: we should take reasonable precautions and remove the baby out of the bath while we redraw the water; there’s too great a risk and far too little benefit with the current system of Learning Analytics to keep forcing students to use it. UBC should disable Learning Analytics until it is capable of implementing a system that can make better, more ethical, use of the data and can generate meaningful consent with its students, which means revising the terms of service and, as you’ve suggested, sharing the data more openly.

      I think that you’ve beautifully summarized the potential for Learning Analytics in your consideration of all the stakeholders of the system: students, instructors, and the community. If the focus remains on those three considerations, then the future of Learning Analytics is promising. We just need to keep that focus equally distributed.


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