Big Data & Online Courses- Are High School Students at Risk?

Online educations programs have not only expanded higher education opportunities to a wider array of people, but have also created an array of supplemental courses for high school students completing Advanced Placement coursework or interested in credit for completing a college-level class. While such programs were created to bolster education, concerns over the use of data collected by these massive open online courses (also referred to as MOOCs) on high schools students have pushed parents and other advocates to call for stricter privacy guidelines.

These programs have the ability to collect data including academic strength and weaknesses, learning processes, birth dates, addresses, drivers license information, IP addresses, and attendance records in public forums. inBloom, the student database funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, met its end in April, a year after its launch. Parents, advocates and educators fought the nonprofit citing concerns of increased collection, use and sharing of sensitive student information. In a statement at the time of the nonprofit’s closing, inBloom CEO Iwan Streichenberger said,

I have made the decision to wind down the organization over the coming months… The unavailability of this technology is a real missed opportunity for teachers and school districts seeking to improve student learning.”

In the same statement, Streichenberger notes,

It is a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse, even though inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole.”

Concerns over iCloud and big data technology have remained heightened, and inBloom is just one of the many initiatives that has faced privacy concerns. While many argue the collection of student data allows for the modification of programs to fit the needs of students, others see the potential leak of such data to outweigh the potential benefit. Furthermore, there is discrepancy over whether or not the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) applies to MOOCs.

As big data usage continues to become more and more engrained in the private and public lives of citizens, further debate can be expected on the subject of privacy in schools.


Read more here- “Online Education Run Amok?” (Caitlin Emma, Politico)

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Olivia is a graduate of Villanova University where she studied Economics and History, minoring in Gender and Women's Studies. She also has experience working with federal legislatures on health care policy, women's issues, and Internet safety.


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