• Board Corner
  • 10.18.18

Ethical Use of Data

  • by Paige Borden - AIR Board Member at Large
Paige Borden

As more and more campuses employ predictive analytics tools, the logical next question is how to ensure the ethical use of the insights gained. We need to ensure that the information and interactions boost opportunities for students, rather than limit their choices. Institutional researchers are at the forefront of this issue, as we have access to the data, perform analysis, and generate research insights that may trigger interventions by end users. Therefore, we must pay special attention to the ethical use of data.

As an example, my institution has spent the past five years engaging with multiple vendors, implementing different software tools, and doing our best to consider the usage of the findings and how to properly engage with students. in reality, we had pockets of teams following best practices, but we did not have a university-wide approach. My unit is now engaged in coordinating in the holistic development of a university philosophy statement governing the ethical use of data. However, my university isn't alone in this journey!

AIR recognized this critical topic and sponsored multiple events with deep dives into data ethics. In March, the EDUCAUSE/NACUBO/AIR 2018 Enterprise IT Summit included a session on “The Ethics of Analytics.” The May 2018 AIR Forum included an Impact Session on “Exploring the Ethics of Analytics,” a discussion group on “Applying the AIR Code of Ethics…,” and a keynote by Cathy O’Neil, “Weapons of Math Destruction,” that included details on the accidental bias of algorithms.

The AIR Board is also closely following this trend. To encourage an updated focus on the ethical use of data, the Board has plans for an advisory workgroup to update and enhance the AIR Code of Ethics and Professional Practice. While the currently posted version includes amendments from 2013, the general language remains largely unchanged from its original 1992 adoption. The new advisory workgroup will consist of a few Board members and a set of invited AIR members. The group is expected to work through the winter and hopes to have a culminating face-to-face convening in March. The ethical use of data is a rapidly changing environment for higher education. As our AIR Forum 2018 panel of experts were quick to proclaim, there are still “more questions than answers” surrounding the ethical use of data. However, by collectively sharing the experiences of individual institutions, encouraging the focus at the association level, and updating the AIR Code of Ethics, the overall attention will continue to highlight best practices, and, hopefully, start to answer some of the questions.