NAEd Holds Workshop on Balancing “Big Data” Research Needs and Student Privacy
NAEd Holds Workshop on Balancing “Big Data” Research Needs and Student Privacy

August 2016

The National Academy of Education (NAEd) convened education researchers, legal experts on privacy, technology representatives, and federal employees in a workshop on “Big Data in Education: Balancing Research Needs and Student Privacy,” held on August 9–10.

Susan Fuhrman (Teachers College, Columbia University) and P. David Pearson (University of California, Berkeley)—both AERA members—serve as co-chairs of the NAEd steering committee that held the workshop.

Andrew Ho (Harvard Graduate School of Education) provided a starting point for the meeting by presenting his background paper Advancing Educational Research and Student Privacy in the “Big Data” Era. Panels over the day-and-a-half-long meeting addressed a range of topics, including the value and shortcomings of administrative and survey data in education research, learning process data, lessons learned from other fields and education stakeholders, and privacy concerns for using student data for research.

States around the country are considering and passing pieces of legislation affecting researchers’ access to data, while the federal government is expected to take up legislation to update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) when the new Congress convenes in 2017. This initiative is one of a number being undertaken in recent years directed to understanding the risks and opportunities of big data in education.

“This is a major topic for the education research community, and the fact that NAEd is taking it up too can only further the development of sound recommendations,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine.   

Other NAEd committee members include Elizabeth Buchanan (University of Wisconsin, Stout), Chris Dede (Harvard University), Louis Gomez (University of California, Los Angeles), and Sophia Rabe-Hesketh (University of California, Berkeley).

AERA has two related projects underway. One, under the auspices of the AERA Grants Program, in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, focuses on the development of guidelines for use of longitudinal information systems. The second, in collaboration with George Mason University, focuses on human subjects protection in the digital age, including  research ethics and privacy issues across the spectrum of what constitutes big data.

Also, recently AERA’s Juliane Baron and Levine contributed to the newly released report issued by the Data Quality Campaign, Turning Data Into Information: The Vital Role of Research in Improving Education, which addresses data privacy protection issues and use of administrative  data.

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