Student Vulnerability and Agency in Networked, Digital Learning

Paul Prinsloo
University of South Africa, South Africa

Sharon Slade
The Open University, United Kingdom


The increasing collection, analysis, use and possible sharing of student digital data not only promise to increase the effectiveness of student learning and the effective allocation of institutional resources, but also increase student vulnerability. In the context of the asymmetrical power relationship between higher education institutions and students, students are often seen as data objects with now insight or choice regarding the type of data collected, how the data are stored and used, and opportunities to verify collected data or provide context. Against the backdrop of Privacy 2.0 and the (in)effectiveness of regulatory frameworks to protect individual data privacy, as well as concerns that thinking in terms of the binary of either opting in or out, we need to critically investigate the collection, analysis and use of student digital data. This paper explores the promise and possible perils of learning analytics through the interpretive lens of student vulnerability. A framework is provided as basis for a student-centred approach to learning analytics where students’ agency is valued and optimised within the context of a fiduciary duty of reciprocal care.

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