Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education

LA-SIG Webinar: Responsible Learning Analytics: A Tentative Proposal

Date Time:

21 June at 4pm AEST.  You will find your local time zone here.


Implied in learning analytics as research focus and field of praxis, is the notion of “responsible learning analytics” – though it is certainly not a dominant theme. An overview of the social imaginary pertaining to learning analytics points to a range of topics, such as the huge potential in the collection, analysis and use of student data and emerging evidence of its use in a range of higher education contexts. There is also claims pertaining to the effectiveness of learning analytics to prevent student dropout and attrition and voices contesting these claims. The broader discourses with regard to Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, algorithmic decision-making and advances with regard to software and tools for analyses also shape learning analytics research and practice.

In the noisy scholarly, public and increasingly commercial spheres of claims and counter claims pertaining to a range of applications for learning analytics, there are also voices emphasising that we should not forget that learning analytics is about students and their learning. Often to the frustration of venture capitalist/commercial vendors of learning analytics software and systems, there are also scholars who ask uncomfortable questions such as the scope of student privacy and the need to move towards student-centred learning analytics. The range of ethical considerations in the collection, analysis and use of student data and increasingly, the moral fiduciary obligation arising from our collection and analysis of student data – are often uncomfortable reminders of unchartered fields of scholarly reflection and empirical research.

An etymology of the word ‘responsible’ points not only to the need to be answerable and accountable, but also to being response-able and the obligation to act. In this presentation, I propose that an answerable but also a response-able approach to learning analytics cut across the whole spectrum of the collection, analysis and use of student data. The fiduciary duty of higher education and the asymmetrical power relationships between higher education and students serve as basis for my exploration of accountability and response-ability in learning analytics. I will engage with a selection of issues in the collection, analysis and use of student data such as our beliefs regarding data and evidence; data quality, scope, and governance; student participation and the ethics of (not) knowing before concluding with a tentative proposal.


Paul Prinsloo is a Research Professor in Open and Distance Learning (ODL) in the College of Economic and Management Sciences, University of South Africa (Unisa). Since 2015 he is also a Visiting Professor at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany.

His academic background includes fields as diverse as theology, art history, business management, online learning, and religious studies. Paul is an established researcher and has published numerous articles in the fields of teaching and learning, student success in distance education contexts, learning analytics, postgraduate supervision and curriculum development. His current research focuses on the collection, analysis and use of student data in learning analytics, graduate supervision and digital identities.

His collaborative research in the ethical implications/dimensions of learning analytics with Dr Sharon Slade (Open University, United Kingdom) received several international accolades. In 2014 he presented a Guest Lecture at St Edmunds College, Cambridge, (UK) titled “Addressing student retention and success in open (distance) learning contexts – towards an ethics of care.” Recently he was awarded a Fellowship from the University of Mary Washington (Fredericksburg, Virginia, US) to participate in the Digital Pedagogy Lab.


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