European education leaders pledge for a responsible use of data in education
In response to the increasing impact of datafication in the classroom, high-level experts on digital education convened this month in Dublin at the annual conference of European Schoolnet, Eminent 2022, to discuss how to foster a responsible and smart use of data in education.
This year, Eminent took place on 6-7 December as an onsite event held in collaboration with the Department of Education of Ireland, and kicked off with a welcome message from Bernie McNally, Secretary General from the Ministry of Ireland, who presented the Digital Strategy for Schools to 2027 in Ireland.
With the aim of inspiring policy action and offering practical recommendations, organisations, such as UNESCO, OECD, the European Commission, the Digital Futures Commission (DFC), representatives from academia, European Ministries of education, the Ed-Tech industry and students presented at Eminent the latest international research publications, policies and practices on the topic of digitally processed data use for learning and other education purposes.
"This topic is one of the key priorities of European Schoolnet, which is working in collaboration with its network to offer evidence and best practices in the use of data in education," explained Jan de Craemer, Chair of European Schoolnet.
The key conclusion of the conference was that unlocking the potential of data use in education requires trust. Therefore, the adoption of a data governance framework, shaping the way people, organisations, and governments can legitimately collect, use, and share data equitably, is crucial
What are the impacts of data use in teaching and learning?
Education is one of the most noticeable sectors affected by datafication as, apart from transforming the ways in which teaching and learning are organised, it also impacts the ways in which future generations construct reality with and through data. Datafication implies the collection of data at all levels of educational systems (individual, classroom, school, international, national and regional), potentially about all processes of teaching, learning and school management. This proliferation of data changes decision-making and opinion-forming processes of educational stakeholders and impacts education policy, school supervision, school authorities, teachers, students and parents.
According to the latest European Schoolnet Perspectives Paper, at individual level, adaptive learning technologies or digital personalised learning (DPL) can personalise content according to student or teacher needs. At group or system level, student data collected through these tools can be aggregated and analysed by researchers, policymakers and digital tool developers to make evidence-based decisions. However, international reports and the research literature highlight a range of challenges to making the use of data beneficial for students.
Speaking at Eminent 2022, Andra Siibak, Professor of Media Studies at University of Tartu, examined the multiple ways in which datafication, algorithms and artificial intelligence transform the contexts for children at home, school, and in peer and parent-child relationships. She also reminded people to be critical, outlining how the COVID-19 pandemic provided an important moment for reimagining how data are repurposed for the social good and the best interests of children.
"Such increasingly prevalent dataveillance of the young – happening at home, in schools, workplaces and peer networks - involves more than a threat to young people's privacy. What is at stake is the future of human agency—and ultimately, of society and culture—in the context of the material practices and infrastructures of automation and algorithmic governance," mentioned Siibak.
Looking at data from AI in education, Prof. Dr. Dagmar Monett, Division Director Computer Science Berlin School of Economics and Law, explained:
"The future of AI in education could be bright if we pay careful attention to how, for what, by whom and for whom AI is used."
Watch the Keynote speakers' session
|Prof. Andra Siibak: Datafied childhoods in every day's life|
Fostering responsible use of data in education
During the conference, experts from UNESCO, OECD, the European Commission and the Digital Futures Commission (DFC) stressed the importance of designing a global framework with clear guiding principles. Prof. Sonia Livingstone, Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science working at DFC, said that such framework should provide guidance on how and why data should be collected and used in schools and should ensure that student rights prevail over commercial interests.
Stephane Vincent Lancrin, Senior Analyst at the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI), outlined that having access to education data can offer endless opportunities if technology is used for the right purposes (e.g., reducing dropouts, helping school leaders and teachers improve decisions and pedagogies, helping students to be more autonomous, experimenting with new learning methods or getting personalised support).
Juliette Norrmen-Smith, Digital Technology Specialist, Division of Education Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems, UNESCO, emphasised the importance of international collaboration in bringing the private sector and other stakeholders on board to support local innovation and facilitate trust. To endorse the use of data analytics, students need to understand and trust their institutions. Students very rarely have the opportunity to monitor or analyse their data.
Maria Gkountouma, representing the European Commission, presented the EC Ethical guidelines on the use of artificial intelligence and data in teaching and learning for educators as a good example of a common framework and a pioneer initiative of the European Union in promoting trust by taking ethical and legal considerations into account.
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Policy initiatives and collaboration with the industry
Ioannis Gaviotis, Policy Officer, European Commission, explained that at EU Level, there are several initiatives supporting the use of educational technology in Europe and helping governments upskill & reskill people in digital competencies.
But how technology and data are used in education may differ across countries. According to the latest European Schoolnet Agile Collection of Information report, "Student data - what is collected and for which purpose", countries such as Belgium-NL, Finland, France, Slovenia and Spain are using the collected data for adaptation and personalisation of the learning process; teachers use it to adapt teaching; computer-supported personalisation or adaptation of learning paths, academic orientation. Meanwhile, teachers in ten out of the fourteen studied countries reported using the data to adapt their teaching methods.
However, the use of data by students to monitor their progress (e.g., to monitor their own achievements and compare their results with averages) is still very rare across Europe. Using data for predictions (e.g., for the choice of next subject, next level of education, a different strand of education; achievement predictions; dropout predictions) is also relatively rare – it was mentioned by Belgium, Finland, Hungary and Ireland. Furthermore, only three countries, France, Ireland and Portugal, mentioned using the data for curriculum planning.
In Europe, there are several national initiatives and examples of responsible education data management.
In Finland, for example, the government funded several projects at municipality level related to education data. As Tero Huttunen, representative from the Finish Ministry of Education, explained at Eminent, some of these projects are focused on creating an open ecosystem where all actors working in the field of education can join together to build a national service platform for education.
France is launching the "Education Data Hub", a data platform intended for researchers, edtech players and national education stakeholders. The ambition of the project is to enable researchers, the entire educational community and its partners to create a coherent ecosystem, one that is guided by common ethical standards around a shared data catalogue and an open algorithms library. According to Philippe Ajuelos, representative from Ministry of Education of France, this ecosystem aims to take shape within a strong legal framework that respects the protection of personal data. It also aims to support the national AI strategy with the creation of sovereign data warehouses on which to train AI.
Governments also outlined the importance of collaborating with the private sector. Dr. Kevin Marshall, from Microsoft Ireland, explained the benefits of enabling co-creation, and involving teachers, schools and students in the process of technology development.
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Embracing education data literacy
In his keynote speech, Prof. Demetrios Sampson discussed the benefits of educational data literacy as a core competence for all education professionals, including schoolteachers, instructional designers and tutors of online and blended learning courses, as well as educational institution leaders.
Entering this new post Covid-19 era, school organisations, leaders and teachers are challenged with reinventing their teaching and learning environments to offer higher-quality, more accessible and inclusive teaching, learning and assessment beyond the periods of emergency education. Today, data-literate educators must interpret the education data in a meaningful manner and translate these data into actions that inform instruction, improve teaching and learning. Similarly, data-literate education leaders must adopt a data-driven evidence-analysis perspective to improve the overall school performance.
"The proliferation of data in our daily lives and the use of data to empower our decision-making have positioned data literacy as an important life competence." Prof. Demetrios Sampson.
A responsible data-driven assessment for all
During the third roundtable of the conference, experts from different countries analysed what is the right approach to successfully implement assessment for learning and debated which information from data-driven assessments should be shared and where to put the limits, looking at well-being, students' privacy and equity.
Niels Kerssens, Assistant Professor at the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at Utrecht University, highlighted the shift taking place in classrooms with the "platformisation" of primary education, and showed examples of trusted data analytics platforms which transform today's schools and open new opportunities for teachers and learners in the Netherlands.
"The education sector needs to look beyond GDPR and privacy to contribute to the development of open data governance infrastructures based on transparency and autonomy" said Kerssens.
Supporting this idea, Morten Søby, representing the Directorate for Education and Training from the Ministry of Education in Norway, highlighted the benefits of data usage in education for better policy and better practice. Some of the key missions of the national plan for digital education in Norway involve investing in infrastructure, fostering the collaboration of primary and secondary schools with national and regional administrations, municipalities and service providers to improve transparency and to better understand and monitor progress in the development of the digital ecosystem.
Margus Püüa, Head of the field of learning pathways at the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research, explained that the main goal of the education strategy in his country is to support personalised learning and self-assessment with formative assessment. According to Peep Küngas, Data Architect at Ministry of Education and Research of Estonia, one of the key means to obtain better learning results in Estonia is to offer teachers and students the possibility to choose different data platforms for formative assessment instead of being restrictive.
Marthe Straatemeier, Senior Advisor on Education and ICT, Kennisnet Netherlands, mentioned the huge potential and value that data insights from adaptive learning platforms bring to students by helping them in their education, well-being and also their motivation to learn. Some key prerequisites for success were listed: understanding why we need these learning platforms, getting expertise (pedagogical and data literacy); putting in place quality standards and protecting users with good cybersecurity.
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Students voice on the use of data in the classroom
Finally, students from various schools in Ireland shared their views on the challenges and opportunities of using data in schools, adding valuable insight to the conference.
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EUN Perspective on Data Use for Personalized Learning
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