Or are they?
Before you decide, read this recent article in The Atlantic: Your Job, Their Data: The Most Important Untold Story About the Future.
One of the things I have been thinking about this week is how much metadata is captured by academic systems such as Blackboard, Echo360 and Panopto. Most people seem to be blissfully unaware of this, or simply don't care. Stephen Walker's post Lecture Capture and Data Capture did a good job of raising the key issues. We know what use commercial services such as Amazon, Facebook and Google make of this data - but what about academia? Is "Do No Evil" the watchword or do uses such as performance management - of students or staff - take precedence?
There is an easy way to deal with this problem - clear and transparent institutional policies on these issues. But more often than not, policies are lacking, either through omission or commission, resulting in loss of trust. The University of Manchester Policy on the Recording of Lectures and other Teaching and Learning is exemplary in this regard and should be followed by all institutions:
3.2 Prior to the beginning of each Semester, teaching staff will be informed that recordings will be made if their teaching and learning activities take place in a location containing automated lecture capture technology. Staff not wishing to have their sessions recorded should respond to this stating 'Opt out'.
3.6 Recordings will not be used for staff performance management purposes.
Such clear policies allow both staff and students alike to concentrate on learning rather than spending time wondering what Big Brother will do with their personal data.
Update: Helpful link via Martin Hawksey:
Prinsloo, P., & Slade, S. (2013, April). An evaluation of policy frameworks for addressing ethical considerations in learning analytics. In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (pp. 240-244). ACM.