Prioritizing Privacy is a three-year continuing education program that will train academic library practitioners to comprehensively address privacy and related ethical implications of learning analytics projects, funded by an IMLS grant. The training program will guide participants to explore learning analytics, privacy theory, privacy-by-design principles, and research ethics and then present participants with case studies. Participants will develop a plan for a learning analytics project prioritizing privacy protections.
I reached out to the project’s PI and co-PI (Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe and Kyle M. L. Jones, respectively) for an interview about the project via email. I thank them for the time in sharing more information about this project.
- What was the inspiration for the Prioritizing Privacy continuing education and grant for academic librarians?
We conceptualized Prioritizing Privacy while attending a national convening of the IMLS-funded project “Library Values & Privacy in our National Digital Strategies” (https://cipr.uwm.edu/2018/08/02/project-report-library-values-privacy/) led by Michael Zimmer and Bonnie Tijerina. During the conversations at the summit, we kept coming back to the challenge that many librarians feel they don’t have the skills to engage with campus initiatives and productively bring our profession’s privacy commitments into the conversation. Though we both address these issues in the courses that we teach in our respective iSchool programs, we can’t rely on the MLS alone for developing professional competencies as the work of librarians grows and changes over time.
You can see this conversation reflected in the final report of that convening:
“Participants repeatedly expressed concern that library staff, professionals, and administrators all fell short in terms of receiving proper training and education around issues of patron privacy. Literacy gaps persist on issues of privacy law, new technological threats, possible technical solutions, and standard privacy best practices all threaten to limit the ability to sufficiently protect patron privacy.”
Similarly, the IMLS-funded national convening “A National Forum on Web Privacy and Web Analytics” also identified a range of training needs in the profession.
The need was clear. And we were thrilled that the IMLS grant reviewers agreed when we submitted our grant proposal to develop training to meet this need.
- Could you share some of the challenges in designing and implementing training around privacy issues in libraries?
To inform the development of the Prioritizing Privacy training curriculum, we conducted a survey of library practitioners and presented our results at the 2020 ALISE Conference (https://osf.io/2rp7e/). The data we collected confirm that ethical issues abound with learning analytics. 90% of respondents indicated they somewhat or strongly agreed learning analytics raises ethical issues. The top five ethical issues respondents identified as being very challenging for high education were: power imbalances (68%), algorithmic biases (64%), self-fulfilling prophecies (59%), establishing new privacy norms (56%), and maintaining trusting relationships (54%) — and there are more than 20 additional topics as well! These are wide-ranging issues that include not only technical components but also issues of organizational effectiveness and theoretical constructs. It is a lot.
And, of course, there was the pandemic that completely undid our plans for a multi-day in-person curriculum development retreat with our content experts team and the need to pivot to focus exclusively (for now) on an elearning course rather than an in-person workshop for learners. We were able to successfully re-design our plans and had a robust online retreat with our curriculum experts, which informed the elearning course that we will begin offering this fall.
- I see you had plans in the project for face-to-face training. Did this part of the project have to be adapted due to COVID?
For now all training will be offered online. We selected a cohort-based, asynchronous approach to the elearning course to provide flexibility for our participants while still allowing them to benefit from being part of a shared community of practice. Fortunately, between the two of us we have more than 30 years of online teaching experience and Kyle is trained in the Quality Matters online education assurance model. We are confident that this will be a high quality learning experience; however, we will also be assessing this from the participant perspective so that we can improve it over time.
- I love that the project includes an open educational resource packet as an output of the project. Are there plans to periodically update this resource down the road?
We regularly talk about the future possibilities for this project (and next grants!) so we are hopeful for being able to continue to expand them. The materials will also carry a CC-BY-NC license so others in higher education will be able to build on them.
- I feel that the last few years have really highlighted issues of privacy (and privacy violations) in almost every aspect of modern life. Do you both feel that privacy should be part of regular library and iSchool curricula?
Yes! And, in reality, we believe they are. Privacy is a fundamental library value — it appears in the ALA Code of Ethics and the ALA Library Bill of Rights. The issue at hand with learning analytics is that applying the privacy value in a specific context is often more challenging than to commit to a value in the abstract. And this is even more the case when engaging with other campus professionals who have their own ways of conceptualizing privacy. Developing a shared understanding across campus that is informed by our professional commitment to privacy and then putting that understanding into practice is a challenge but we are confident that librarians can be leaders in this work across our institutions.
- Do you see this project inspiring any future grant projects and/or research?
As researchers, we see almost no end to the possibilities for investigating this topic. Most immediately of course there are questions about what happens when librarians put into practice what we are teaching in this training? What barriers do they encounter and what strategies are most effective for addressing them? What are the conditions — both in the library and on campus — that foster privacy-forward learning analytics practices? And, of course, as learning analytics evolve, how does the library engagement need to evolve?
All of these research ideas would need funding of course and we can also see possibilities for developing additional training modules as well. For example, many libraries employ information technology specialists who do not have an MLS. Would training for this specific population be helpful? What about librarians who are teaching information literacy credit courses who might be engaged in course-based learning analytics projects of their own, would training in privacy-centric instructional design be useful? If anyone has other audiences we should consider, we would be grateful to hear!
- Is there anything else you’d like to share about the project that we haven’t hit on already?
Virginia Dressler is the Digital Projects Librarian at Kent State University. Her specialty areas are project management and digitization, working primarily with the university’s unique collections. She holds a Master’s of Library and Information Science from Kent State University (2007), a Master’s of the Arts in Art Gallery and Museum Studies from the University of Leeds (2003) and a certificate in advanced librarianship (digital libraries) from Kent State University (2014). Her research areas include privacy in digital collections and the Right to be Forgotten. She is author of Framing Privacy in Digital Collections with Ethical Decision Making (Morgan & Claypool, 2018).