'Huge interest' in Oak Academy collecting pupil data

DfE-backed national online academy says it may introduce voluntary logins, which it could use to collect data about individual users

Amy Gibbons

Online learning

Oak National Academy has said there is "huge interest" in the pupil data it could collect.

Ian Bauckham, chair of the government-backed virtual academy, said if it does "move into the realm of voluntary or optional logins" – something that it is considering, Oak would aim to collect some basic data about its individual users.

However the academy would have to "look very hard at the legalities of what we could and couldn't do with that data," he said.


Related: 'Impressive' 3 in 5 Oak Academy lessons are completed

Background: Oak National Academy gets £4.3m to stay open next year

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Speaking at today's Westminster Education Forum on the future for edtech in England, Mr Bauckham said education data could be used to create something along the lines of "enormously rich" databases "for researchers to mine".

The academy is "considering whether we should introduce optional user logins to help collect information about users' activity", Mr Bauckham said, which could "potentially provide feedback to schools, as well as to users".

Asked where Oak stands "on the privacy, confidentiality and anonymity of data", Mr Bauckham said: "At the moment, we don't know the identity of the people using the platform.

"We know some of their characteristics like their location, and what kind of device they're accessing the platform on, but we don't know their name, we don't know their address, we don't know any of their characteristics.

"But at the moment, it would be quite difficult for us, I think, to do anything which compromised the confidentiality of pupil data."

He added: "Going forward, if we do move into the realm of voluntary or optional logins, we would aim to collect some basic data about our individual users – and at that point, we would have to look very hard at the legalities of what we could and couldn't do with that data, and what kind of consents we needed to collect.

"Needless to say, given the volume of usage of our platform has got, there's a huge level of interest in the data that we potentially could collect.

"We know that oversees the scale of the National Health Service as a single national health provider provides enormously rich health databases for researchers to mine.

"It is possible that we could do something like that educationally, but we will be moving into quite a different realm or we'd need to do quite a lot of careful strategic thinking and get the right kind of advice about what was most valuable and what was legal and ethical before we went down that route. But it's a very interesting area to reflect on."

Mr Bauckham said the potential for the data is "huge", but moving "to the next stage" would likely require encouragement from government ministers.

"I mean if you're a developer of an educational resource, and you've got the opportunity to pilot it on a platform like Oak, and have a control group that doesn't access that particular educational approach or resource, and then measure the learning outcome six months later with a sample of half a million learners, you've got the sort of research opportunity that it's very difficult to get in any other forum," he said.

"So the potential for all of this is huge, but a bit of encouragement from those in government and policymakers would probably be needed to take it to the next stage."

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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