PebblePad helps shape the conversation around the ethical use of data.

by Debbie Holmes, Paul Duvall, Sarah Chesney


PebblePad helps shape the conversation around the ethical use of data.

~ Ethical use of data ~

FEBRUARY 11th 2019
Debbie Holmes
Paul Duvall
Sarah Chesney

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The concept of ‘social consent’ raised a lot of questions amongst Members of ALT, as exemplified by the submission from our member organisation PebblePad.

ALT publication: Response from ALT's members -  Technology and Data Ethics Inquiry 2019

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Here at PebblePad, we have always taken great pride in the fact that we treat the data in our platform with the respect it deserves. And our focus on privacy is not all that surprising when you consider that the PebblePad platform is centred around placing the individual user at the heart of the learning experience. Indeed, while PebblePad is often deployed as an organisation-wide technology, each and every learner can still choose to keep their 'learning assets' private until they choose to share with others for assessment, collaboration, review or publication. This underlying tenet of PebblePad is just one of the reasons why we've attracted numerous customers and currently support a huge variety of educational uses. 

Therefore, when the recent call from ALT came along asking for contributors to submit to a response to the Policy Connect and All-Party Parliamentary Group on Data Analytics landmark inquiry into data and technology ethics we were naturally very keen to contribute. The inquiry is concerned with the use of data for analytics and where learning, teaching and assessment, supported by technology, produces personal, sensitive information.

Many of the processes for managing teaching, learning and assessment are often a mash-up between paper trails, emails, spreadsheets and other technology. Personal tutoring, postgraduate supervision and dissertation management are just a few of the examples which immediately spring to mind. Technology advances at a rapid rate and it's not surprising that many organisations struggle to maintain pace, and universities are not alone in coming to terms with the changes necessary to ensure that the data they collect and hold is used in an ethical and sustainable way.

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Here at PebblePad, we see universities as stewards of learner data for a specified period of time.

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The inquiry from ALT called for evidence from different sectors including healthcare, policing, automated vehicles and education. Our area of expertise relates to education, having worked with numerous universities across the globe for the past 15 years. We were particularly interested in the following question posed in the call for evidence:

"Universities and colleges can learn a lot about students behaviour and use predictive analytics to target those with specific needs or who may be about to drop out of a course, significantly improving their life outcomes, however monitoring student attendance, library use, internet browsing, etc. may be viewed as undue surveillance?"

The concern about 'undue surveillance' articulated in the call for evidence is one that we expect is shared by our customers. That said, we also expect that the PebblePad infrastructure goes some way to alleviating this concern since it strikes a balance between being effective as an organisational-wide solution, while retaining the freedom for learners to reflect and learn in private. Learners retain ownership of their content during their educational programme and beyond, having the option to maintain a PebblePad alumni account after graduation. We see institutions as stewards of learner data for specified periods of time.

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An example in practice

Queen Margaret University (QMU) used PebblePad to transform the paper-based processes which were creating issues around security and data protection regulation. Previously, all learners' completed forms were stored by the university for a specified time, but now the students can take a free PebblePad alumni account and store their own data. This shift from a paper to a digital world offers clear and obvious advantages for ongoing learning, career progression and GDPR compliance.

We were delighted to find that ALT valued our contribution to their response which contained several elements from our submission, including: "The concept of ‘social consent’ raised a lot of questions amongst Members of ALT, as exemplified by this submission from our member organisation PebblePad." You can view ALT’s full response here. We are committed to helping shape the ongoing conversation in this area and ensuring that ethical innovation is at the forefront of our activities as a company.

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Nurse, Midwife and Midwife Teacher, Debbie was a long term advocate of PebblePad prior to joining the PebblePad team.  She really enjoys seeing the wonderful things our users do with PebblePad. She has a new hobby every week, right now it’s puppy training her rescue Fox Terrier called Whistler!

Paul joined the PebblePad team as an Implementation Specialist after clocking up more than two decades' experience in the Higher Education sector. Paul honed his craft in areas such as teacher training, year abroad placements and distance learning, before focussing his expertise and efforts on supporting the University of Liverpool's School of Medicine in his role as Director of Technology Enhanced Learning. These days, Paul can be found advising colleagues in the medical field on how they can use PebblePad to support and develop the next generation of doctors. Outside of work, Paul attempts to play more sport than his body can cope with, this despite his wife and daughter reminding him on a daily basis that he's better off sticking to what he knows best - technology and education.

Sarah has worked in educational and staff development for 13 years; first as a senior lecturer in e-learning at the University of Cumbria, and since then as both a consultant and associate lecturer. Sarah is a keen advocate for using eportfolios for staff development and professional recognition and has written several articles on this topic. The good news for Sarah (and for PebblePad customers) is that she now gets to spend even more of her time innovating in the eportfolio space in her role as an Implementation Specialist.