Approaches taken to understand the opportunities and ethical challenges of learning analytics necessarily depend on a range of ideological assumptions and epistemologies. This paper proposes a socio-critical perspective on the use of learning analytics. Such an approach highlights the role of power, the impact of surveillance, the need for transparency and an acknowledgment that student identity is a transient, temporal and context-bound construct. Each of these affects the scope and definition of the ethical use of learning analytics. The authors propose six principles as a framework for a number of considerations to guide higher education institutions to address ethical issues in learning analytics and challenges in context-dependent and appropriate ways.
Institutional policy frameworks should provide not only an enabling environment for the optimal and ethical harvesting and use of data, but also clarify: who benefits and under what conditions, establish conditions for consent and the deidentification of data, and address issues of vulnerability and harm. A directed content analysis of the policy frameworks of two large distance education institutions shows that current policy frameworks do not facilitate the provision of an enabling environment for learning analytics to fulfil its promise.