Identification of ‘at risk’ students using learning analytics: the ethical dilemmas of intervention strategies in a higher education institution

Celeste Lawson, Colin Beer, Dolene Rossi, Teresa Moore, Julie Fleming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


Learning analytics is an emerging field in which sophisticated analytic tools are used to inform and improve learning and teaching. Researchers within a regional university in Australia identified an association between interaction and student success in online courses and subsequently developed a learning analytics system aimed at informing learning and teaching practices. Contemporary literature draws attention to ethical considerations and moral tensions in the implementation of learning analytics. This paper presents a case study of the ethical implications of a learning analytics implementation at CQUniversity, a regional Australian university. There was an institutional assumption that student data, consensually gathered at enrollment could be analyzed beyond the scope of the original consent. Further, academics were using the data in a manner not intended by the designers of the learning analytic system, and academics interpreted the student’s individualized data to label students based on their estimate of success. The learning analytics system is still being used and the ethical findings from this paper have implications for CQUniversity, academics and students. In order to resolve the ethical dilemmas the university could increase transparency of the process to students and obtain consent at multiple levels throughout the student journey.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)957-968
Number of pages12
JournalEducational Technology Research and Development
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Data ownership
  • Ethics
  • Higher education
  • Learning analytics
  • Privacy

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