Mapping the Ethics of Learning Analytics in Higher Education

Ethics is a prominent topic nowadays. With the increasing deployment of AI in various sectors of society, conversations about ethics are everywhere. From ethics washing to ethics bashing, a cacophony characterizes a discourse on ethics that reflects various research agendas, political forces, and economic interests.  

In this context, Cormac McGrath and I looked at the use of AI in higher education which promises to transform the university into educational institutions driven by evidence-based practices.  What are the risks with such a transformation? How will relations between student-educational institutions be affected? Who will be the most benefited from AI-driven education? Who will be the most affected? 

With these questions in mind, we engaged with a literature review of the ethics of learning analytics in higher education. We are now happy to share the results of this effort in the following open access article published by the Journal of Learning Analytics/Society for Learning Analytics Research.

Here an excerpt from the article:

“Studies that further develop the sociocritical perspectives of Learning Analytics in Higher Education (HE), focusing on the students (Slade & Prinsloo, 2013; Prinsloo & Slade, 2017a) and that engage with the structural power imbalance between educational stakeholders are promising (Chen & Zhu, 2019). In this line of thinking, perspectives that view ethics as matters of care (Prinsloo & Slade, 2017a; Puig de la Bellacasa, 2011) and data as a form of power (D’Ignazio & Klein, 2020) will certainly provide insights to reflect on decisions that, while seemingly just and fair, may not necessarily care about the people involved in HE (Johnson, 2018)”. 



Join@LAK 2021 and participate in the Responsible Learning Analytics Workshop!

Read the call:

We welcome participants to submit position papers discussing ethical dilemmas they have encountered in their practice. These position papers should (a) discuss the context of the case, (b) the ethical concerns, targeting the various stakeholders involved and the principles in tension, and (c) technical, policy, and other approaches that have informed addressing the dilemma, and the effectiveness of these. 

We also welcome participants interested in attending and participating in the discussions (without submitting position papers).


  • Submit a 4-6 pages position paper using the  LAK companion proceedings

  • The accepted position papers will be shared in advance with the workshop participants

  • Submissions will be collated on the workshop website. Publication of the workshop contributions is intended in a joint “LAK Companion Proceedings” . 

  • Participants will post-workshop be invited to contribute to a special issue or similar on “Responsible LA”. 

Important Dates

  • Submission opens 1 Dec 2020

  • Submission deadline 9 Feb 2021

  • Notification of acceptance 23 Feb 2021

Submit your position paper or interest in participating via Easy Chair

Workshop goals

  • Introducing “Responsible LA” via concepts and sensitivities coming from the fields of Science & Technology Studies (Puig de La Bellacasa, 2011) and Human-computer interaction (Buckingham Shum et al., 2019; D’Ignazio & Klein, 2019). By Responsible LA, we refer to the need to create LA systems that are just and ethical but also that consider  equity, democratic and solidarity in education. 

  • Promoting discussions on the ethics of data-driven practices from the ground aimed to inform practitioners on the ethical challenges that emerge in practice.

  • Creating a wiki or other type of artifact contributing to a repository of ethical practice, as suggested by Kiitto and Knight (2019).

  • Helping participants to reflect on ethical challenges that speak of a disconnect between research and practice and find research collaboration opportunities.

The workshop outcomes will advance the LA field by informing the community on ethical challenges encountered in practice (during the development, design, and/or use of LA systems). 

One concrete outcome of the workshop will be starting an artifact (e.g., wiki) to document edge ethical cases in general terms, not linked to particular individuals or institutions that will be shared in the community for reflective discussions and further study.

New Project! funded by WASP-HS Human Learning


Ethical and Legal Challenges in Relationship to AI-driven Practices in Higher Education

Recent developments have suggested ways of using AI to understand better and optimize student learning, ensure improvements in educational quality, and boost retention rates.

While these unprecedented technical and research developments promise to unlock the black box of student learning and to inform educational institutions about the complexities of educational processes, the use of student data and analytics techniques raises a series of issues that require ethical and legal considerations. However, there is currently little understanding of ethics in relation to deploying AI in the education sector. This is partly due to the scant attention that ethical concerns have received compared to the increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness of such systems.

This project addresses fundamental ethical and legal challenges that AI technologies bring to learning and teaching in higher education. It will contribute knowledge about how to conceptually and empirically approach these challenges, but most importantly, how to deal with ethical issues in practice.

Grounded in post-phenomenological investigations of human-technology relations, this project will contribute to a relational, dynamic, and situated understanding of ethics in everyday education. Bringing together direct and indirect educational stakeholders, the project aims to raise awareness towards responsible use of AI by setting up the Swedish Ethical Observatory for AI in higher education.

Principal investigator: Teresa Cerratto Pargman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Human-Computer Interaction, Dept. of Computer and Systems Sciences, Stockholm University
Co-Principal investigator: Cecilia Magnusson-Sjöberg, Ph.D.
Professor of Law and Information Technology, Dept. of Law, Stockholm University

Project members:
Cormac McGrath, Associate Professor of Education, Stockholm University
Liane Colonna, Postdoctoral Fellow, Dept. of Law, Stockholm University
Jaakko Hollmén, Associate Professor of Computer Sciences, Dept. of Computer and Systems Sciences, Stockholm University

Scientific Advisory Board

Book Review

The Journal Postdigital Science and Education invited me to read the fabulous book “Student Engagement in the Digital University: Sociomaterial Assemblages,” published by Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver in 2018. The review I wrote starts with the following introduction:

Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver’s Student Engagement in the Digital University: Sociomaterial Assemblages (2018) is a welcome and critical contribution to the study of how students actually engage with the digital university in everyday practice. Inspired by scholars in New Literacy Studies (NLS), Science and Technology Studies (STS), and by Actor-Network Theory (ANT), Gourlay and Oliver argue for a socio-material understand- ing of students’ digital engagement by adopting assemblages (Latour 2005; Fenwick et al. 2015; Bennett 2010) as a conceptual lens. The authors make their case through the study of ‘students’ day-to-day practices of studying’ (62) in the digital university and develop their argument in 12 compelling chapters that read as a liberating narrative from the non- stop messianic ‘tech-talk’ in education (Selwyn 2016: ix). In this context, Gourlay and Oliver (2018) unpack complex issues like How do current discourses and ideologies position students, teachers, scholarship, and the university in relation to the digital in higher education? How does research in education approach students’ agency in the digital university? What kind of revolution follows the use of digital technology in universities―if any? What can (or cannot) we as researchers perceive when applying models and frameworks on empirical student data?

Reading about these issues offers a breath of fresh air that entices the curious reader to learn more about ‘student engagement as a set of socio-material practices’ (Gourlay and Oliver 2018: 9) and to engage with the ‘messy, imperfect, contingent and improvised’ (11) nature of student practices in digital-analog entanglements. By doing so, one embarks on an intellectually stimulating journey that starts with offering a critique to abstract discourses of the digital in higher education; continues with empirical studies of the students’ day-to-day practices in the digital university; and ends by suggesting assemblages as a lens for the study of socio-material practices in higher education.

Cerratto Pargman, T. Review of Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver (2018). Student Engagement in the Digital University: Sociomaterial AssemblagesPostdigit Sci Educ (2020).




IV Encuentro Internacional Interfaces de Conocimiento

El Laboratorio de Tecnologías para la Socialización(LabTEC), dependiente de la Secretaría de Extensión Universitaria y Bienestar Estudiantil (SEUBE) organizó el IV Encuentro Internacional “Interfaces de conocimiento” a través de la plataforma Meet de Google. Esto fue una excelente oportunidad para intercambiar visiones del futuro de la educación en Latinoamérica y el Caribe. Las charlas aportaron análisis de casos que dan cuenta de los desafíos de la transformación digital en la vida cotidiana, en la emergencia y en la post-pandemia.

El encuentro se puede acceder aqui





ICLS Symposium: Learning in Unbounded Landscapes -Conceptualizations and Design from an Ecological Perspective

This symposium seeks to advance an understanding of learning from an ecological perspective. The abundance of digital technologies and rapid changes in knowledge domains generate new epistemic and learning practices, drawing on heterogeneous sets of resources, actors, and forms of knowledge. Consequently, learners must navigate complex and unstructured landscapes to gather resources and structure knowledge activities. In doing so, they create continuity and connections between various unbound spaces of learning, i.e., they create their own learning ecologies. Little is known about these processes and how they can be examined or supported. This symposium argues for the necessity of a paradigmatic shift towards an ‘ecological understanding’, which takes into account the enactment of the learning ‘act’, the knowledge forms, contexts, relationships, digital technologies and infrastructures that shape learning practices in unbound landscapes. The four contributions employ an ecological perspective on various aspects of learning and use empirical illustrations to build an argument leading towards a new educational research and learning design agenda. The contributions are complementary as they pinpoint practices students, teachers and institutions engage with and and challenges they are facing in this unbounded landscape.

The symposium was led by Crina Damşa, University of Oslo, Norway & Christoph Richter  Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Germany. The discussant was Jim Slotta, University of Toronto. The contributers were: Lina Markauskaite, Natasha Arthars, Natalie Spence, Heidrun Allert, Zacharias Andreadakis, Christoph Richter, Crina Damşa and me (Teresa Cerratto Pargman). 

Here is the entire text also accessible in the ICSL 2020 Proceedings and the slides presented via Zoom. 

ECSCW Workshop on Datafication- provocations, threats, and design opportunities

This was a great Zoom workshop with more than 20 attendants participating from Europe, Israel, USA, Canada and Australia. Led by my colleague Karin Hansson we discussed the  emergence of new data sharing practices that are changing our understanding of how history is negotiated and our collective memory enacted. More information:

Thoughts after Reading: #Vibrant Matter by Jane Bennett

Last April I joined a group of colleagues from Stockholm University and the Royal Institute of Technology who monthly discuss academic books. They had scheduled “Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things” by Professor of Political Theory Jane Bennett. This a fascinating book not only because Bennett’s accessible and compelling writing makes it possible to learn more about classical works in Continental Philosophy but also because Jane Bennett explains why it is important to interrogate us about how we think, relate, and take care of things, non-human matter. 

Her book brought me back to “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” (Bateson, 1972), a book that I read many years ago (during my psychologist training), and that completely changed my view of illness and human relationships. Particularly, Bateson’s writing made me understand that if we want to help people to change their behaviors,  their practices then it is better, as a therapist to target their relational modes or ways to relate to each other rather than their individuals’ symptoms

Bennetts’ way to write about relations also resonated with Decuypere & Simons (2016). In that article, the authors distinguish the relational modes from the representationalist modes of thinking by arguing that “relational thinking places the primacy on the prevalent relations in a setting” rather than on social and/or material distinct entities. As such, these authors underscore the importance of looking “at the relations between different actors – and this to such an extent that actors are, in fact, the result of the relations they uphold with other actors” (p.3).

Reading Bennett with Decuypere & Simons’s distinction in mind, makes me think that actors are also the result of the relations they uphold with things. Paying attention to the relations with things, Bennett makes a compelling distinction between things and objects, as she speaks of vibrancy of things and not of objects because objects are the ways things appear to a subject but things are something else, she writes: “things signal the moment when objects become the Other” meaning that things somehow escape the relationship between subject-object; things are at the outside of human/knowledge relationships and then can be called: the out-side. Bennett writes that she tries to give voice to a thing power, to a vibrant matter by underscoring the conative nature of things; that means underscoring the attempted action of things rather than the action itself.

But can this be possible? How can we give voice to the conative nature of things? Most importantly how can we know about “things” being at the outside of the relationship subject-object?

Bennett’s answer connects among others with Adorno’s specific materialism and the idea of Adorno’s nonidentity which is “the discomforting sense of the inadequacy of representation [that]remains no matter how refined or analytically precise one’s concept can become” (p.14). In experiencing such a discomforting sense of the inadequacy of representation,  Bennett thinks there is an ethical task to do here. Such a task is not the one of keeping remembering this discomforting sense of the inadequacy of representation and thus learning to accept this but rather acknowledging that we are part of things. “We are vital materiality and we are surrounded by it, though we do not always see it that way. The ethical task is to cultivate the ability to discern nonhuman vitality, to become perceptually open to it”.  (p.14).

How is it possible to think about us as a vibrant matter which is part and parcel of non-materiality, this out-side? Someone who trained to think about this out-side and human participation in shared materiality was Adorno who wrote about a set of practical techniques, intellectual and aesthetic exercises for training oneself to better detect and accept what is called “nonidentity”[1].

Somehow these techniques about negative dialectics reminded me of a game that I played when I was little. It was in the bathroom of our house, there was a vanity. It had three flat mirrors and I could play with them and place them forming a certain angle to each other. The thing is that when you place an object between them, then several images can be observed depending on the number of angles that the mirrors form with each other. As the angle becomes smaller, the number of images increases. I was the thing placed between the mirrors so I could play with the number of the images of myself by going back and forth with increasing and decreasing the angles. The favorite part of the game was when I could find the smallest angle and get the most images of myself reflected on the mirrors. At this moment and only at this precise moment I could ask: who is this?

This moment was special as I tried to relate to me as I was an Other, I was looking at me as I was a stranger, an alien. I remember the feeling, the experience, it was both scary and fun. It was memorable. Was it a way to see the thing in me? Was my game with the mirrors and their changing angles a sort of a nonidentity technique to getting to know me as a thing from the out-side? Were the images of myself reflected on the mirrors a thing of power? More importantly, was I contemplating (representing) or experiencing (acting)  the thing power? Was I developing a relationship with the out-side?

The thing power and the idea of out-side, the pillars of Bennett’s “vital materialism” posits that “this sense of a strange and incomplete commonality with the out-side may induce vital materialisms to treats nonhumans – animals, earth, even artifacts, and commodities – more carefully, more strategically, more ecologically” (p. 18).

Based on that one can think that my game with the mirrors was also a game to both explore and participate in new types of relationships. Perhaps was it my way to train a new type of relationship with myself as a stranger or rather a strange thing? A way to relate to the image of myself (as an unknown) without necessarily exercising power on it, conquering it, colonializing it, dominating it? Was this perhaps a new way of being, a sort of exploration of an existential relationship with myself? Or was just this game a way to learn to appreciate, accept the perceived otherness in me?

Bennett’s book is an intellectually stimulating reading about ontological thinking and political theory as well as the relationships between both. On the one hand, it is about how we can possibly discern the vitality of matter and maintain a focus on it while writing about it[2]. On the other hand, the book is about the political implications of the relationships we develop with nonhuman bodies in such a process where we discern the vitality of matter;  a vitality that makes us think about the ethics enacted in such a process.

In the end, the take-away message for me is this fascinating intellectual journey experienced and the hope to be able to contribute to developing more responsible and caring ways to relate to what is unknown and to non-human things. Because as Bennett brilliantly shows it, this matter alien to us is constitutive of who we are: vital materiality.


Bateson, G. (2000). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. University of Chicago Press.

Bennett, J. (2010). Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Duke University Press.

Decuypere, M., & Simons, M. (2016). Relational thinking in education: Topology, sociomaterial studies, and figures. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 24(3), 371-386.

[1] Bennett writes about the three techniques that Adornos suggests to practice nonidentity exercises. She points to (1)the intellectual practice consisting of attempting to make the very process of conceptualization an explicit object of thought because conceptualization obscures the inadequacy of its concepts and then we need a concept of nonidentity to “cure the hubris of conceptualization” (p. 14). There is also (2)this thing with exercising one’s utopian imagination so we can “re-create what has been obscured by the distortion of a conceptualization” (p.15). I understand it is a way to put conceptualization into brackets and get a more genuine understanding of the out-side (?). Finally, there is (3)the thing with admitting a playful element into one’s thinking and be willing to play the fool by questing after (as Adorno does) “the preponderance of the object” that Bennett calls the thing-power (p. 16).

[2] Bennet explains “composing and recomposing the sentences of this book- especially in trying to choose the appropriate verbs, I have come to see how radical a project it is to think vital materiality. It seems necessary and impossible to rewrite the default grammar of agency, a grammar that assigns activity to people and passivity to things. Are there more everyday tactics for cultivating an ability to discern the vitality of matter?” (p.119) as “is it not, after all, a self-conscious, language wielding human who is articulating thus the philosophy of vibrant matter? (p.120).


The evaluation report of the project “Make IT happen” is out!

Here is the evaluation report of the teachers’ competence development program that focused on teaching school teachers to integrate computational thinking and programming into their school subjects and pedagogical practices. The project was funded by Region Kronoberg and the program was run by AV-Media. It targeted 8 municipalities,  400 teachers and 51 schools.

Read the evaluation report (in Swedish).

Cerratto Pargman, T. & Davidsson, M.(2020). Make IT happen. Slutrapport. 2020-02-30. DOI:10.13140/RG.2.2.31582.59201