One researcher is poised to take a fascinating look at Student Information Systems and the data they collect

trust-sisFor all the hand-wringing, media attention, and proposed legislation over data and student privacy the academic research on the topic may just now be starting to catch up. And when it comes to the student data-collection linchpin that is the Student Information System, that research is just about nonexistent.

That’s according to William G. Staples, a sociologist, professor, and director of the Surveillance Studies Research Center at the University of Kansas. Staples has a history of researching both surveillance-related topics and also more standard sociological fare, and is the recent recipient of a small Spencer Foundation grant that will enable him to conduct some research with relevant school and public stakeholders around the SIS and how its data is being used in the interests of students. Staples recently spoke with eSchool News about his upcoming research.

eSchool News: How did you get involved in this line of inquiry? You’ve done some previous research into surveillance?

Staples: I’ve been doing that for quite some time. I founded a surveillance studies research center a year and a half ago. So I began submitting grants to foundations and others to do empirical research on different kinds or forms of social monitoring. Not necessarily straight up surveillance but different ways that often technology is used in different kinds of settings, workplaces, communities, institutions where data is collected about and people’s activities. I read about the Student Information Systems. I started looking at both the claims of the vendors that sell these systems and the academic literature, and I was finding that there are possibly a couple hundred different vendors that sell these systems to school districts. The history of some of them is that they were started out primarily from a compliance perspective. I assume compliance relative to state regulation, reporting. At least that’s what a woman who works for one of the companies that monitors everything and everything in the world of technology and schools has told me.

Some of the vendors I started reading about like Pearson and others, they were making all kinds of claims about how these systems contribute to better communication and–the word may or may not be used–but the implication that trust is built. As we would say, they’re kind of a form of social capital, so that they enhance relationships and make things better, especially related to parents, teachers, students and administrators. And then the other side of it, in the academic literature I found 0. There’s nobody looking at these and their effects. And so you have a bunch of vendors saying these systems do all these great things but they obviously have an interest in selling their product and not necessarily an objective viewpoint.

Next page: Larger privacy issues come into play