By Steve Kolwich
"As companies such as Pearson and Knewton work their way closer to the core of the university mission, legal distinctions between the nonprofit institutions and for-profit vendors are melting away.
“The Family Compliance Office has recognized that institutions can designate other entities, including vendors and consultants, as ‘other school officials,’ ” reads Knewton’s contract with Arizona State. “Designated representatives of Knewton will be designated as ‘other school officials’ for the purposes of this agreement.”
"Many institutions see intimate partnerships with vendors as necessary to competing in the 21st century. But as personal data becomes the currency of the information economy, others see the companies -- which, like Knewton, are often backed by Silicon Valley venture capitalists — as interlopers that might wish to exploit student learning data for profit, despite their reassurances to the contrary.
"Meanwhile the stakes of who sees a student’s education record, and what they do with it, have never been higher. Under a Knewton regime a student’s “education record” would not just comprise a transcript and some grades; it would be a “psychometric profile”: a strategic blueprint of her brain, describing her relationship to every single concept in every Knewton-powered course she takes, along with a raft of insights on how she absorbs and retains different kinds of ideas.
"In the hands of Arizona State instructors or Knewton’s engineers, this information could be used to improve teaching and learning. In the hands of outside companies, it could be used to fashion more effective advertising campaigns.
"The company hopes to roll out the individual user profiles sometime this year. Students would be able to log in and view their own profiles via a password-protected part of the company’s website. The point of the profiles, says Ferreira, would be to give students insights into their own learning styles -- insights that would compound over time as students took more Knewton-powered courses."