Since the initial launch of Canvas, we've been focused on delivering technology that makes teaching and learning easier for everyone. As schools increasingly adopted Canvas, teachers, researchers, and leaders have become passionate about leveraging the growing Canvas data to further improve teaching and learning.

That passion became our priority, and over the years we've provided greater access to more data and designed new, easy-to-understand (and act on) course analytics. We've even occasionally shared data-driven insights about how Canvas course design, open capabilities, or video support teaching and learning.

In short, we believe that Canvas data is for the benefit of Canvas users and institutions. We align our efforts to innovate with data to the goals and values we share with the education communities we serve.

We also know the Canvas Community wants more: Educators want tools and insights that will help them improve educational outcomes and experiences for more students.

This is where the project we've code-named "Dig," originated from.

Supporting Greater Educational Success and Improvement

We don't have a lot to show about the "Dig" project quite yet. What we can share is that we are working on a set of a new products that includes role-specific tools and dashboards designed to help you:

  • Identify and engage at-risk students
  • Improve online instruction
  • Measure the impact of teaching with technology. 

 

The design and development of these new capabilities is currently in progress, with an initial launch targeted for 2020. This work began through conversations with dozens of higher ed institutions, from the community college level to R1. A portion of these institutions are now deeply involved in helping us validate and test Dig’s capabilities.

What makes this project exciting to Canvas users is that the tools are not only simple and effective, they are analytics-driven. These analytics range from summary statistics to powerful predictions, from simply visualizing Canvas adoption over time to prompting outreach when a student suddenly becomes at-risk of dropping out or failing a course.

"With great power comes great responsibility."

So why are we talking about these new capabilities before they are complete? Because any use of data is a topic that deserves honest discussion. Part of our process when developing any new data-related capability is to discuss challenges, opportunities, and concerns about the use of data. We've had these discussions both privately with individuals and institutions, and as part of the larger discussions in the educational data community. Here are some of the questions that individuals have been or may be asking:

Will your practices be consistent with your data privacy or security policies?

Yes. We maintain the same, strong data privacy and security practices, and are not selling or sharing institutions' data, period. We remain a signatory of the Student Privacy Pledge. We never share Canvas client data with anyone else — Canvas client or otherwise — without the clients' permission. We also know that just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should, and that's where ethical use of data comes in.

What are the consequences of this new data use?

One of our product tenets for the use of data and analytics is, "Data should empower people, not define them." While we can’t anticipate every outcome, we will do everything we can to fight against implicit biases or stereotypes that might arise through machine learning and predictive data models. If Dig does have a bias, it should be toward amplifying each person's agency.

Is this really just my data, monetized?

No. If a company provides student information or data to another company that sells college branded hoodies so that second company could directly market hoodies to those students, that'd be monetizing your data. We are using Canvas activity data to improve product usability and to help teachers and students be more effective. Further, this product is designed from the ground up as a new set of tools to help educators address the day-to-day challenges of educational improvement and student success. Institutions that choose to use these tools will be leveraging and surfacing their Canvas data (or, say, faculty workshop data, or LTI tool data, etc.), filtered by their roles and permissions. We also believe educators can be empowered from the learnings and insights we can gather from Canvas data. However, we don't believe in practicing a kind of alchemy that transforms data into product gold.

What can I say to people at my institution who are asking for an "opt-out" for use of their data?

When it comes to user-generated Canvas data, we talk about the fact that there are multiple data stewards who are accountable to their mission, their role, and those they serve. Students and faculty have a trust relationship with their educational institutions, and institutions rely on data in order to deliver on the promise of higher education. Similarly, Instructure is committed to being a good partner in the advancement of education, which means ensuring our client institutions are empowered to use data appropriately. Institutions who have access to data about individuals are responsible to not misuse, sell, or lose the data. As an agent of the institution, we hold ourselves to that same standard.

We Commit to Openness and Human Empowerment

It's important that the conversation about effective and responsible use of educational data  continues, and we commit to continue to learn through the Canvas Community, from experts  and focus groups, and from published work (e.g. Responsible Use of Student Data in Higher Education or The Ethical Use of Learning Analytics).

We're making two additional commitments that should go a long way toward making this product useful and successful for our institutions and users.

The first is our commitment to openness, one of our four core values at Instructure. As we begin showing more of this project, we'll also be open and transparent about what data its using, how it all works, and make sure there's a sufficient access to underlying data and explanation of what's going on behind the scenes. This will make it easier it is for users to understand, trust, and adopt data-driven tools. 

The second is our commitment to empowering people. (I alluded to this as one of our Product tenets for the use of data, and will expand on this in a future blog post.) Our design goal to help people make the most of their limited resources, to augment people's decision-making, and to increase students' and teachers' sense of connectedness. We see no value or benefit in technology that replaces teachers or sacrifices students' agency. We believe the best use of technology is to help everyone in education do a better job at what they are already doing – supporting students throughout their educational journey.

 

Keep learning,

Jared Stein
VP, Higher Education Strategy