15 Jul NDUS IR adopts Code of Ethics for AI
In the June blog article, Digital Advisory Panel guides NDUS in student privacy issues, it was mentioned that the NDUS Institutional Research department had developed a code of ethics around the use of analytics in reporting. This code emerged from feedback from the NDUS Digital Advisory Panel, specifically the expressed need for the North Dakota University System to have a policy in place that addresses the use of artificial intelligence (AI) aided analytic software on student data. This need for policy was one of four concerns that arose from the panel study, the other three being the need for transparency in NDUS use of AI aided research, recognition and address of biases that emerge from AI modeling, and consideration for the student right to data privacy.
Unlike private industry that seeks to profit from user data, public education takes a much more conservative stance. First, student data – primarily anything identified as an academic record – is strictly protected as confidential by the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Secondly, students expect – at least our students do – that the institution that they attend will go beyond what is required by law in an effort to protect their data from exposure, whether that be from the profit minded, or from those who seek to conduct unnecessary research or data mining.
Thus, the decision to develop a code of ethics was made. However, the subsequent development of the code was an exercise in persistence, as models were not readily available on the web. This lack of examples in the education arena has led us to wonder on more than one occasion whether other entities have policy or code in place. Maybe they do but they are not available on the web? Maybe they don’t and we are ahead of the curve? Or maybe we are overly sensitive to use of AI with student data whereas others are not as concerned or feel existing institutional policies adequately cover it?
Another explanation for the lack of models can be attributed to the speed at which things happen in higher education, where changes do not happen quickly. While many outside of higher education see this as a criticism, from the standpoint of those within it is a means to ensure that the standards of higher education are not easy swayed by fads or political agendas. But the result of this slow deliberation is that the development and adoption of new institutional and system policies take time. NDUS is no different in this account, and as such does not have institutional or system wide policies for the use of AI on student or employee data. This code of ethics is a means of implementing standards of behavior in research within the Institutional Research department in the absence of any systemwide codes. The code is written in such a way that any future adoption of university system policy, or revision of current policy, that addresses the use of AI with student and employee data will supersede the current NDUS-IR code of ethics.
The final document, titled Ethical and Responsible Use of Analytics in Reporting, is available here. It is the summative work of the NDUS Institutional Research staff. It is considered to a living document, as we recognize the limitations of a quickly changing technology landscape as well as the inability of our team to not know what we do not know. As such, we welcome the feedback and input of others who are wrestling with the use of AI analytics on student data.
Dr. Jennifer Weber is the Director of Institutional Research for the North Dakota University system. Her primary functions are to oversee the department and provide system level enrollment reporting to the State Board of Higher Education. Jennifer also manages system-wide IR Shared Services, works closely with the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) and serves as the state coordinator for federal reporting. As the NDUS-IR is also contracted through the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) for data analysis and reporting, the NDUS-IR department is ultimately responsible for the data of all students attending public institutions in the state of North Dakota, pre-kindergarten through graduate school.