January 21, 2020

Thoughts on Dan Goldsmith's Underwhelming Blog Post of January 20

CEO Dan Goldsmith published a post at the Instructure blog on January 20 (online here), but that post fails to address the concerns resulting from his own claims about Instructure AI projects last March (online here). In the post, Goldsmith repeated an announcement made last week that Melissa Loble is now "Chief Customer Experience Officer" who will be the "executive sponsor" for "data usage and privacy." I think we can safely assume that this appointment is in reaction to customer complaints about Instructure's data policies, but you would not know that from reading Goldsmith's post. He refuses to acknowledge our complaints, much less engage in a dialogue about our concerns.

What are we to make of the fact that Goldsmith has stopped talking about DIG publicly after his hyperbolic claims last year? As I see it, Goldsmith's silence (and the ongoing silence of others at Instructure about DIG) is making things worse, not better. I suspect (just guessing) that Goldsmith realized speaking publicly about these plans would make research and development more difficult, as users were objecting to Instructure's unilateral appropriation of our data for their own commercial purposes. He said as much in his letter about the Thoma Bravo acquisition (online here): "Reflecting this year on our goals and path forward revealed that operating in the public spotlight wasn’t fueling innovation and was starting to get in the way of customer success."  I have no idea what it means to claim that sharing information about data usage was getting in the way of "customer success," but then the rhetoric of "customer success" is really just marcomm-speak which is hindering, not helping, an honest dialogue about what Instructure is doing with our data.

When Jared Stein published a blog post about DIG last summer (online here), I replied here at my blog (online here), hoping for a dialogue. We never heard from Jared again with any further information about DIG, which is also disappointing. There is so much that needs to be discussed in order for all parties to have a clear understanding of each other's goals, constraints, concerns, etc. 

Everyone knows I'm prone to long blog posts, and I made sure then to write a post that was no longer than Jared's post; I'm doing the same again here. I've got 295 words left to equal Goldsmith's post, so here's a quick recap of my three biggest concerns:

1. Data Opt-Out. In addition to privacy issues in play, there are serious ethical concerns about the development of AI products and predictive algorithms in education; for a good discussion, see Michael Feldstein on A/B testing and product development (online here). Those of us who do not want our data used for AI research and development need an opt-out.

2. FERPA. I still do not understand how it is not a violation of FERPA for Instructure to use student grade data and enrollment status (i.e. profiling across courses) without the students' express permission. As an instructor, I am not allowed to see my students' grades in other classes, nor their GPA. I suspect (?) such data is crucial to Goldsmith's predictive algorithm for student performance: "We can predict, to a pretty high accuracy, what a likely outcome for a student in a course is, even before they set foot in the classroom" (online here).

If they are predicting performance before students even begin work for a class, grades in other courses must surely (?) be a big part of that predictive algorithm. I suspect many students would object to having their performance predicted in this way based on Instructure's unilateral appropriation of their grade data.
Update. If not the letter of FERPA, then the spirit; see Twitter convo

3. Dialogue. If CEO Goldsmith can't/won't engage in dialogue with users, then I hope we will be hearing soon from others at Instructure who are willing and able to do that.

If you have questions and concerns, I would urge you to add them to the GoogleDoc that Cristina Colquhoun (@call_hoon) has created here: Questions for Instructure. I'm very grateful to Cristina for the excellent job she has done of organizing this latest effort to get Instructure to respond to our concerns. 

Edu-Cat has concerns.
P.S. No, it's not just FUD.