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AIR Publishes Ethical Principles for Use of Data in Higher Ed

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That largest of research organizations, the Association for Institutional Research (AIR), has published a statement of ethical principles to help steer the use of data for decision-making in higher education. Intended as a guide for making sure data usage reflects "integrity, professionalism and fairness," the principles replace AIR's former Code of Ethics and Professional Practice.

Among the points upon which the 300-word statement touches:

  • Recognizing the consequences of data usage on "people and situations";
  • Acknowledging that the information belongs to individuals who have "legal and ethical" rights that cross borders;
  • Making efforts to protect data from "misuse or use that could cause ... harm";
  • Acting as "responsible data stewards";
  • Providing "accurate and contextualized information" to prevent the misuse of data to mislead anybody;
  • Seeking to be "fair and transparent" and minimizing "personal biases" in research work;
  • Avoiding "conflicts of interest" and disclosing them "when unavoidable";
  • Striving to make the work "accessible to those who need data, information and analysis" for their own uses;
  • Sharing lessons learned across the institutional research field to "promote common understanding" among institutions; and
  • Continuing with scholarship that will push the field ahead.

Michelle Appel, director of assessment and decision support at the University of Maryland, College Park, who served as AIR president when the new principles were drafted and approved, said she considers this one of the most important pieces of work the organization has produced in recent memory. Appel added that she expects the principles to serve as "a compass for our actions as we work to bolster student success and support higher education."

"AIR exists to empower higher education professionals to use data, analytics, information and evidence to make decisions and take actions that benefit students and higher education," Appel said, in a statement. "Those decisions and actions are valuable only when achieved through integrity, professionalism and fairness."

Iris Palmer, AIR member and senior adviser for Higher Education and Workforce in the Education Policy program at New America, applauded AIR for putting the principles forward "to guide professionals through the ethical challenges that can emerge in the analysis, presentation and use of data." She added, "This type of guidance is important to the field and will help ensure that, as available data continues to expand, they will be used for the benefit of students and the improvement of higher education."

The full set of principles is openly available on the AIR website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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