UC Berkeley CTO Bill Allison will lead a discussion about opportunities and peril in collecting and analyzing the digital streams generated by teaching, learning, and research activities on our campus.
Companies like Facebook and Google make money by storing, analyzing, and monetizing massive troves of data in a bunch of different ways. For them, as John Lanchester wrote in the August London Review of Books, "justifications about ‘connection’ and ‘community’ are ex post facto rationalisations. The drive is simpler and more basic. That’s why the impulse to growth has been so fundamental to the company, which is in many respects more like a virus than it is like a business. Grow and multiply and monetise. Why? There is no why. Because." At the University, more courses than ever before use online media, and tools like JupyterHub. Systems that students and faculty traverse as they think through the planning of their academic careers make it easier and cheaper for Berkeley to track, surveil, log, and subsequently analyze the myriad transactions, and correlate "digital exhaust" with more traditional records. There is the promise of better learning outcomes – or of pursuing deeper research than was previously possible. There is also the perpetual question of securing the data and preventing it's its use for purposes we never intended.
My hope is that we can have a vibrant, thoughtful discussion about the choices we are making and will make as an institution about when and how we capture data and metadata, and how we think about the values, benefits, costs, and tradeoffs between our students' and faculty's ability to see and/or opt-out of such collection, and the collective benefits to the research mission and the practice of education. That's a lot for a single hour's discussion – but even if we have a more meta-level discussion about the different activities that are going on in our highly decentralized University should prove useful, as it will at least raise our awareness of how we're working through some of these questions at Berkeley and the UC System.
When: Thursday, 5 October from 12 - 1pm
Prior to the meeting, please review:
Optionally (and perhaps slightly off-topic), Bill suggests "You are the Product" (John Lanchester, London Review of Books, August 2017)