Anyone whose child is into Minecraft, can tell you how addictive that game is.  Interestingly, Microsoft, who owns Minecraft, has created an Education Version of Minecraft, even though many say it adds no value to the classroom.    Ever wonder why edtech is promoting video games in the classroom? If you guessed that it is because they KNOW video games are addictive , (the preferred industry buzzword is engaging), and they can collect massive amounts of very lucrative data about the child’s behavior and interactions, you might be onto something. 


The ability to profile and collect information about a player’s interactions with “educational” video games (also called “serious games”) is evidenced by this research collaboration which catalogs each interaction into a standardized vocabulary of data which are collected in real-time and each player can be profiled, analyzed. To see the list of detailed interactions, like players speaking, dialog, objects clicked on, objects released, buttons pressed, skipping forward or backward in a video, conversation with characters, levels achieved, time spent, mouse clicks, any answers to questions posed “Many serious games use the Q&A mechanic to assess players”, click here:


And this from a 2013 ADL video, Future Trends in Games for Education and Training, explains the ability for ‘perceptive computing” and “brain machine interfaces” :

adl video perceptive computing

This December 2016 cached blogpost by ADL, (Advanced Distributed Learning was involved in the data acquisition RAGE research collaboration), further explains the ability to collect data from serious (educational) video games:

“A serious game is a video game designed with a purpose other than pure entertainment. Traditionally, the methods to measure the effectiveness of a serious game have mostly depended upon data collected from surveys and questionnaires or from proprietary game analytics data sources. However, with the advent of the xAPI it is now possible to immediately collect and analyze data more easily and openly from the interactions within serious games. The interactive, real-time nature of serious games makes them an excellent source of xAPI learning analytics data. However, a serious games profile for xAPI didn’t previously exist so it was a perfect opportunity for research and laying the foundation for one.” [Emphasis added]


If you are wondering WHO has access to all this data collected, and what they do with it, you are not alone.  ADL is partnered with IMS Global, as is Microsoft.  Online curriculum and educational games are being touted by the US Department of Education, in something called the Online Education Resources, OER, or  #GoOpen.  These are all tied to another federal agency, The Federal Learning Registry, which is a joint data gathering project between the US Dept of Defense and US Dept of Education.  We wrote about IMS Global, OER, Learning Registry data collection, here.  We know that online math programs like DreamBox collect 50,000 data points per hour, and Knewton, an adaptive learning platform, collects 5 to 10 million data points, per student, per day.  Don’t forget that another project called LearnSphere, funded by the US Government, makes it possible to connect student data from all online activity, across multiple websites, platforms:

“There are several important initiatives designed to address these data access challenges, for individual researchers as well as institutions and states. LearnSphere, a cross-institutional community infrastructure project, aims to develop a large-scale open repository of rich education data by integrating data from its four components.[17] For instance, DataShop stores data from student interactions with online course materials, intelligent tutoring systems, virtual labs, and simulations, and DataStage stores data derived from online courses offered by Stanford University. Click-stream data stored in these repositories include thousands and even millions of data points per student, much of which is made publicly available to registered users who meet data privacy assurance criteria. On the other hand, MOOCdb and DiscourseDB, also components of LearnSphere, offer platforms for the extraction and representation of student MOOC data and textual data, respectively, surrounding student online learning interactions that are otherwise difficult to access or are highly fragmented. By integrating data held or processed through these different components, LearnSphere will create a large set of interconnected data that reflects most of a student’s experience in online learning.”

So, next time you wish your child spent less time on a screen, more time interacting with other humans, also wonder what information is being sent back to the game or curriculum vendor, the Learning Registry,  and what Social Emotional data, and what algorithmic profile is being created about your child.   According to education futurists, in a few years, children will never have to step foot into a school, their schooling (and their data collection) will all be done online.

If you are wondering HOW online vendors and even schools can collect and share your child’s data without your knowledge or consent, it’s because a federal law meant to protect children’s privacy, FERPA,  was weakened in 2011 so that “parents wouldn’t get in the way” of data collection.  

You can put a stop to this by asking the new US Dept of Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, and President Trump to fix FERPA and protect children’s privacy. Oh, and ask to opt out of screens at school.  It is your right.


Cheri Kiesecker

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