Data dashboards do not only visualise facts, they also produce compelling narratives.
In our paper, Felicitas Macgilchrist and I trace the stories told by dashboards of AI-powered learning analytics and discuss the implications for educational futures and edtech
With narrative we do not only mean fiction. Narrative refers to a mode of presentation in which a sequence of actions or events unfold over time, involving one or more characters, often involving change.
We analysed one of the leadinglearning management systems which offers adaptive learning tools and predictive analytics for premium clients. The system integrates far more real-time data than early warning systems in education have ever done. We identified 3 stories:
In the first, teachers are managers who oversee, design interventions, check the effects of their interventions, improve efficiency and effectiveness. The multiple further roles of teachers are rendered invisible and thus irrelevant to this particular understanding of education.
The second story is about risk. In the materials, we see red colours flagging a student in trouble. We see him beginning to struggle, as his "success index" decreases over the weeks. The dashboard shows him as the most at risk and in need for intervention.
The third is about sociality: it is risky, the dashboard tells users, for a student to be insufficiently socially integrated and connected. Those students are portrayed as ‘successful’ characters in the dashboard story who maximise their in-tech interactions with others.
As educational and other fields are increasingly embracing predictive tools, it is crucial to examine these systems and their narratives, to highlight how they are harmful, and to consider if and how they are being used beyond the current limited and limiting recommendations.