Freeing the free-text comment exploring ethical text mining in the higher education sector

QA Data

Jill R D MacKay


June 22, 2022

Free-text gathering, as part of operational surveys, evaluations, or in other routine aspects of quality assurance in higher education, is a commonly used tool to collect student data. The processing of free text data requires due ethical consideration. There are many ethical considerations when it comes to data processing, not all of which appear to be easy bedfellows. For example, principles around open data and reproducible research counsel against many frequent sampling opportunities, and instead advocate the collection of high-quality data that can be repurposed and revisited by many researchers. By contrast, data protection and privacy approaches advocate for individuals to be made aware of exactly how their data will be used and by whom, and place more caveats on the free sharing of data. Within higher education, there are also principles of feedback and ‘customer service’ which impact how free text data is collated. When students are offered an opportunity to comment on their experiences in education, the information they provide should be heard and responded to. Text mining may offer the opportunity to resolve some of these conflicts.