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The syllabus as a student privacy document in an age of learning analytics

Kyle M.L. Jones (Department of Library and Information Science, School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University – Indianapolis (IUPUI), Indianapolis, Indiana, USA)
Amy VanScoy (Department of Library and Information Studies, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 13 August 2019

Issue publication date: 19 September 2019




The purpose of this paper is to reveal how instructors discuss student data and information privacy in their syllabi.


The authors collected a mixture of publicly accessible and privately disclosed syllabi from 8,302 library and information science (LIS) courses to extract privacy language. Using privacy concepts from the literature and emergent themes, the authors analyzed the corpus.


Most syllabi did not mention privacy (98 percent). Privacy tended to be mentioned in the context of digital tools, course communication, policies and assignments.

Research limitations/implications

The transferability of the findings is limited because they address only one field and professional discipline, LIS, and address syllabi for only online and hybrid courses.

Practical implications

The findings suggest a need for professional development for instructors related to student data privacy. The discussion provides recommendations for creating educational experiences that support syllabi development and constructive norming opportunities.

Social implications

Instructors may be making assumptions about the degree of privacy literacy among their students or not value student privacy. Each raises significant concerns if privacy is instrumental to intellectual freedom and processes critical to the educational experience.


In an age of educational data mining and analytics, this is one of the first studies to consider if and how instructors are addressing student data privacy in their courses, and the study initiates an important conversation for reflecting on privacy values and practices.



Jones, K.M.L. and VanScoy, A. (2019), "The syllabus as a student privacy document in an age of learning analytics", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 75 No. 6, pp. 1333-1355.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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