Why Colleges don’t adopt it:
- Besides the advantages of data transparency, still, advocates of unlocking more data in higher education face tough challenges.
- Chief among them are privacy concerns and questions about how to interpret federal student-privacy laws in light of new technologies. And college officials say making data available safely requires expensive systems they can’t easily afford.
A report this year from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that one-third of all students switched institutions at least once before graduation. If students can take their data with them across institutional lines more easily, some argue, they’ll be better prepared to earn degrees.
A Change in System:
Now, emerging a change in traditional system. Education companies that hold student data could start displaying the MyData button in their programs in a matter of weeks, though the timeline is up to the participants, says an official at the U.S. Education Department familiar with the effort. This summer the button will also let students download their federal financial-aid data in a machine-readable format, which software applications can digest easily.
TextYard-“Price Comparison Software”:
Some education-technology entrepreneurs haven’t waited for the MyData program to try to unlock some university data. Four years ago, Ben Greenberg and Rui Xia created a textbook-price-comparison tool called TextYard while they were students at Indiana University at Bloomington. TextYard “scraped” book information from college stores’ Web sites, essentially running a software robot that plucked information from publicly available listings.
Others have used scrapers to build applications for course scheduling and degree planning. TextYard, Mr. Greenberg acknowledges, operated in a legal gray area, since the developers of some scrapers have been accused of violating Internet-trespassing laws.
Mr. Greenberg helped build the site, he says, because the formal process for obtaining the lists of textbooks assigned to specific courses was cumbersome, requiring him to file slow-motion requests for public records. In February, before leaving TextYard behind to move on to other projects, the pair posted the tool’s source code online, allowing other developers to take it and build their own versions. Mr. Greenberg included a legal defense of TextYard’s scraping tactics for would-be copycats.
- He believes that most colleges have been too slow to adopt open data as a means of helping students, and that developers will continue to work around the system until vendors and administrators embrace open data.
- “Whenever it’s a level playing field—which is what open data does—the more innovative, efficient side will always win,” Mr. Greenberg says.