On Our Reading List: A Detailed History, Autopsy and Legacy of inBloom

Data Privacy

On Our Reading List: A Detailed History, Autopsy and Legacy of inBloom

Feb 7, 2017

READING LIST: Many edtech projects come and go with nary a whisper. But not so for inBloom, an ambitious $100 million education data warehousing initiative that folded in 2014—just a year after its public launch. This month, New York-based research institute Data & Society published a detailed history, autopsy and legacy of inBloom (PDF).

“The story of inBloom is not one of straightforward failure, but rather of shooting for the sun and being scorched during the journey,” write the authors. The initiative aimed to create a platform, co-developed by a multi-state consortium, that can facilitate how schools and companies collect and share data. As EdSurge previously reported, part of the concerns stemmed from timing: the project’s association with Rupert Murdoch and the Gates Foundation—coupled with the Edward Snowden revelations over privacy invasion—already set the stage for a tough public relations battle when it launched in 2013.

At other times, the pain was self-inflicted due to poor communications, according to report:

“Instead of seeking to build trust at the district level with teachers and parents, many interview participants observed that inBloom and the Gates Foundation responded to what were very emotional concerns with complex technical descriptions or legal defenses.”

The intentions, misunderstandings, concerns and failures of inBloom captured in the report reflect issues that afflict the wider education technology industry. “No large-scale educational technology initiatives have ever succeeded in the U.S. K-12 space,” the authors claim. Yet inBloom’s collapse have spurred companies, districts, data advocacy groups and governments to develop best practices for collecting, sharing and using education data. More than 400 state-level legislation concerning student data have since been introduced.

Accompanying the report are reflections from danah boyd (Microsoft Research), Bill Fitzgerald (Common Sense Education), Olga Garcia-Kaplan (Parent Perspectives), and Brenda Leong and Amelia Vance (Future of Privacy Forum). A particular poignant lesson from Fitzgerald:

“It feels odd to be writing about inBloom in 2017. Yesterday’s news shouldn’t stay relevant — except, of course, yesterday’s news remains relevant if we don’t convert the lessons of yesterday into tomorrow’s actions. Education technology can feel somewhere between forgetful to ahistorical at times, and we often lose opportunities or work harder than we need to because we don’t fully understand the contexts that have already been created.”
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