Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 1473–1496 | Cite as

Users or Students? Privacy in University MOOCS

  • Meg Leta JonesEmail author
  • Lucas Regner
Original Paper


Two terms, student privacy and Massive Open Online Courses, have received a significant amount of attention recently. Both represent interesting sites of change in entrenched structures, one educational and one legal. MOOCs represent something college courses have never been able to provide: universal access. Universities not wanting to miss the MOOC wave have started to build MOOC courses and integrate them into the university system in various ways. However, the design and scale of university MOOCs create tension for privacy laws intended to regulate information practices exercised by educational institutions. Are MOOCs part of the educational institutions these laws and policies aim to regulate? Are MOOC users students whose data are protected by aforementioned laws and policies? Many university researchers and faculty members are asked to participate as designers and instructors in MOOCs but may not know how to approach the issues proposed. While recent scholarship has addressed the disruptive nature of MOOCs, student privacy generally, and data privacy in the K-12 system, we provide an in-depth description and analysis of the MOOC phenomenon and the privacy laws and policies that guide and regulate educational institutions today. We offer privacy case studies of three major MOOC providers active in the market today to reveal inconsistencies among MOOC platform and the level and type of legal uncertainty surrounding them. Finally, we provide a list of organizational questions to pose internally to navigate the uncertainty presented to university MOOC teams.


Privacy University research Technology policy Higher education Education law 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Communication, Culture and Technology DepartmentGeorgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.American UniversityWashingtonUSA

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