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Interesting article by Ben Williamson: Why education is embracing Facebook-style personality profiling for school children.
The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal concerned the alleged psychographic profiling of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge. Its controversial actions reflect the wider aspirations of the data analytics industry to see into the hidden depths of people. But this focus on personality measurement is also being reflected in new trends in education.
The collection and analysis of more personal information from schoolchildren will be a defining feature of education in coming years. And just as the Facebook debacle raises public concerns about the use of personal data, a new international test of ten and 15-year-olds is to be introduced by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – a powerful influence on national education policies at a global scale.
Until recently, most data collected about students came from conventional examinations of knowledge and skills. International test results such as those of the OECD have become surrogate measures of the future economic potential of nations, prompting a global education race between national education systems.
And as countries compete for economic advantage, the collection of more “intimate” data about social and emotional skills to measure personality is likely to prompt policymakers to emphasise programmes that improve personality scores. Despite the Cambridge Analytica controversy, personality data looks likely to be used in education to achieve political ambitions.
The science of the psychographic profiling employed by Cambridge Analytica has been highly contested. But it is based on psychological methods that have a long history for measuring and categorising people by personality. At its core is a psychological model called the “five factor model” of personality – or the “Big Five.”
These include “openness”, “conscientiousness”, “extroversion”, “agreeableness” and “neuroticism” (OCEAN). Personality theorists believe these categories are suitable for classifying the full range of human personalities. Psychologists have invented instruments such as the Big Five Inventory to capture OCEAN data for personality modelling.
Cambridge Analytica reportedly harvested the details of a digital personality questionnaire from up to 50m Facebook users to capture their OCEAN data. According to former employee-turned-whistleblower Christopher Wylie, it sought to use this data to target voters in the US election. Whether it really worked remains open to debate, though it has revealed the extent to which Facebook is capturing highly intimate user data to secure commercial advantage through micro-targeted advertising.