New Student Performance Software Raises Faculty Concerns over Student Privacy

Manhattan College freshmen may have noticed that they’ve been asked to fill out a series of surveys on the Self Service page on the MC website.

Economics major Jared Lee says a program called Mapworks runs them.

“They’re emailed to us and we can win prizes for filling them out but to be honest, not one really knows what they’re about,” he said.

“I remember some of them being like ‘how do you find your dorm living,’ and ‘how do you rate the campus,” things of that nature, things that ask for your opinion not just what you’re told.”

Mapworks is software owned by Skyfactor, which is contracted by schools to increase student retention and performance in all aspects from academic performance to residence life.

“All I know is that we’ve done two surveys so far, I believe, and kids have won gift cards but that’s really the extent of it,” said Lee. “I’d like to know what I’m answering all those questions for.”

The Mapworks software, which has already been implemented for the class of 2019, will become mandatory for all students by next fall.

David Shefferman, Ph.D., said that all professors currently teaching freshmen have received emails asking to send student concerns to the Center for Academic Success.

“The first email came a few months ago, letting us know that we had freshmen and that we should use this program,” he said. “Then we got a second, reminding us to use the software.”

Macmillan Publishing Group purchased EBI Map-Works in 2012, changing the name to Skyfactor.

The student retention and performance software company claims that their product is designed to track student performance and increase communication between faculty and staff in case a student comes within risk of failure.

“Mapworks considers the whole student when predicting risk,” the site’s “How it Works” page reads.

“The result is a complete picture of each student—visually indicating who is most at risk, and the contributing factors”

Mapworks requires professors to upload weekly attendance, as well as comments and concerns they may have about a particular student to the program.  This, according to Skyfactor’s site, will make it easier for other professors, as well as deans and academic advisors, to monitor student performance and predict when a student needs intervention or help.

Bill Clyde, Ph.D. and Manhattan College’s provost, said that the program is designed to improve the college’s 84 percent retention rate for first-year students.

“That’s an excellent number, most schools our size are somewhere in the mid-70s,” he said. “But of course we are always trying to improve.”

Clyde said that one of the main benefits of bringing the Mapworks software to campus is to increase communication between administration and faculty.

“We have a lot of people working to support student success academically, from faculty members doing things, to deans doing things, a bunch of different people working together,” he said. “Sometimes the communication of our efforts is sometimes a little bit challenged.”

Clyde presented an example where a faculty member knows that a student is struggling and can immediately send that information to the Center for Academic Success, who can reach out that student.

However, a major concern of some professors is the issue of student privacy through the software.

Robert Geraci, Ph.D. and professor of religious studies at Manhattan, said that when administrators presented the plan to him, he had immediate questions to how student’s private information was being used.

“[Faculty were] told ‘Well it’s basically on the list of things [students] signed at the beginning of the year,’” he said.

“They essentially checked off this thing that says ‘the College is allowed to do whatever it wants with this data about you.’”

Clyde denied that Skyfactor employees or anyone not authorized by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects students from unwanted data mining—even from parents—would have access to students’ personal information.

Skyfactor’s own “Privacy” page, however, suggests a different story.

“We may obtain certain personal information (such as name and other contact details) when you or your instructor/university administrator choose to provide them through our Site,” it reads.

“The types of personal information we may collect include: contact information, such as your name, postal address, e-mail address and telephone number; registration information such as username, password, participant/student ID; personal information in content you provide on our Site; educational information, such as your school, course information, grades, and questions or responses submitted by you in connection with your use of the Site; information communicated to you via e-mail or text through our Site by your school’s authorized administrators, instructors and other school officials if your schools opts to enable such communication; information concerning your interests and product preferences.”

According to Skyfactor, they reserve the right to collect and monitor all student data that might pass through the software. They also retain the right to share that data.

“We may share the information you provide with companies that are related to Skyfactor through common ownership,” the “Privacy” page continues. “Related companies are required to maintain such personal information in compliance with this Online Privacy Notice.”

Macmillan, the company that owns and operates Skyfactor, is actually a subsidiary of the conglomerate Holztbrinck Publishing, which owns 180 individual corporations in 120 countries—all of whom have legal access to the information of Manhattan College students, as well as any student from any other college that contracts Skyfactor.

“[Skyfactor] was sort of pursued by the Center for Academic Success and [Brother Michael Shubnell] with some approval from [Clyde],” said David Shefferman, Ph.D., also a professor in the religious studies department.

“The sense that I got from [Clyde] as that he didn’t realize what the implications might be and how it was going to be rolled out, so it’s raised all sorts of questions and red flags.”

Shefferman said that the school meant only to help students and decided on, what they thought, was the best option.

“What [Mapworks] is supposed to do is well-intentioned,” he said. “Trying to help students with the idea or replacing that academic referral system and to sort of integrate different student services on campus, you know, student life and all that so they can communicate to help students can a more holistic picture, but I think there’s been a lot of pushback.”

Freshman Lee, however, said that no one has ever explained to him what Mapworks is for or how it works.

“I understand the program and I agree with what they are doing and I understand that the program is designed to help students,” he said.

“I feel, though, a bit tricked, almost, that they didn’t tell us more about the program, they just said ‘Oh hey, fill out this survey and you could win a gift card,’ I feel like we weren’t educated enough as to what this was doing.”

Geraci, who also serves as the chair for the Council for Faculty Affairs, faulted the college for contracting an outside company to provide the service in the first place.

“I don’t know why we want to be in a situation where, and again I got scolded by the administration for complaining about money, but I don’t know why we need to pay someone to do this,” he said.

“What exactly is this going to produce that will return value, so this is kind of weird.”