Elements of Digital Ethics by Per Axbom (Ed Tech Ethics Part 3)

I have started a series of blog posts reviewing what others have done related to the ethics of educational technology–see Ed Tech Ethics part 1 and Ed Tech Ethics part 2 so far.

Here in Part 3 I want to talk about a new resource I came across on Mastodon, a chart of Elements of Digital Ethics, by Per Axbom.

This chart is meant to include ethical considerations and concerns related to work with digital technology generally, and much (if not all?) is also relevant to educational technology. There is a lot here, and I won’t go over every piece (Axbom’s website helpfully provides a summary of each area), but I do want to make a few reflections here to help me connect this work to educational technology specifically, and to what I’ve reviewed in previous posts.

The elements of the chart are not ethical principles or criteria so much as they are broad-ish areas in which ethical concerns and harms arise, and that should be considered when deciding on things like what to purchase and how to use digital products and services.

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Handout for workshop on non-disposable and renewable assignments

I was scheduled to facilitate a workshop at the Teaching Hub at the Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association this week. The title of the workshop was “Transforming Assessments with Renewable Assignments.”

Unfortunately, I was sick this week and had to cancel the workshop. Being in a room with many people, and a hotel with hundreds, while sick is not a good idea in the age of Covid. Plus, I was not feeling able to stand and speak/facilitate for very long.

The meeting was in person in downtown Vancouver, and because AV is so expensive at the hotel there wasn’t AV available for this session. Instead I created a handout that can be viewed on paper or online during the session. I created the handout on the UBC Wiki, and am embedding it below. Note that there is a link to a longer version with my notes for the session, further examples and citations, and more.

I wish I had been able to facilitate the workshop during the conference, but I wanted to share this handout (and the link to longer info), because I hope it might be useful to others. And I may use it again for another event!

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Ethical questions about learning technology (Ed Tech Ethics Part 2)

As noted in the previous post on this blog, I’m reviewing some resources on ethics of educational technology (aka learning technology). In that post I did a short summary and some reflections on the UK’s Association for Learning Technology’s Framework for Ethical Learning Technology. That framework is made up of fairly broad principles that can form a very useful foundation for self-reflection and discussion about ethical approaches to learning technology decisions and practices.

In this post, I’m going to consider a couple of sets of questions that can guide reviews of specific educational technology tools: (1) a rubric by Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel that has been used and refined in several Digital Pedagogy Lab Institutes, and (2) a tool to help with analyzing the ethics of digital technology that Autumm Caines adapted from another source for an Ed Tech workshop at the 2020 Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute.

Morris & Stommel, Rubric for Critically Evaluating Digital Tools

This rubric comes from Morris & Stommel (2017), where they describe a “crap detection” exercise they have used in Digital Pedagogy Lab Institutes, asking participants to review and compare various learning technology tools on a particular set of questions.

Critically evaluating digital tools activity; questions (included in text below) on a rainbow background

Rubric for evaluating learning technology tools, by Morris and Stommel, licensed CC BY-NC 4.0

The slide above includes the following questions as ethical considerations one could use when reviewing one or a small number of specific learning technology tools:

  1. Who owns the tool? What is the name of the company, the CEO? What are their politics? What does the tool say it does? What does it actually do?
  2. What data are we required to provide in order to use the tool (login, e-mail, birthdate, etc.)? What flexibility do we have to be anonymous, or to protect our data? Where is data housed; who owns the data? What are the implications for in-class use? Will others be able to use/copy/own our work there?
  3. How does this tool act or not act as a mediator for our pedagogies? Does the tool attempt to dictate our pedagogies? How is its design pedagogical? Or exactly not pedagogical? Does the tool offer a way that “learning can most deeply and intimately begin”?

Morris and Stommel also note in the article that they have also added another set of questions, around accessibility:

  1. How accessible is the tool? For a blind student? For a hearing-impaired student? For a student with a learning disability? For introverts? For extroverts? Etc. What statements does the company make about accessibility?

They also note that the point of using the rubric is not necessarily to do a takedown of specific tools but to encourage participants to think more deeply about the tools they use, or may consider using (and requiring students to use): it is “a critical thinking exercise aimed at asking critical questions, empowering critical relationships, encouraging new digital literacies” (Morris & Stommel 2017).

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ALT’s Framework for Ethical Learning Technology (EdTechEthics Part 1)

Some context

Over the past couple of years I have been reflecting on the importance of ethical principles related to learning technology (LT), particularly as several ethical concerns have been surfaced related to use of LT during the pandemic, at our institution and elsewhere.

For example, I was part of a working group that created guidelines for use of online invigilation tools in 2020 (currently posted on the front page of the UBC Keep Teaching website), that included considerations of privacy and equity. But the institution still had and supported this kind of technology for awhile (and did before the pandemic as well). It took work by many people, both through public advocacy and behind the scenes, but eventually the UBC Okanagan and UBC Vancouver Senates voted to “restrict the use of remote invigilation tools that involve automated recording and algorithmic analysis of data captured during invigilation to only cases explicitly requiring ‘remote proctoring software’ by external accreditation bodies” (from the UBC Vancouver Senate minutes of March 2021). Looking back, there are things I wish I had done differently, but my own view is that I am happy that we have at least now reached this point where the institution no longer centrally pays for or supports this kind of online proctoring tool.

This was just one example where a focus on the ethics of learning technology came to the fore at the institution, and I had every intention of starting to dig more deeply into working on a possible set of ethical principles in the last year or so. But the pandemic, and the ups and downs of continual changes in teaching and learning that have accompanied it, along with significantly increased workload for staff in our unit and myself, have meant it kept getting pushed off. But it’s long past time to get started, and I’m taking the first steps by reviewing what others have already done. I’ll be doing summaries and reflections in a set of posts on this blog over the next … well … however long it takes!

I’m starting with the Association of Learning Technology’s (ALT) Framework for Ethical Learning Technology (FELT), a project that I have been watching from the sidelines and following updates about. It’s a comprehensive project that I think is very promising.

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OERI and some literature on open pedagogy

Open as in Not Closing Open, photo by Alan Levine, shared on Flickr under CC0.

I’m excited to be giving a lightning talk at the Open Education Research Institute hosted by Kwantlen Polytechnic University this week–thank you so much to Rajiv Jhangiani and Urooj Nizami from KPU for the invitation. I’ll also be acting as an OE research mentor for a group of participants in the Institute, which is a wonderful honour though to be honest I still feel a bit of a novice myself in this area. I was trained as a researcher in philosophy, with no information about empirical research with people, which is what I’ve had to try to learn along the way as I do research on open education. Not that all research on open edu has to be empirical…there is a good deal of theoretical research of great significance as well!

But I have done some empirical research on open educational resources in particular, and I must say a big thank you to Rajiv Jhangiani, Jessie Key, Clint Lalonde, and Beck Pitt for my first intro to such research, as we worked on the 2016 BCcampus report: Exploring Faculty Use of OER in British Columbia Post-secondary Institutions. This was part of the work that Rajiv, Jessie and I did during our 2014-2015 BCcampus Open Textbook Fellowship program. I am also grateful to have received an Open Education Group OER Research Fellowship in 2015, where I learned a lot from John S. Hilton and the many other OER Research Fellows as we met and discussed projects.

Of late, I’ve been working with a couple of colleagues on a research project about student perceptions of an open pedagogy project. Specifically, we surveyed students who created case studies for Forestry and Conservation courses, most of which were shared openly and with an open license, on the UBC Open Case Studies website. We started this research back in 2018, when we administered surveys to students in three courses, in Fall 2108 and Spring 2019. Then in 2019 we began coding the data, finishing up around the end of 2019 if memory serves, and then…COVID-19 and we dropped it altogether for a year.

We recently picked this project back up and are excited to report the results and write up an article to submit for publication. The lightning talk at OERI will be the first time I’ll be talking about this project to a wider audience. We’re not completely ready with full results; we have coded the data and have started pulling out a few themes, but we haven’t done a full analysis yet. So the lightning talk will focus on:

  • motivations, including (at the time) not a lot of research literature on student perceptions of open pedagogy projects
  • methods
  • a few preliminary results

That should be easily enough to fill the seven-minute time slot I have!

In the rest of this post, I’m basically starting on the literature review for the article we’ll be working on, by reviewing some of the literature on open educational practices, open pedagogy, and student perceptions of open pedagogy. What follows is a not exhaustive review of literature with some quotes, about open pedagogy, open educational practices, students as producers, and student perceptions of open pedagogy. I can’t imagine we’ll use all of this in our article, but it’s useful to have it in one place!

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Emerging (?) from pandemic stress shell

Turtle“Turtle” by Matt Peoples is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


It’s been over 13 months since UBC moved to emergency remote teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic (classes moved online March 16, 2020), and, like most (all?) people in higher education during that time, I’ve been incredibly busy and stressed. In my role as the Academic Director of the Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology at UBC Vancouver, I was not only collaborating with others in the unit to provide leadership to a centre whose work was more widely recognized as crucial to teaching and learning and increasingly relied upon, but in working closely with other academic leaders I was also involved in discussions around many aspects of teaching and learning at the institution as so many things changed quickly.

And every week, or sometimes every day, new issues would crop up that we hadn’t thought about and that needed to be dealt with, like, yesterday. Or last week. Or really, last decade for some of them…so many issues related to accessibility, inclusivity, affordability, privacy, the need for flexibility and care came to the fore in ways they should have long ago. I myself have learned a great deal in the last year; I think very differently about many of these things than I did a year ago, or even six months ago (or two), and that’s a good thing.

But that’s not what this post is about. Maybe another one down the line. This post is about turtles.

One of the many, many things I’ve learned during this ongoing pandemic is that when when I experience prolonged stress, like every day for weeks and months on end feeling like there’s a new crisis and you have to be “on” all the time and things need to be addressed right now but the institutional machinery doesn’t always work that way or there are complications you couldn’t even have considered but nevertheless the problems are real and critical and you have to find ways to address them even when you know it’s not the best and could have been better but then the next issue is here already and what have I forgotten today did we talk about that already and I just forgot and what day is it anyway…when this is happening I discovered that my automatic response is to pull inward into what I can only call a stress shell.

As in, pull head, arms, legs into a shell and focus on the crisis of the moment. Head down, laser focus on what is right in front of you. Everything else about my professional life fell away. I think it had to. I pulled out of several projects and things I had said I would help with, I dropped the ball on some research projects (I managed to continue work together with others on one at least, and that has been wonderful), I stopped reading and engaging on social media, I stopped blogging almost entirely, I pulled away from communities that I loved and that helped sustain me personally and professionally. It all (almost) just…stopped.

As I write that, I realize it’s not entirely true…I was on many email lists and reading multiple resources from others about remote and online teaching, about what other universities were doing, about other teaching and learning centres and what we might learn from them. I talked with other teaching and learning centre directors in Canada on a semi-regular basis, thanks to the amazing work of folks in the Educational Developers Caucus to pull together frequent centre directors meetings. But everything that wasn’t related to immediate work related to the pandemic was outside the purview of the shell I built.

I don’t know if this was a useful way to handle the year that was, but I don’t think I had a choice. We all did what we had to do in that mess we were in, in that mess we’re still in. And things have been much, much worse for many other people.

But I do think I have a choice now. Things are still beyond busy (somehow the idea of a fall term that is mostly in-person but also includes some online elements seems much more complicated than the prospect of a fully online fall term did around this time last year, but that’s probably just faulty memory). But I’m missing many of the people and the communities I connected with outside of my university, in what so many of us now call the “before times.” Those times are gone; many of us have changed and certainly the contexts in which we live, work and play have changed. But the people remain and I’m feeling at a gut level how important are the relationships I’ve built over the years with people in the province, the country, the continent, and other parts of the world, some of which I fell away from as I turtled.

This is not to say I don’t have wonderful, meaningful, and important relationships and communities here in my own institution. One of the things the pandemic brought is greater communication and collaboration across our unit, and across many parts of the university. I’m very happy about that, and I am excited to see it continue. And honestly, I can’t think of any place in the university I would rather have been during all this than working with people at the CTLT and the Learning Technology Hub. I recently had an opportunity to reflect on what we have done over the past year or so; it’s truly astounding. And it came with a lot of stress and work overload on the part of many people. I am inspired and humbled by them every day, and am honoured to be able to work alongside them.

At the same time, the connections I had with people outside my university have been crucial as well, and some of those languished due to the necessary focus on what was happening here, with our staff, students, and faculty. I’m hoping to start coming a bit out of the shell. Attending the amazing OERxDomains21 conference reminded me of the important and inspiring work that others are doing and that I can continue to learn from and possibly at some point contribute to. Not deeply or quickly, as there is still so much to be done here, and so many relationships here to continue to build and maintain.

But putting a toe or two outside the shell is leading me to consider reaching out whole feet. Who knows … maybe a knee sometime. Slow and steady.

Baby Turtles 034“Baby Turtles 034” by cygnus921 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Pulling Together Leaders & Administrators, Part 3

This is the third and final post in the series I’m writing about the Pulling Together Guide for Leaders and Administrators, and the series of workshops held in the Fall of 2020 related to it, facilitated by Marlene Erickson and Jewell Gillies. See the first post and the second post in the series. This post focuses on the section of the guide called “Sammon” (Salmon), which is about bringing home what you have gathered on the Indigenization journey into your own institution, and also the last section, focused on the future.

In the workshop focused on the Sammon section of the Guide we were encouraged to reflect on what we can bring back to our own work from what we have learned and discussed in these sessions. Here the theme of courage came up again (as it did in the first session): having the courage to take risks, make mistakes, ask questions, build relationships, move forward with the work. One thing that stood out to me from this workshop was a suggestion that when we are working on various projects and initiatives, we continually ask ourselves and others involved: does this meet the needs of all learners, including Indigenous learners? Does it support the relationships we have or wish to have with Indigenous communities? If the answer is no, have the courage to dig deeper and work on it until the answer is yes.

A related theme was patience: having patience with ourselves, as we take risks and make mistakes. Recognize the mistakes and learn from them, and move on and keep going. Having patience with ourselves as we learn, and how long that may take. Also having patience with others as we are all on different points of the journey, and working to support each other in these various points as best we can.

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Pulling Together Leaders & Administrators, Part 1

In October and November 2020 I participated in a BCcampus-supported series of workshops called the Fall Indigenous Series, a six-week set of sessions focusing on Pulling Together: A Guide for Leaders and Administrators. The series was facilitated by Marlene Erickson and Jewell Gilles. Here are excerpts from their bios, from a BCcampus post previewing the series:

Marlene Erickson grew up in Nak’azdli (also known as Fort St. James). She is the Executive Director of Aboriginal Education at the College of New Caledonia, where she has worked for over 25 years in various roles. he has served as director for the Yinka Dene Language Institute, and as a director, advisor, and chairperson for the First Peoples’ Cultural Council. She is an executive board member of the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC), a policy and advocacy organization that represents and works on behalf of First Nations communities in British Columbia.

Jewell Gillies is Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation (northern Vancouver Island). After completing 2 years of study toward a Criminal Justice Diploma at the University of the Fraser Valley, Jewell spent time as a police officer in Vancouver. However, after six years in law enforcement, Jewell had to accept that the uniform was a barrier to the goals they wanted to achieve, as it represented a disturbing history for those Jewell was trying to connect to and help. … Now, in their work in the Aboriginal Services Department of Okanagan College, Jewell is recognizing that they are in a better position to effect real change.

For a short overview of the series, see a recap post about this series on the BCcampus website, which includes the amazing graphic recording works from each session by Michelle Buchholz, of Wet’suwet’en heritage.

I’m going to do a few (belated) posts reflecting on my experience reading Pulling Together: A Guide for Leaders and Administrators, and participating in this series, as a way to help ensure that I better remember and carry forward what I have learned from this incredibly impactful series. It was made so impactful both by the facilitators, but also by the participation of many people in post-secondary institutions in BC who shared their thoughts, their emotional reactions, their fears, their hopes, their successes and mistakes, and more. Thank you to you all!

This first post will be about the first two meetings of the series, and the front matter and section 1 of the Guide. Please see also the second post and the third post about this series.

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Pulling Together Leaders & Administrators, Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts in which I reflect on my experience in a series of workshops focused on the Pulling Together Leaders and Administrators Guide, and facilitated by Jewell Gillies and Marlene Erickson. See more about this workshop series in my first post about it, and see the third post in this series as well.

This post is about the second and third sessions in the workshop series, and the sections on Kahkah (Raven) and Leloo (Wolf). As noted in the previous post, in the Pulling Together Guide for Leaders and Administrators the path of Indigenization is discussed as a journey. The section on Raven is focused on the importance of storytelling and ceremony as we paddle together, and the one on Wolf is about gathering–what we’re gathering from our journey.

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Three open textbooks published

As noted in some earlier blog posts, I am the series editor for a series of nine open textbooks designed for Introduction to Philosophy courses. I already announced the publication on this blog of the first book in the series, Introduction to Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind (published in September 2019).

Book cover with the title Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics, Edited by George Matthews, and featuring a painting of two girls sitting side by side on a beach with a boat in the background

Cover for Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics. Cover art by Heather Salazar. Cover design by Jonathan Lashley. Licensed CC BY 4.0.

I forgot to announce the second book, Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics, which was published in December 2019. This book was edited by George Matthews, Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, USA. It has chapters on, among other things, ethical relativism, virtue ethics, utilitarianism, Kantianism, feminist ethics.

Here is the book description:

We often make judgments about good and bad, right and wrong. Philosophical ethics is the critical examination of these and other concepts central to how we evaluate our own and each others’ behavior and choices.

This text examines some of the main threads of discussion on these topics that have developed over the last couple of millenia, mostly within the Western cultural tradition. It considers basic questions about moral and ethical judgment: Is there such a thing as something that is really right or really wrong independent of time, place and perspective? What is the relationship between religion and ethics? How can we reconcile self-interest and ethics? Is it ever acceptable to harm one person in order to help others? What do recent discussions in evolutionary biology or have to say about human moral systems? What is the relation between gender and ethics? The authors invite you to participate in their exploration of these and many other questions in philosophical ethics.

And now there are two more books in the series!

Book cover with the title Introduction to Philosophy: Logic, Edited by Benjamin Martin, with a painting of a person holding cards in their hand

Cover for Introduction to Philosophy: Logic. Cover art by Heather Salazar. Cover design by Jonathan Lashley. Licensed CC BY 4.0.

Introduction to Philosophy: Logic was published in November 2020. It is edited by Benjamin Martin, University of Bergen, Norway. This is a short book designed not for a full course in logic, but rather to introduce some basic elements of logic in a course that is focused on introductory-level philosophy. It has chapters on, among others, evaluating arguments, informal fallacies, and formal logic.

The logic book took quite awhile as I learned how to use LaTeX to do symbolic logic characters and formulas in a way that would look decent in the book and also be as accessible as possible (b/c Pressbooks uses MathJax to render LaTeX). I also played around a lot trying to figure out how to get the arguments in standard form to be both as accessible as possible and look okay with a line between the premises and conclusion. I wrote a bit about some of the things I was learning while working on this book in a blog post from January 2020. Things were moving along pretty well in February 2020 and then … COVID-19 and my workload (along with that of many other people at the university) skyrocketed.

I used to work on this book series late at night and on weekends, and suddenly I needed all of that time on my regular job, just have some semblance of being only somewhat behind in my work (never fully caught up). I was utterly exhausted for about 8 months, with little in the way of breaks. Being Academic Director of a Centre for Teaching, Learning & Technology at a university that suddenly turns from a mostly in-person teaching and learning context to mostly online, with all the attendant issues that causes in multiple systems and processes that weren’t designed for this switch, turns out to be huge amount of work. It still is, as it seems each month brings an unexpected challenge. But I am managing to find about 4-5 hours a week to work on this project now at least, which I wasn’t before.

So I’m excited that any book got published at all in 2020, and we managed two!

Book cover with the title Introduction to Philosophy of Religion, edited by Beau Branson, with a painting of a woman praying

Cover for Introduction to Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion. Cover art by Heather Salazar. Cover design by Jonathan Lashley. Licensed CC BY 4.0.

Introduction to Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion was published in December 2020. It is edited by Beau Branson, Brescia University, Kentucky, USA. It is also a concise book, with six chapters focused on arguments for and against the existence of God as well as a concluding chapter questioning the focus on monotheism in current philosophy of religion.

Here is the book description:

Introduction to Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion introduces students to some of the major traditional arguments for and against the existence of God. It also includes discussions of some less well-known, but thought-provoking arguments for the existence of God, and one of the most important new challenges to religious belief from the Cognitive Science of Religion. An introductory chapter traces the deep interconnections between philosophy and religion throughout Western history, and a final chapter considers what place there is for non-Western and non-monotheistic religions within contemporary philosophy of religion.

Whatever your religious beliefs—or lack of beliefs—we think you will find many of the arguments in this book fascinating to think about, and useful starting points for deeper philosophical discussions.


In other news regarding books in this series, the Aesthetics book has gone through peer review and I have recently finished reading the chapters as well, and the Epistemology book has gone through peer review and I am currently reading those chapters as series editor. Metaphysics is next up for peer review, and Philosophy of Science is still seeking authors. Finally, we have a new editor for Social and Political Philosophy, and a new outline of chapters will be announced soon and we’ll be seeking authors for that one too!