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.
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.
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:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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:
- 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).
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. It took some time, 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).
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.