Weeks 4 & 5: Social and Ethical Issues – Summer 2021

Topics

Technology in education is neither a neutral matter, nor confined to individuals. Without an understanding of technology in education that widens out to a larger picture of the social context and impacts, we are largely operating in the dark.

While some would say that technology is neutral and only does harm or good based on how we use it, the reality is that technology is deeply interwoven with our ethics and social responsibilities. Developing or adopting technology in our practice involves basic decisions about who we are and what our priorities are.

The readings and activities in this course are focused on social and ethical issues, as these issues cut across all aspects of, as well as types of, digital learning technologies and environments. These issues range from access to technology to connectivity, and from such areas as privacy and safety to the motivations of the educational technology (ed-tech) industry. Technology developers are not necessarily working in the interests of education and learners, but rather they are motivated by profits. This positions the companies in many cases at odds with learning and social justice.

Resources

The resources in Unit 2 explore dimensions of the decisions we make around technology in education and their social and ethical implications.

The topics are:

  • Access to learning
  • Digital divides
  • Privacy and safety
  • Indigenization
  • Universal design for learning (UDL)
  • Developing nations
  • Digital literacy
  • The ed-tech industry, e.g. Silicon Valley

These topics have been selected to demonstrate effects of technology choices. Some of the implications of these choices we may not necessarily be aware of at the time.

For example, in a well-intentioned effort to improve access to learning we might adopt online tools. However, some learners may not be able to access the tools due to geographical, ability, or economic reasons. This choice creates new barriers to learning. Assumptions around how we access and use technology in mainstream Western culture may be antithetical to Indigenous ways of knowing and being with community. So before delving too deeply into a new educational technology, it is wise to ask first who will benefit and who will not?

Resources Weeks 4 & 5

Begin by reading the course notes below, and then select two or three of the resources for deeper reading.

Digital Divides

Young, N. (Host). (2018, October 21). The digital divide leaves more Canadians offline than you think [Audio podcast episode]. In Spark with Nora Young. CBC Radio One. https://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/spark/segment/15617082

Privacy and Safety

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. (2017, October 24). 2017 global privacy enforcement network sweep. https://www.priv.gc.ca/en/about-the-opc/what-we-do/international-collaboration/international-privacy-sweep/2017_result/

Indigenization

Winter, J., & Boudreau, J. (2018). Supporting self-determined indigenous innovations: Rethinking the digital divide in CanadaTechnology Innovation Management Review, 8(2), 38-48. https://timreview.ca/article/1138

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

King-Sears, M. (2009). Universal design for learning: Technology and pedagogy. Learning Disability Quarterly, 32(4), 199–201. https://doi.org/10.2307/27740372

Developing Nations

Gulati, S. (2008, February). Technology-enhanced learning in developing nations: A review. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 9(1). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/477/1012

The Ed-Tech Industry (e.g. Silicon Valley)

Watters, A. The top ed-tech trends (aren’t ‘tech’). Hack Education. http://hackeducation.com/2017/04/03/trends

Digital Literacy

B.C. Government. (n.d.). BC’s digital literacy framework. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/kindergarten-to-grade-12/teach/teaching-tools/digital-literacy-framework.pdf


Course Notes

Digital Divides

The early purposes of online learning and its predecessor distance education—by mail, mass media (television, radio), and telephone—were to make learning more accessible to people who for various reasons were unable to attend regular classes at a school campus. Barriers to education could include work schedules, lack of transportation, incarceration, remote geography, or the need for family caregiving, among others. However, the introduction of a new technology also raised the question of access: While the new technology may increase access for some, does it do so for everyone?

In the podcast on digital divides (Young, 2018), the host explores the state of digital access in Canada. While high-speed internet and phone access appear to be ubiquitous to those who live in most areas of Canada, there is still a gap in terms of broadband internet, affordable technology and plans, and skills to use it in other areas, particularly rural. Consistent access to technology and connectivity is a baseline for the development of basic digital literacy skills, particularly in view of the fact that technology keeps evolving. Gaps to access skill training, which is offered in many communities, include geographical distance and barriers to travel to programs that are available in a community, as well as the cost of some programs. As increasing levels of government, banking, and other services are provided online, those who experience the digital divide may increasingly fall behind economically and otherwise. Implementing technology-enhanced learning requires careful consideration of, and support for, those who are unable to obtain the needed forms of access.

Young, N. (Host). (2018, October 21). The digital divide leaves more Canadians offline than you think [Audio podcast episode]. In Spark with Nora Young. CBC Radio One. https://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/spark/segment/15617082

 

Privacy and Safety

With a number of scandals in recent years regarding mishandling of information collected by online educational apps, there is a strong concern among many legislators, educators, students, and parents about the privacy and safety of students online, especially children. In 2017, the province of Ontario’s privacy authorities conducted a “sweep” of privacy practices and enforcement in Ontario K–12 classrooms. The main purpose was to see how online services provided for use in Ontario schools were handling issues of privacy and safety. The review looked into four main areas:

  • Transparency. Most of the services we looked at made information about how they handle personal information available to users, but the quality varied and it was sometimes hard to find.
  • Consent. There were concerns with how a significant number of services obtained age appropriate consent from students or their parents/guardians.
  • Age Appropriate Collection and Disclosure. Some (but not all) services were using practices for minimizing collection and disclosure of students’ personal information and providing controls for teachers and parents to set age-appropriate limits/supervision on collection and disclosure of students’ personal information.
  • Deletion of personal information. Many services swept did not make it easy or even possible to delete personal information no longer needed. (Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, 2017, n.p.)

Among the findings were difficulties in finding information about collection of personal information and how it is used; inadequate consent policies that considered students, teachers, and parents; undue collection of personal information about students; and lack of mechanisms to delete personal information upon completion of use of the service. The project offers a number of “takeaways” or recommendations for improvement in all these areas, made both to service providers and to users. Educators need to consider all these issues carefully when engaging students with online services, whether free or paid for.

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. (2017, October 24). 2017 global privacy enforcement network sweep. https://www.priv.gc.ca/en/about-the-opc/what-we-do/international-collaboration/international-privacy-sweep/2017_result/

 

Universal / Inclusive Design

All too often as we plan for teaching and learning, or for including technologies in our practice, we have in mind an “average” profile of who our learners are. Unfortunately when we do this, from the very outset we are setting ourselves up for the exclusion of those who fall outside the norms of what we consider normal. In the case of education, that includes those with learning disabilities.

Interestingly enough, designing for everyone, not just those in the broad middle, can also have the effect of improving things for everyone. A classic example is that of the sidewalk cuts that enable those in wheelchairs to move about more easily on city streets. Once these were in place, they were also helpful for baby strollers, people using walkers, and others who had difficulty with the elevations of curbs.

King-Sears (2009) starts by explaining that while within educational contexts the focus is often on technologies, pedagogical approaches themselves can be exclusionary particularly for students with disabilities. As she notes, “When educators employ these principles in the design and delivery of instruction, accommodations noted on individualized education programs (IEPs) for students with learning disabilities (LD) may more naturally occur in general education classrooms” (2009, p. 199).

She points out seven main principles of inclusive design in education that touch on both aspects, as they are in many cases intertwined.

  • Equitable use
  • Flexibility in use
  • Simple and intuitive use
  • Perceptible information
  • Tolerance for error
  • Low physical effort
  • Size and space for approach and use

As you read through these principles and how they play out not only in technology but also in pedagogy, also consider how—like the wheelchair cuts in sidewalk curbs—they may make things better for all learners, not just those with learning disabilities.

Access this reading via TRU Library:

King-Sears, M. (2009). Universal design for learning: Technology and pedagogy. Learning Disability Quarterly, 32(4), 199–201. https://doi.org/10.2307/27740372

 

Indigenization

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission undertook a multi-year process to document the history and effects of residential schools on Indigenous peoples. At the conclusion of this process, a number of reports were produced, including Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (2015). This report speaks to many areas and levels of Canadian government and institutions, and how they can begin to redress the many effects on Indigenous peoples caused by the government’s history of attempted assimilation. The calls include references to education, and within this setting it is incumbent upon educators to respond to the Calls to Action.

One area that involves technology and learning is the concept of the digital divide, discussed in various areas throughout this course. In their discussion of the idea of the digital divide in Canada from an Indigenous perspective, Winter and Boudreau (2018) reorient the concept of digital technological development from a colonial mindset to one informed by Indigenous voices and self-determination. They trace the Eurocentric concept of “diffusionism,” an assumption about the superiority of certain cultures that are able to spread “progress,” and how it places Indigenous cultures within a fictitious past and assumes an inevitable assimilation. As part of this phenomenon, efforts to reduce the digital divide continue to rely on “what technology can do for Indigenous peoples–not what Indigenous peoples have and can do with technology….To disrupt this pattern is to first and foremost re-focus discourse surrounding the digital divide from a needs-based approach to a strength-based approach, and subsequently prioritize support for bottom-up community initiatives” (Winter & Boudreau, 2018, p. 40). Using examples of digital storytelling, virtual landscapes, and makerspaces, the authors steer us away from “solutionism” and towards challenging our often-hidden assumptions about Eurocentric myths of modernity and invention. As they conclude, “Technological development in Indigenous communities demands a more thoughtful, and oftentimes more uncomfortable, approach to reconciliation that looks to the past in order to look to the future” (Winter & Boudreau, 2018, p. 46).

Winter, J., & Boudreau, J. (2018). Supporting self-determined indigenous innovations: Rethinking the digital divide in CanadaTechnology Innovation Management Review, 8(2), 38-48. https://timreview.ca/article/1138

 

Developing Nations

Gulati (2008) explores the question of distance education and its role in developing countries. Given the large education gap between countries in the developed and developing world, many efforts have been made regionally and with the support of international aid agencies such as UNESCO, the European Commission, and the World Bank.

Particularly in developing countries, education at all levels is a basic necessity for literacy and basic communication, creativity, and citizenship. Within this picture, given the often highly distributed and rural settings of populations living in poverty conditions, local context, resources, technologies, and other factors need to be understood in order to design the most effective open and distance learning systems and methods. Gulati describes both successful and less successful initiatives, with successes focused on using the right technologies and training teachers on how to develop and support open distance learning configurations.

Initiatives that lacked teacher training and otherwise didn’t employ a capacity-building approach did not experience the same levels of success. A further question has to do with internet access and bandwidth, as well as the problem of many course materials from Western educational institutions that lack grounding in local cultures. As summarized by Gulati:

…e-learning does have the potential to meet the educational needs of masses of poor people in developing countries; however, this potential has yet to be recognised. The present IT provisions in developing countries is limited to the elite. Existing infrastructures allow only a few to develop communication and interaction skills and to become part of the new social networking paradigm. Education for the masses continues to be didactic and devoid of interaction and critique. (2008, n.p.)

In the time since the authoring of this paper, there has been an explosion of access to mobile devices as well as data and internet networks, creating new opportunities for the spread of open and distance education. However, the basics of using local situations and contexts as a starting point, along with developing local capacity to deliver and support open distance education programs, remain ongoing concerns and priorities for educators.

Gulati, S. (2008, February). Technology-enhanced learning in developing nations: A review. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 9(1). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/477/1012

 

Digital Literacy

In a society immersed in digital technologies, the ability to navigate through and critically evaluate information and technologies becomes increasingly important to the functioning of a healthy democracy. The term “digital literacies” is used to describe the types of skills and awareness needed to maintain such a critical approach. Many school systems are looking at digital literacies as a fundamental part of education. The BC government has developed B.C.’s Digital Literacy Framework (n.d.) for schools. The framework defines digital literacies as: “the interest, attitude and ability of individuals to use digital technology and communication tools appropriately to access, manage, integrate, analyze and evaluate information, construct new knowledge, and create and communicate with others.”

Topics include:

  • Research and information literacy
  • Critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Digital citizenship
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Technology operations and concepts

A quick scan of the framework will reveal the breadth of topics covered, which can serve as a guideline for K–12 curriculum development and technology implementation and use. The framework can be used more broadly for other settings as well. In particular, it is interesting to note the extent to which the framework covers issues outside of technologies themselves; apart from one area, the focus of the standards is in the wider areas of human endeavour such as critical thinking, communication, creativity, and citizenship. Teaching digital literacies in this way promotes creative, purposeful, and collaborative ways to use digital technologies to enhance human flourishing, as compared with simply learning how to code and operate digital technologies in a more mechanistic way.

B.C. Government. (n.d.). BC’s digital literacy framework. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/kindergarten-to-grade-12/teach/teaching-tools/digital-literacy-framework.pdf

 

The Ed-Tech Industry (e.g., Silicon Valley)

The Internet originated in the late ‘60s from work contracted to the University of California, Los Angeles and Stanford Research Institute by the US Department of Defense. Over the next two decades, the World Wide Web developed and evolved to the global network it is today.

While in the early days much pioneering work on network basics was for government, education, and research purposes, it gradually became a resource for entire industries in networking, computing, software, and other products and services. In our discussion of learning management systems (LMS) elsewhere in this course, we described how in the early days of the World Wide Web some tech-savvy educators put courses or learning resources on their on websites as adjuncts to their teaching practice. Over time, industry increasingly saw education as a business opportunity and sought not only to market products and services, but in some cases—and increasingly so—replace educational institutions with what they believed to be superior technologies and services. Often with little expertise in education, they nevertheless generated much interest among investors particularly with the development of Silicon Valley as both a locus and a metaphor for new, highly capitalized technology start-ups.

Watters (2017) takes a hard and critical look at this industry in her blog post “The Top Ed-Tech Trends (Aren’t ‘Tech’).” In her lists of trends, the focus is not on technology itself—in contrast to much overhyped technology advertising—but on cultural, political, and educational context in which these technologies emerge. She describes the narratives underlying much of the ed-tech industry like this:

…the flavor is distinctly Californian. A belief in the re-invention of the self. A “dream factory.” A certain optimism for science as the penultimate solution to any of the world’s problems. A belief in technological utopia. A belief in the freedom of information technologies, in information technologies as freedom. An advocacy for libertarian politics – think Peter Thiel (a Stanford graduate) now advising Donald Trump. A faith in the individual and a distrust for institutions. A fierce embrace of the new. A disdain for the past. (Watters, 2017)

Describing an array of ed-tech education initiatives, Watters critiques the efforts made by industry to “platform education” with a “full stack” approach—i.e., own it from end to end. The failure of these ideologies rests in their ignorance and neglect of the fundamental purposes and roots of education including community, the democratic institutions of teaching and learning, and the productization of education. Watters and others who are questioning the entire commercial ed-tech industry continue to explore alternatives to commercial products, such as open source software and technology cooperatives, to give a few examples and they look at hosting and design alternatives that avoid unnecessary and exploitative data collection, sharing and selling for marketing purposes.

Watters, A. The top ed-tech trends (aren’t ‘tech’). Hack Education. http://hackeducation.com/2017/04/03/trends

Assessments

Assignment 1: ePortfolio and Blog Posts (20%)

Blog Post 3

This blog post is the third in the five-part blogging assignment in this course. This post will require you to complete an annotated bibliography (Fry, n.d.) related to your Final Project topic developed in your first two posts. The annotated bibliography will become part of your paper as you continue to research and write.

You will locate and describe a minimum of eight resources. You may include the resources you have already brought into your blogging earlier. Among the eight resources you should include at least five peer-reviewed academic papers, and in addition you may include more, or scholarly blog posts and/or education journalism. The purpose is to annotate (describe) each resource, and how it connects to your topic. The annotations should average out to approximately 150 words each.

Cornell University’s How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography (2020) provides further information about annotation should you wish to research this further. This is a good time to revisit and refine your research question, as it should be fairly solid by now.

Assignment 3: Discussion Posts and Participation (10%)

Team discussions take place over this period, based on the schedule set out by your OLFM. Refer to Assignment 2 and Assignment 3 instructions for more information.

Summary

This unit has presented and shared research and commentary on ethics and issues of social justice. Beyond understanding questions of efficacy and practicality of educational technologies and environments, we also need to think more deeply about the wider implications of the choices we make and the technologies we choose or are asked to work with. These questions may place the educator in the role of advocacy where decisions need to be made about your ethics as a practitioner and what efforts you may want to make to influence your institution towards ethically and socially responsible technologies.

At this point in the course the main three blogs designed to develop your thinking and research towards a final paper should be well developed and commented on. At the same time, make sure you have been keeping up with other forum discussions and blogs, posting as tasked and giving thoughtful feedback to your peers. This is also a time where discussions are developing for the team presentation, so make sure your team is planning and working towards the presentation.

References

B.C. Government. (n.d.). BC’s digital literacy framework. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/kindergarten-to-grade-12/teach/teaching-tools/digital-literacy-framework.pdf

Cornell University. (2020, February 24). How to prepare an annotated bibliography. https://guides.library.cornell.edu/annotatedbibliography

Fry, P. (n.d.). Annotated bibliography. TRU Writing Centre. https://www.tru.ca/__shared/assets/Annotated_Bibliography32303.pdf

Gulati, S. (2008, February). Technology-enhanced learning in developing nations: A review. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 9(1). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/477/1012

King-Sears, M. (2009). Universal design for learning: Technology and pedagogy. Learning Disability Quarterly, 32(4), 199–201. https://doi.org/10.2307/27740372

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. (2017, October 24). 2017 global privacy enforcement network sweep. https://www.priv.gc.ca/en/about-the-opc/what-we-do/international-collaboration/international-privacy-sweep/2017_result/

Watters, A. The top ed-tech trends (aren’t ‘tech’). Hack Education. http://hackeducation.com/2017/04/03/trends

Winter, J., & Boudreau, J. (2018). Supporting self-determined Indigenous innovations: Rethinking the digital divide in Canada. Technology Innovation Management Review, 8(2), 38-48. https://timreview.ca/article/1138

Young, N. (Host). (2018, October 21). The digital divide leaves more Canadians offline than you think [Audio podcast episode]. In Spark with Nora Young. CBC Radio One. https://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/spark/segment/15617082

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