Technology and Ethics

Ethics should be a part of any curriculum.
Ethics should be a part of any curriculum.

As educators, administrators, and consultants, we have ethical responsibilities. I have watched with some alarm at all the technology and software that comes out of universities and other institutions that have no consideration for privacy, accessibility, sustainability, or basic security. Consider Facebook: they have no idea how secure or insecure their platform is; they are less than transparent about what happens with our data, and yet, Facebook is going to somehow transform education. Some of the worst ethical conundrums I have seen come out of data analytics programs and edu start-ups where the programmers are so anxious to get something to market that they forget basic ethical standards (think FERPA). Fast-tracking projects, ala the typical start-up, does not leave a lot of room for taking a deep-dive ethical analysis into what the possible consequences are to a given technology. I have seen that myself, first hand, in my work with others on an education AI project. There are education apps that track student behavior and locations. Really basic questions around education technology go unasked: How is student data being gathered and how is it stored? How much control do the students have over their own data? Is the data sold? Who else has access to the data? How long is the data held? What over-sight is in place to protect the data?

Casey Fiesler recently posted an interesting spread sheet on colleges that are offering ethics to their tech folk. It is a collection of syllabi from over 50 courses across a number of colleges. But it is not enough to have these courses available – some states require doctors and lawyers to take ethics courses. The stakes are too high to not require the same from all STEM fields. 

I have been working on a “digital citizenship” curriculum this last quarter that will include discussions of tech ethics. Students need to not just have control over their data, they need to be made aware of how corporations and institutions use their data, and how they should be help accountable. 

If your tech programs have a required ethics course, I would love to hear about it in the comments below or feel free to email me a link.

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