Moral and Ethical Issues of #edtech

In our recent class discussions about educational technology, we looked at the ethical and moral issues of integrating ed tech and social media in our teaching:

As many people know, teachers in Saskatchewan returned to work (from home) to prepare supplemental learning opportunities for students as a result of school closures.  With the whirlwind of information surrounding types of educational tools to use and the best ways to deliver content, a lot of people are concerned about student safety, privacy and how to share educational resources with students and teachers.  With our current teaching situation (remote learning), I would like to discuss a few ethical and moral issues of delivering education online:

  • fair dealing regarding educational resources; and
  • consent, privacy and boundaries when using online educational and social media tools;
  • the best way to help students who lack access to technology or have other barriers (like language with EAL families)

As we head into a “new” (for many) remote learning world, we must be mindful of privacy, copyright and fair dealing regarding educational resources.  While it might be easy to take a picture of a book and post it online, we cannot forget about privacy and copyright requirements.  My classmate Laurie used her video to explore the idea that with ease of access to materials online, our students need to learn how to use, obtain and share online.  One example was using websites like Creative Commons so students can safely use materials that are free to share, use and/or remix.  Other examples include:

Not only do students need to understand these tools, but educators need to be aware of how we share educational resources while providing supplemental learning opportunities.  It is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind/stress of planning for remote learning to have a bit of a “whatever, who cares” attitude towards copyright.  Conversations and discussions in our class this week helped reinforce our moral and ethical duty as educators to provide tools and learning that are safe and fair.

This leads me to the next idea surrounding student privacy and consent while using educational tools and social media with students.  In the article, Ethics of Teaching with Social Media, the authors describe four ethical issues when using social media with students:

  • Consent (respectful ways to gain permission from people)
  • Confidentiality (make sure we care about our students’ privacy – will conversations be strictly in a classroom context?)
  • Boundaries (established between public/private and personal/professional lives)
  • Recognizing and responding to illicit activity (teach digital citizen and fair dealing with materials online)

These issues help frame our educator context when incorporating social media with our students.  In a pre-COVID-19 world, this may have included school Twitter pages or Seesaw accounts with outlined expectations and explicit privacy guidelines (like signing a media release form or apps that have been approved by your school division).  In our current teaching situation, we now have to consider how we may engage with students, perhaps through Zoom video conferencing or Google Hangouts.  You must understand you are engaging with students outside of school, in their own homes and on their own devices. But there are ways to makes these platforms safer, for example:

Finally, if it wasn’t evident prior to COVID-19, access to technology outside of school is even more prevalent. My classmate Curtis explored issues like the digital divide in his content catalyst video this week. The Nelson Norman Group highlights 3 Stages of the Digital Divide:

  1. Economic Divide: affordability of tech
  2. Usability Divide: challenge and complications of using tech
  3. Empowerment Divide: participation inequality

This research is from 2006, so I think one of the biggest gaps to add to technology use today is access to reliable broadband Internet coverage.  The National Broadband Internet Service Availability Map shows the gaps in coverage across Canada and an article from 2019 “The Human Right to Free Internet Access” explains that Internet access should not be a luxury.  Educators need to be mindful of the kind of access our students and families have to educational tools, especially with our current teaching situations amid school closures.  I have heard examples from my colleagues about students coming to sit outside our school  after hours to access Wi-Fi so they can use social media.  In our current social distancing world, the Wi-Fi has been shut off to discourage gatherings near the school – how does this affect our students who do not have reliable internet access?

Last week I attended a webinar led by Common Sense Education, to learn more about the best ways to help our students who lack access to technology. 

EUidP-YXYAALqn_ In the supplemental learning plan outlined by my division, students and families will need Internet access and a computer or smart device.  I think it is an unfair assumption that this will be the case for every family and then you also have to consider that there may be multiple students in one household.  In the webinar, attendees highlighted issues like poor (or no) Internet service in rural areas and language barriers that make it difficult to communicate the learning plan.

One suggested tool was “TalkingPoints“, a web and mobile app that allows families to receive information in their home language.  Like many educational tools, it is currently offering free resources during the COVID-19 school closures.  My only hesitation in using the app is that it might be difficult to register families.  How do we communicate when a family has limited technology and language barriers about a “cool new app!”?  I wish I could sit down with a family in real life and walk them through registering, but we do not have that luxury right now.

My biggest takeaway from the webinar was that in order to help our students and underserved families, we need to communicate and check on their well-being. takeaway

While I think we are doing a great job at trying to communicate regularly, I am not sure if we are getting the right information to these families because of the language barriers.  Furthermore, providing critical resources, like access to technology, is what our families need to participate in online supplemental learning.  Does this mean lending division-owned technology to families? What are the risks and implications of this model? And then how do we ensure the families have access to Wi-Fi? Or does it mean printing off booklets for students to pick up and do at home? But how is that an effective learning opportunity?

These questions provide a snapshot of some of the struggles students and families have with online learning during the COVID-19 school closures.  I really worry about losing connections with these families if they are not able to participate in the supplemental learning and the students want to be part of the experience.  When we are are physically at school with access to technology, there are many ways to engage these families and students.  Beyond the school walls and in an unprecedented situation like COVID-19 closures, we have to be very creative and sensitive to the needs of our families.  Connection and communication will be the most important part of this experience.

Until next time,


3 thoughts on “Moral and Ethical Issues of #edtech

  1. Great post. I did a little vlog on the topic of consent when posting student pics as I like to share what we are doing in the classroom and it’s something I need to stay on top of. I know my division isn’t too keen on Ts using Zoom because of the security issues that have surfaced and how it may violate LAFOIP for example. As I was reading your post, it got me thinking that all kids may not have a computer/laptop but almost each of them have a cell phone I wonder how we could tap into using those better at this time (realize data may be an issue) but I have seen cel phones basically turn into a must have regardless of socio-economic background. What’s you thoughts on this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment, Dean! That is a very good point – it seems like lots of kids have access to a cellphone (or an old one that is just used with wi-fi). All of my planning so far is assuming that students are using a device rather than a computer – not sure why, I just sort of figured most students wouldn’t have access to a laptop (unless they are older). But I know a big challenge is Internet access. I saw an interesting tweet today from Sasktel: “Although SaskTel is not a computer retailer, we understand how important access to the internet is to our customers and their families during this time. We are providing a two-month service credit to all SaskTel customers currently signed up to the Federal Government’s Connecting Families initiative for low-income families. We’ve made these adjustments in hopes that it will assist those in need –

      PS – loved the style of your last vlog!


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