As we increase the use of technology in the classroom, we must also be conscious of ethical issues that arise from that technology use. Understanding the biggest ethical issues affecting our classrooms will help us better understand how to address them.
Technology in the Classroom
Ethics has always been at the core of creating a thriving learning environment. We are well accustomed to teaching students ethics through principled examples, such as: these are the rules (don't push); here are reasons for the rules (don't cause harm to others).
The widespread availability of technology brings new and challenging ethical issues to the forefront. Doug Johnson, an expert in educational technology, acknowledges that technology in the classroom can be extremely disruptive. He argues that our society has imposed guidelines for things children cannot do (for example: we drive after age 16, vote at 18, and drink at 21) because children are not emotionally developed for these activities. However, in our attempt to educate children to become computer literate, we push them into cyberspace without guidance. How can we expect them to know how to behave ethically on the internet, with their identity hidden, when we haven't fully taught them to act ethically in real-life situations?
In fact, the Alliance for Childhood discusses how advancement in technology is progressing faster than adults can understand the ethical ramifications of its use. They find that, especially at developmental ages, children highly benefit from learning ethics in face-to-face interactions, which are unfortunately becoming more uncommon with screentime distractions.
If we take some time to understand the biggest ethical issues affecting our classrooms, we can better understand how to address them.
Academic Honesty and Research Ethics
In the Connected Age, it's easy to go online and download multimedia (illegally or legally). There are even subscription sites that allow unlimited downloading of movies, music, or games, which further blurs the line between what is free and what is copyrighted. In fact, some students are confused that copying and pasting is plagiarism because their source material didn't have an author, and therefore it was ''common knowledge.''
Plagiarism is a big ethical concern, especially with search engines that make it easy to find any query. The widespread availability of knowledge also makes it easier for students to fabricate research and fake a source. Reinforcing how to cite authors, and why it's important to respect the intellectual property of others, will help to minimize these occurrences. Requiring well-cited sources will also help prevent any fabricated research.
Electronic communication between teachers and students can be helpful, but the line can become blurred between business and personal. Keep electronic communications professional, and warn students of the dangers of thinking that their emails and text messages are personal. Especially when using school or business email systems, these types of communications can easily be made public.
Social Networks & Cyberbullying
According to their company info page, Facebook has 1.79 billion active users, and 66% of these users log on every day. That's a staggering number! Some educators are using Facebook to share multimedia with students, or as a way for students to connect and collectively brainstorm. My college had a Facebook page for our cohort, and while the intentions of connecting students through the page were positive, they provided no guidelines for the page's use and it inevitably led to ethical issues. One student began snapping pictures of a particular student and posting them to the page, making fun of him at every turn. This repeated-over-time pattern of hurtful behavior was cyberbullying.
Social Networks can also bring up ethical issues for teachers who are ''friends'' with their students. Teachers may learn things about their students, like seeing posts about underage drinking. A young student doesn't understand that they have waived their right to privacy by posting things on social networks, and they often feel that Facebook is anonymous because there is no face-to-face interaction. This feeling also enabled my classmate to cyberbully another student without feeling the full weight of his actions. This is a teaching moment to help students understand that Facebook is not a diary and it is not anonymous. Our actions and posts on public social networks could one day prevent us from getting a job, or they could cause us to become unemployed.
Between utilizing online forums, social media, and other online applications, schools are collecting a lot of information about students. The U.S. Department of Education's Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) offers best practices for teachers to follow when enrolling in new online services. Their advice includes reviewing the contract for data use and retention policies, as well as being transparent with students and parents about district information policies, including what is being collected and how it will be used.
How to Address Technology Related Ethical Issues
Connecticut's Teacher Education and Mentoring Program advises teachers to employ their best professional judgment when dealing with technology-related ethics. They find it helpful for teachers to recognize these types of situations and to discuss them with other educators to develop awareness of new ethical issues.
In addition to identifying ethic related situations, it is important for teachers to outline both technology rules and the reason for the rules (remember our don't push example earlier?). Focus on how technology can enhance or expand the student's learning, and help them see how technology can connect and build upon their real-life activities and learning.
And, of course, create clear boundaries of what students can and cannot do while on a classroom computer. Arlene Rinaldi developed 10 Commandments for computer network users at Florida Atlantic University. The commandments include not harming others, not snooping, not using the computer to steal, not using other people's intellectual output without authorization, and understanding the social consequences of things you do on the Internet.
His last rule is important: ''Thou shalt use a computer in ways that show consideration and respect.'' Isn't this what we have traditionally been teaching students? To treat others as they want to be treated, to show respect for the humanity of others no matter their race, religion, or sexual orientation, and the importance of doing the right thing.