An Ethical Model for #IDT?

Last week, I wanted a model for ethical instructional design and technology, and this week I got it. I suppose I should do the reading one week in advance.

J. Michael Spector in Foundations of Educational Technology: Integrative Approaches and Interdisciplinary Perspectives offers his Educratic Oath (p. 16):

  •             Do nothing to impair learning, performance, and instruction
  •             Do what you can to improve learning, performance, and instruction
  •             Base your actions on evidence that you and others have gathered and analyzed
  •             Share the principles of learning, performance and instruction that you have learned with others
  •             Respect the individual rights of all those with whom you interact

Following this is the pyramid diagram:


While this model does provide ethical guidance, there are cracks made evident in the visual representation.

We’re educators or designers, and we’re used to pyramids; just think of Bloom’s Taxonomy or the Food Pyramid. When I see one, I think the bottom is not only foundational (read, “important”) but also the easiest (like with Bloom’s “remember”) and most frequent (like grains). The top is the rarest (“create” in Bloom’s) or least desired (“fats” in the Food Pyramid). So, am I to interpret that the basis of all IDT ethics is “[meeting] learning goals and objects” and that “do no harm” is like icing on the cake? I read on, and Spector states, “The emphasis in the current discussion is on the top part of this pyramid – do no harm.” So, should the pyramid be inverted? There are arrows indicating flow(?) or a relationship(?) between the parts, but the intention is unclear. It’s like this model acknowledges the systemic environment in which IDT inhabits, but it doesn’t fully commit.

What’s missing is how various values and perspectives that different stakeholders have within the IDT environment interpret and balance these values. For instance, take how differently an ed-tech programmer, a classroom teacher, and a student value one ed-tech product: PhotoMath. The programmer may value downloads, the classroom teacher may value students’ ability to do independent work, and student may value increased free time to create YouTube videos. Now, both the programmer and student may see PhotoMath as a tool for good, but the classroom teacher may view this tool as impeding learning (at least two strikes according to the Oath). We also know on which side of the debate these journalists expect their readers to fall by naming it “cheating.”

Which brings up yet another conundrum when considering ethics, cheating, and educational technology: the purpose of ed-tech. Spector clearly states the purpose of ed-tech is something that supports finding answers (#sliderule). The educator is someone who gets others to have questions. To me, PhotoMath seems to be very good at finding answers, so perhaps the problem here is educators need to ask better questions. The website itself addresses this problem in the FAQ:

I cannot scan word problems.

Photomath cannot solve word problems. This is a very complicated thing to do for a computer.

Another consideration is the context of the learning task and the application of ed-tech. Technology is supposed to make tasks easier and to provide assistance, and in some cases like with assistive technology (screen readers, voice-to-text apps, prescription lens, and carbon-fiber prosthetics) these tools help level the playing field. Yet, there are times we strip away these tools to have a true measure of an individual’s ability, i.e. an eye doctor appointment. To what extent PhotoMath inhibits a teacher’s ability to know whether a student worked independently, depends on the purpose of the instructional task: instruction, practice, or performative assessment. These measures highlight differences among learners, and the teacher can take steps to differentiate content. That seems valid to me.

However, I would discourage teachers from banning PhotoMath, and like tools, if they do so because its use might give some students an unfair advantage over other students. To level the playing field by bringing everyone to the lowest common ability by removing technology (we all know the teachers who don’t assign technology projects because students’ limited access at home) handicaps students in the long run.

So, returning to Spector’s ethical model, does the arrangement of ethical standards change based on the ID environment or the stakeholder’s purpose? Personally, I think a more apt representation acknowledges the need for substitutions and rearrangement of values. Perhaps something resembling Pentominos? But then, that’s not really an ethical model, is it? That’s morality.

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