Introduction: Co-Design in an Ethics and Technology Graduate Course

Verena Roberts, Barbara Brown, Michele Jacobsen, and Christie Hurrell

Leading and Learning in a Digital Age (also referred to as the digital age program) is a four-course graduate certificate offered at the Werklund School of Education that can be completed as a stand-alone credential or as one of the steps towards a Master of Education Interdisciplinary degree. The digital age program provides students with opportunities to examine the complexities of leading and learning in inclusive and high-quality digital learning environments. While completing this graduate certificate, students must develop and critically assess authentic interdisciplinary and technology-rich learning designs and environments, demonstrate technological fluency and competencies in technological literacies, advocate for high-quality digital learning environments informed by understanding of current trends and issues in the field, and develop teaching and learning practices in school and other workplace contexts that engage and empower learners and promote active citizenry in a participatory and digital age. The four courses in this graduate certificate are offered in the following sequence: (1) Interdisciplinary Learning and Technology, (2) Technological Literacies, (3) Ethics and Technology, and (4) Leading in a Digital Age. The courses are interconnected and provide a scaffolded pathway for learning within an online community based on Scardamalia and Bereiter’s (2014) knowledge-building principles. The chapters in this book result from an assignment that was part of the third course in the program; however, the development of the knowledge-building community started in the first course and continued through to the third, when the students started to co-design this e-book. Following the completion of the digital age program, the students, their instructors, the academic coordinator for the program, and a research team remained dedicated to helping the students share the products of their co-design and learning in an open access format.

The Concept of Co-Design

The foundations of co-design can be attributed to Gee’s principles of learning design, which empower learners as active agents (producers) of knowledge rather than viewing them as recipients (consumers) of knowledge. According to Jahnke et al., (2020), the term ‘co-design’ connects to co-operative design, and in their study exploring student engagement in group work in higher education contexts, they describe co-design as a way for students to become active agents of their learning and to exceed the expectations of the instructor and the learning intentions outlined in the course. Similarly, in the digital age program, we used ‘co-design’ to describe the participatory pedagogy used by the instructors as well as the expectation that students would be active agents of their learning.

Within current research literature, the oft-cited research on co-design focuses on small collaborative groups that design for a class or professional learning experience (Roschelle et al., 2006). While limited in scope, current research on co-designing digital open learning experiences does describe the importance of situated context when examining co-designing learning processes, the influence of reflective learning practices, and the roles of instructors and students in the learning process (Barbera et al., 2017). In addition, Sanders and Stappers (2008) describe the implications of the shift from user-centred design to co-designing as a participatory pedagogical process.

Practical examples of co-design as an open participatory pedagogical practice are found in the literature (Barbera et al., 2017; Paskevicius & Irvine, 2019; Roberts, 2019). Examples from practice on how instructors have co-designed student learning experiences include DeRosa and Robison’s (2017) case studies that describe authentic and meaningful student projects and assignments and The Graduate Centre Learning Collective’s (2017) handbook that describes student-centred learning and teaching practices. The open-practice-focused literature identifies an increase in student engagement when students are active participants in the design and construction of a course syllabus, pressbook, wikipedia entry, or video (Hilton & Wiley, 2019; Paskevicius & Irvine, 2019).

Characteristics of co-design that informed the learning activities in the ethics and technology course:

  • Assignments are designed to intentionally involve students as participatory partners in the learning process and in creating final learning products.
  • Educators and students collaboratively personalize and contextualize their learning pathways and connect their learning to the course/project learning outcomes.
  • Educators and students share responsibility for the design of conditions for multiple forms of engagement, representation, and expression.
  • Iterative and continuous feedback loops and processes, which are responsive to learner’s needs while ensuring students meet the learning outcomes, are used by educators, peers, and other experts.
  • Group memory and knowledge building are a collective responsibility and open endeavour (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2010; Hendricks et al., 2019; Jacobsen, 2010; Jacobsen & Friesen, 2011; Jenkins, et al., 2016; Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011; Roberts, 2019).

In current SoTL research, there are examples of student-instructor partnerships that consider how to engage post-secondary students in collaborative, authentic, and relevant participatory learning opportunities to promote shared responsibility for learning (Cook-Sather et al., 2014; Hill et al., 2019). Researchers also demonstrate positive impacts of open educational resources on student learning (Colvard et al., 2018). There is both promise and possibility in studying co-design as a participatory pedagogy in higher education, whereby instructors build upon initial course designs through collaborative engagement with graduate students to co-design individual learning pathways and to engage in new approaches to knowledge building.

The Open Learning Design

In the Ethics and Technology course, students examined safe and ethical uses of technology in digital learning environments. Students explored the ubiquitous influence and complexities of technology in a participatory culture and the evolving issues that confront communities. Students also explored how elements of a participatory culture and the ethical implications involved, can serve to support and change how curriculum outcomes are approached and how to navigate and lead in a complex culture where the line between consumers and producers is blurring. At the beginning of the course, graduate students were invited to choose a personally relevant issue in Ethics in Education to examine in more depth. As the course proceeded, the students examined the literature, reflected on their readings and assignments from earlier coursework, reflected on their professional practice and experience, and then started to develop their open Pressbooks chapter.

The process for the co-design of the chapters in this book included the following iterative design, which took place during the course and continued for six months following the completion of the course and program: instructor-designed learning activity to model collaborative knowledge building, an initial individual student response, peer feedback loops, reflection, instructor formative assessment, initial draft, external reviews, cycles of edits, and then final publication.

Overview Framework for the Ethics of Open Education

Each author used a common framework as a lens for analyzing the ethical issue selected as the topic for their chapter. A common theoretical frame for analysis provided a through line for the learning community. Farrow’s (2016) comparison of relevant and current ethical research policies and guidelines provides a framework in which to consider the ethics of researching in open learning contexts, and this course used that framework as a guide to support the learners in considering multiple ethical perspectives and specific ethical guidelines for completing research in academic contexts.

This graduate course focused primarily on the safe and ethical use of technology in digital learning environments. The course was organized according to four topics based on Farrow’s (2016) Framework for the Ethics of Open Education.

The four topics were: 

Topic 1: Full Disclosure of Ethical Topics in Digital Learning Environments.

Topic 2: Privacy, Data and Personal Security, and Informed Consent.

Topic 3: Avoiding Harm, Minimizing Risk and Integrity.

Topic 4: Respect for Participant Autonomy and Independence.

Students were asked to review, analyze, and synthesize each topic from three meta-ethical theoretical positions: deontological, consequentialist, and virtue ethical (Farrow, 2016).

A deontological ethical position focuses on duties and responsibilities, and it emphasizes moral obligation and the rule-based nature of morality. As a result, deontological theories focus on the rules, cultural expectations, and consequences of these guiding principles. Some examples of the deontological position include religious rules about unacceptable and acceptable behaviour. Non-religious examples of this position include respecting authority and participant rights to informed consent.

A consequentialist ethical position focuses on doing what is objectively ‘right’ in terms of the wider context rather than what is necessarily best for oneself. There are different perspectives about which ‘right’ consequence is actually desirable. Hence, consequentialism focuses on the perceived outcomes of one’s conduct and a greater balance of good over evil. Some examples of the consequentialist position include legalizing public education policies to send children back to school during a pandemic.

Finally, a virtuous ethical position focuses on emphasizing the importance of virtue, character, and experience in acting ethically and in accordance with one’s nature and or character. As a result, a virtuous position emphasizes one’s moral character. Some examples of a virtues-based ethical position include those who recognize morality as a holistic and developmental process, such as teachers who choose to use social media to share their classroom experiences and practice with others.

Designing an Open Pressbook Chapter

Each student had the opportunity to create and co-design (with their instructor, peers, academic coordinator, and other faculty members that were part of the project) one chapter in the collaborative open Pressbook. The chapters are intended to inform other students and learners worldwide as a result of the addition of the creative commons license to the chapters which make the Pressbook openly accessible to all. The chapters in this open educational resource (OER) were co-designed using a participatory pedagogy with the intention to share and mobilize knowledge with a broader audience. Pressbooks is a sustainable and openly shared digital publishing tool used to create an openly licensed digital textbook that current and future students can reuse, revise, and remix with others.

This Pressbook was created with support from Libraries and Cultural Resources, University of Calgary and Open Education Alberta, and may serve as a model that can be used in other graduate courses. Librarians can provide guidance and instruction to students about the practical and theoretical issues involved in finding, using, and remixing openly licensed materials, and can furnish students with an understanding of the links between intellectual property, copyright, and licensing (Bradlee & VanScoy, 2019). These issues are crucial to building students’ understanding of their rights and responsibilities as participants in the scholarly conversation as both consumers and contributors, and also help broaden their understanding of how scholarly works are produced. Additionally, libraries often have expertise in providing repositories to house pressbooks, preserving them long term, and increasing their discoverability.

Pressbook Chapters

All the authors were students in the ethics and technology course that was part of the digital age program. The authors engaged in knowledge-building discourse with their peers during the course, and this was strengthened by their professional experiences and considerations for the ethical implications of technology use ranging from K-12 through to university and professional settings.

Underlying Ethical Issues and Value of Technologies: Artificial Intelligence, Social Networking Services, 3D Printing

The first three chapters in the book discuss specific ethical considerations related to technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) , social networking services (SNS), and 3D printing. Kerr’s chapter considers to what extent students and teachers can be affected by Artificial Intelligence (AI) Based Assistive Technologies. Specifically, Kerr suggests the potential benefits for students when AI is used judiciously and ethically by teachers in K-12 learning contexts. Then, van Streum’s chapter contextualizes the prevalent teacher use of social networking sites (SNS) as a means to communicate with parents and community. This chapter examines why teachers might want to communicate with SNS, and what the ethical implications can be for themselves and others. Finally, Neutzling challenges educators to consider the potential of learners as creators, of using 3D printers as a catalyst for the shift away from consumption and towards creating and collaboratively building knowledge. The authors all examine research and evidence-based practices with regard to ethics and technology issues, and all reflect on the process of assessing the value of a web resource along with ways to effectively engage users with the underlying ethical issues for any such resource.

Promoting Equity in Personalized Learning Contexts: Academic Resource Sharing, Adaptive Learning Systems, STEM, Assistive Technologies

The next four chapters shift to a broader discussion of resource sharing, adaptive learning systems, STEM, and assistive technologies. The authors in these chapters explore the challenges and opportunities, and the strategies, for educational software; discuss links between designers, users, and other stakeholders; and identify the ethical issues that emerge. Lowry’s chapter illustrates how academic integrity may influence the concept of academic resource sharing (ARS) in higher education contexts. This chapter highlights multiple ARS examples used primarily by students which has ignited, and continues to ignite, tension over academic honesty, plagiarism, copyright laws, and collaborative learning. Next, Zarkovic considers the ethical implications for adaptive learning systems. He asserts the importance of humans in understanding how to integrate ALS in educational contexts. Then, Ansoger explores the past and future potential of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) in K-12 learning contexts. Finally, Marles describes the importance of using Alberta’s Learning and Technology Framework Policy to ensure equity when using Assistive Technologies in K-12 schools. This chapter advocates for the affordances educational technology can provide to equalize learning opportunities for students with special needs. The four chapters in this section amplify the need for more ethical considerations of how to consider the potential for educational technologies in order to promote equity in personalized learning contexts.

Nurturing Ethical Awareness in Institutional Contexts: Admissions and Communications

The final two chapters discuss admissions and communications that need to be considered from an institutional perspective. First, Lockyer’s chapter considers to what extent educational technology has influenced the current admissions processes in higher education. She emphasizes the possible inequalities along with ethical considerations to help future students and institutions. Finally, Partenis’s chapter considers how fake news can influence educational organizational culture and policy. This chapter considers how organizational leadership teams can communicate by considering clear, transparent, and factual messages in order to promote factual shared knowledge within learning communities. The authors of the final two chapters discuss how to nurture ethical awareness in educational environments and the value of making use of digital media in relationship to admissions and news/communications.

In each of the nine chapters, the authors discuss the connection to the value of technology in education, and practical possibilities of learning technologies for inclusive, participatory, democratic, and pluralistic educational paradigms. Farrow’s ( 2016) Framework for the Ethics of Open Education guided the learners with their writing as they consider emerging topics in the ethics of educational technology. The chapters within this Pressbook were written by the graduate students while they were in the #EdTechEthics course in the digital age program; however, the Pressbook itself was edited and published as a result of the collaborative efforts of multiple researchers, educators, librarians, and students from the Werklund School of Education, and Libraries and Cultural Resources. We are delighted to share these ideas, and to model the process of open learning design by amplifying the potential of connecting open educational resources (writing an open Pressbook) with the open participatory practices (co-designing Pressbook chapters). Enjoy!

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Ethical Use of Technology in Digital Learning Environments: Graduate Student Perspectives by Verena Roberts, Barbara Brown, Michele Jacobsen, and Christie Hurrell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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