How We Handle Ethics in #edtech

Ethics and Educational Technology: Reflection, Interrogation, and Design as a Framework for Practice by Stephanie L. Moore and Heather K. Tillberg-Webb (9780415895088) could not have arrived as a more propitious time. For six months, we in education (k-12, community college, university, professional, and all other settings) have been dealing with ChatGPT and other generative AI. Late in May 2023, we heard of an open letter signed by experts in AI suggesting the potential harm from AI could threaten human survival.

I’m quite certain no one can be sure the future of AI and humans’ relationship with it (and its relationship to humans). I am convinced those educators and educational technologists who adopt the stance Moore and Tillberg-Webb’s suggest in their first chapter (The Educational Technology Problem Space) will navigate this space in a more productive way than those who do not.

Typically, we consider questions of ethics from a “right-or-wrong” perspective; with AI, we either should adopt it or we should reject it. Moore and Tillberg-Webb confirm scholars since Plato have taken such a stance towards that technology introduced to students. This appears to be the wrong approach to ethics, however. Or at least, it is the stance that will not lead to effective ethical decisions about (in our current environment) artificial intelligence.

By adopting ethics as design, Moore and Tillbery-Webb encourage a view technology as a collection of potential solutions. The ethical educational technologist answers the questions “What should we do?” then “what should we do now?” when the first thing has been done.  

Regardless of one answers the simple question “Should we allow generative AI into the classroom?” we are going to be forced to deal with it from an ethics as design perspective. We cannot avoid AI. Students will use it and it will affect their brains in the same way writing, reading, computers, and the internet arrived in classroom despite the protests of many. By adopting ethics as design, we can take an active role in shaping AL’s influence on our work.

To date, I have only read the first chapter of this important new text. I connected with the ethics as design approach to this work and the work of filling the educational technology problem space. It forced me to reflect on this idea and my work (perhaps interrogate it is the better term), and now that this post is out of the way, I can go back to reading.