Digital Learning Mission Statement

K.Park/ November 26, 2020/ 0 comments

Technology is Changing, but our Values Shouldn’t

Technology changes at a rapid pace, but I believe that it is important to keep our values at the front of our conversations and decisions because technology should not dictate what is important to society. Just like when choosing a technology to use in the classroom, the learning objectives and pedagogy come first.  When technology is prioritized over pedagogy and student needs, you get things like a learning management system that doesn’t deliver basic functions that are needed to support all learners, like being able to print and adding alternative text to images[1]

Part of why I’m developing a Digital Learning Mission Statement now is for the Digital Education Leadership program that I am working on now, but as I reflect on my first class and the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for Coaches, I think it has become even more important to be transparent on what drives my decisions and way I think about the world, but I also believe every leader in the digital space needs to identify their values as well because technology is not a neutral topic. There are a lot of different values that I think are important and are needed when discussing digital learning, but the ones that I think are the most important are integrity, equity, and care for others.  These three values guide a lot of my decision making and how I think about technology integrates with teaching and learning.

Being a Digital Citizen Advocate

ISTE Standard 7 for Coaches (2020) states: “Coaches model digital citizenship and support educators and students in recognizing the responsibilities and opportunities inherent in living in a digital world” and has four key points:

7A – Inspire and encourage educators and students to use technology for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve their communities

7B – Partner with educators, leaders, students and families to foster a culture of respectful online interactions and a healthy balance in their use of technology

7C – Support educators and students to critically examine the sources of online media and identify underlying assumptions

7D – Empower educators, leaders and students to make informed decisions to protect their personal data and curate the digital profile they intend to reflect.

Technology changes at a rapid rate and is often adopted quickly; often without thought on the impact on people it may have.  This is why we see mixed signals about how revolutionary and important Artificial Intelligence (AI) is, to how detrimental and harmful AI is too. In some of my circles, AI is branded as the next big thing or that we are already in an “Age of AI,” while in other circles I see how harmful AI has been on students taking online exams[2].  There are other examples of where AI has been good for student learning, but I specifically mentioned the two above, because the Age of AI and the harm of Online Proctoring were simultaneously in my Twitter feed this past month.  They help illustrate how adoption of technology can go wrong and why the ISTE standards are needed.

Why these values?

I chose integrity, equity, and care because I believe these are values that keep people at the forefront of the technology conversations I have in my role at work.  As a systems administrator, my role is to research, evaluate, adopt, implement, and support systems on campus, and at times make recommendations about specific technologies.  However, as an associate director, I also have the privilege of working with instructors to develop their digital side of their courses. These two lenses provide a unique opportunity for me in conversations with instructors to bring a range of topics to the table when discussing the online classroom space.

Where does each value fit?

Integrity

As I write about integrity here, I am choosing to focus on having a strong moral code and being a virtuous person.  I will even go as far as to say that integrity is an essential value all administrators should have because it directly impacts which vendors you to work with and what policies and practices are developed and how they’re shaped as well as decisions on who can access data and when.  There are laws and institution policies that dictate how some of these things, but many areas are not legislated, which is why integrity is so important.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes: “There is one further point about virtues that ought to be noticed.  There is a difference between doing some particular just or temperate action and being a just or temperate man.”  He further expands on this by writing: “We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it – whether you did it willingly or unwillingly, sulkily or cheerfully, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake. But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a ‘virtue’, and it is this quality or character that really matters (pp. 79-80).”

In order to be a person of character who has integrity, it means my attitude and heart need to be in the same place as my actions.  Without that, I cannot pursue issues of equity and care because I will not be able to love or understand those I am intending to serve.

Equity

There are a lot of individual areas that can be focused on within the topic of equity, such as accessibility, issues of access, diversity and inclusion and that’s one of the reasons why I chose this value.  

Menjares (2017), SPU Board Member, writes “The biblical witness is clear: Every human being has been created in the image of God and thus has inherent worth and dignity (Gen. 1:27,  Ps. 8:5)….The kingdom of God is inclusive, and people come from the east and west and north and south to participate in it (Luke 13:29)…The heavenly vision of the redeemed from every people, nation, tribe, and language are united in worship of God (Rev. 7:9)…These biblical references are a reminder that the people of God are members of one body, diverse, yet united…” (pp. 25-26) and thus, as professors it is our calling that all students, no matter their background, should feel included in courses they take.

Equity and inclusion are what helps bring everyone’s voice into the conversations being had to address any issues in the classroom (7A).  It is also a lens that helps us ensure we respect each other and the different experiences and backgrounds we have (7B) and forces us to examine resources and activities, and any assumptions we have about students in a classroom to ensure that everyone can participate too (7C). Equity also helps us look at classroom data and determine if our systems and institution practices are harmful towards any particular group of students.

Care

There’s a line in a Korean song that I listen to often that translates as “People are more beautiful than flowers.”  It serves as a simple reminder for me, about how important each person is and that my job is not about fixing tickets or answering phone calls, but that it is to help develop and care for people. Care is at least the development of a reciprocal relationship between an instructor and student, but I think it goes beyond that, it’s an intentional decision to pay attention to a whole person.  It is needed in order to do the work of each ISTE 7 standard, without care, you cannot have civic engagement (7A), a respectful interactions or healthy balance or technology use (7B), the motivation to examine and reflect on underlying biases (7C), or even the desire to do the work to protect student data and help them understand their own rights and digital footprints (7D).

“In community people care for each other and not just for the community in the abstract, as a whole, as an institution or as an ideal way of life. It is people that matter; to love and care for the people that are there, just as they are. It is to care for them in such a way that they may grow according to the plan of God and thus give much life. And it is not just caring in a passing way, but in a permanent way. Because people are bonded one to another, they make up one family, one people, on flock. And this people has been called together to be a sign and a witness, to accomplish a particular mission wish is their charism, their gift.”

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth

I like this quote and have used it before, because it’s a reminder that care is something you have to work on and make intentional choices each day to show care. 

Summary

As we move further into the information revolution and our lives become more blended between the physical and digital world, it’s essential that we do not let technology dictate and determine what we value in the future and instead, that our values dictate how we use technology.  Without proper reflection, issues like face reading technology being biased or online proctoring being a horrible experience will continue to crop up.  The technology itself may not be bad and create a lot of good, but it needs to be examined further.

While I was researching Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning for one of my posts, I came across an article by Associate Professor Erica Southgate (2020), where she proposes a framework to think ethically about AI in educational systems, that builds upon the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the common principles developed by the Australian Human Rights Commission called PANEL

This graphic shows how the proposed AI Framework builds on UN’s Human Rights, PANEL, and other Ethical Principles.  At a higher level, the author proposes that institutions work through this framework prior to adopting a tool that uses AI.

  1. Awareness – Raise awareness about AI and where it’s used, what it’s capable of doing, so all stakeholders can be empowered and participate in conversations and decisions.
  2. Explainability – This is related to awareness, but universities should work to make the information about the systems accessible and easy to understand.  Universities should be able to clearly explain why they’re using AI and what it is intended to do and what it actually does.
  3. Fairness – When talking about fairness, it’s related to how AI may influence how we understand students and that there be standards and training provided to mitigate issues of bias, representational skews, etc.
  4. Transparency – In this point, the focus is on being able to understand why an AI system made a particular decision.  It should be clear how certain conclusions were drawn, not just because the system told us so, but because we understood how the algorithm and system works.
  5. Accountability – This last point focuses on regulation and standards that identify what types of operations and decisions should not be given to autonomous systems.  As aI grows and the code becomes better and the systems become more intertwined with our daily lives, it’s important to know what’s appropriate.

I think these pillars also work well in a classroom and not just at an institution level and that this framework can also be applied to other types of technologies too.  By applying a framework like this, where our values are also included, we can become better Digital Citizen Advocates.

References

ISTE Standards for Coaches. 2020. https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches.

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity (Harper Collins 2001 edition). pp. 79-80.

Marshall, C. (2003). Shattering the glass slipper.

Menjares, P. C. (2017). Diversity, inclusion, and institutional faithfulness. In K. A. Longman (Ed.), Diversity matters: Race, ethnicity, & the future of Christian higher education (pp. 25-26). Abilene Christian University Press.

Southgate, E. (2020). Artificial intelligence, ethics, equity and higher education: A ‘beginning-of-the-discussion’ paper. National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, Curtin University, and the University of Newcastle.

Vanier, J. (1989). Community and growth (2nd rev. ed.) p. 20.  


[1] Online learning tools aren’t as accessible for students with disabilities. https://www.marketplace.org/shows/marketplace-tech/online-learning-tools-arent-as-accessible-for-students-with-disabilities/

[2] Editorial | Virtual proctors worsen the overall academic environment. https://dailyillini.com/opinions/2020/10/15/editorial-virtual-proctors-worsen-the-overall-academic-environment/

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