Ethics and capacity workshop

Workshop hosted by the Inter-Life project team at the University of Glasgow focussing on issues surrounding Ethics in Technology Enhanced Learning research.

TEL researchers meet 'in-world'18-19th November 2010 saw a group of researchers drawn from the eight TLRP-TEL projects converge on the University of Glasgow to look at the ethics of researching Technology Enhanced Learning. The event was hosted by the Inter-Life project whose work with looked-after children in Second Life provided an ideal backdrop.

Drawing on a recent TEL ethics study, project leader Vic Lally began with an overview of issues currently affecting TEL researchers. The Ensemble project’s Fran Tracy led a session offering case studies on the unexpected and expected ethical issues raised by TEL projects.

On the second day the discussion continued inside Second Life as the delegates’ avatars gathered on Inter-Life island.

Brian Canavan led a tour of the island’s sculpture garden and sky-boxes and showed delegates how to build and create objects. Mario Kolberg demonstrated the project’s work to allow users to communicate as their Second-Life avatars via mobile phone twitter feeds, and Evan Magill demonstrated the project’s data capture techniques for measuring interaction between users.

Team members explained how accessing the environment as an avatar offered the opportunity to explore technology and use imagination creatively and safely, building confidence and allowing some of the young people’s outlooks to flourish during the project.

Next steps?

As a result of this meeting and surrounding work, plans are afoot for a TEL publication addressing attitudes towards the dangers of technology and making the case for broader access to technology for young people in helping to develop transferable skills for a digital economy.

Some of the key issues are listed below:

  1. How will the young people be affected when the project funding is withdrawn and the space is closed?
  2. Are ethics procedures intended to safeguard vulnerable people actually being used to protect organisations from potential problems?
  3. While recognising the reality of online dangers, is the danger of exclusion and ignorance of the online world a greater risk for young people’s futures and for the future of the Digital Economy as a whole?
  4. Should an ethical research outlook should be an ongoing process informed by understanding of the issues or a bureaucratic exercise?
  5. Are some important modern-day skills only learnable via technology and the web?
  6. Do the worst-case, ‘Lord of the Flies’ scenarios imagined when groups of young people are allowed access to an online environment actually occur?
  7. Is ‘erring on the side of caution’ actually an exclusion affecting young people’s human rights to access the potentially transforming power of digital technology?
  8. Does denial of access mean that when young people eventually get unrestricted online access their skills and strategies for protecting themselves will not have been developed?
  9. Do digital technologies such as immersive online worlds give opportunities to develop social and learning skills in a unique way?
  10. Does technology really threaten ‘traditional’ learning skills?
  11. Should digital learning technologies always be designed with an eye to bridging the gap between formal and informal learning?

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