Pedagogical Ethics in a Digital Age

Pedagogical Ethics in a Digital Age

What are your ethics for teaching in a digital age?

Not long after Facebook was made available to non-university affiliates, one of us heard a senior scholar give a presentation about using the social media platform to communicate with undergraduate students. In response, the crowd just sort of squinted at the presenter, wondering what in the world he was talking about, and why he was so enthusiastic about engaging students on this... blog? Years later, not only do we now get all the fuss about social networking, it has become an entirely new ethical terrain for people in both their private and professional lives. In fact, in some situations, it’s now rather taboo to communicate with students over Facebook. Once a realm for innovative pedagogy, the site has now, for most people, become a strictly private (yet public) space.

[Teaching excellence]

Instructors are innovating teaching methods by communicating with students online, publishing course materials publicly, and asking their students to collectively post and comment on each other’s work. Their practices can open the doors of the university to a wider public and lend authenticity to student projects offered to the “world” rather than the individual professor or TA. By showing how the coursework exists within a larger community and context, the students can imagine how their education is preparing them for a life after graduation. 

Of course, the challenges that accompany these innovations touch on similar themes. The college classroom can no longer be imagined solely as an enclosed safe zone where students (and teachers) can struggle in private. And, we know that the private/public binary never really stood up to the complexity of cultural and social life. Especially now, this perception of a duality fails us as we try to develop protocols, however idiosyncratic, for managing our personal and professional interactions.

In this forum, please share your experiences as teachers and students in the digital age.

  • For those of you who have taught courses with a high profile on the web, what are your how-to's, no-no's, and lessons learned the hard way? (And it goes without saying, please be cautious about sharing personal stories and be sure to protect the identity of your students in your comments.)
  • For those of you taking classes as an undergrad or grad student, what are the ways in which your professors are successfully using technology? How has that changed your conception of learning and your own engagement with the material? What could be done better? 
  • What cannot yet be done? Where has technology failed to innovate? If you could invent a single tool or technology to be used in the classroom, what would it be? What problem would it solve? 
  • Is your class website public? What degree of publicity? Do you tweet your syllabus and allow your students' content to be searchable by the likes of Google, or do you keep the url private? Do you use this in combination with another system (i.e. Sakai or Blackboard)? 
  • What is your rationale for making course content public (or not)? 
  • What kinds of guidelines do you establish for digital coursework? Are these guidelines different than other kinds of class assignments? Do you emphasize privacy? Do you emphasize the publicness of this work?
  • Do your students want their digital projects to be published online? How do they feel about having instructor and peer comments posted publicly, either for the class to see or a general web audience? What about concerns of plagiarism? For collaborative projects, how do you make sure students pull their own weight and do original work in online group projects? Do you use
  • Has technology changed your in-class experiences? Has it changed the quality of their work? Has it changed their response to the material?
  • What hasn't worked? Have you used a new technology in your classrooms that has not worked, or did not have the effect you had hoped? Why did it happen? How did you handle it?
  • How do you communicate with students? Are the majority of your interactions over email or in person? If you have students that you fear may be in personal distress, or who are hostile about grades, or have other sensitive concerns, how do you handle email interactions? Does your institution have specific policies designed to address these concerns and/or help instructors navigate tricky situations?

[Game on]

The HASTAC community has more than 8,000 members. In hive terms, that means we have probably MILLIONS of hours of collective experience in the classroom as teachers and students. We are curious what sort of trends there may be in our personal ethics for digital learning environments. Please join us for what we hope will be an informal, but thoughtful conversation. Our goal is to share specific strategies for managing dilemmas that are unique to digital classrooms as well as to give voice to some of the ethical paradigms that help guide your pedagogy. We look forward to hearing from you!



Mary Caton Lingold, Duke University

Molly Storment, North Carolina State University


Invited Guests

Simone Browne, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Texas, Austin

Danielle Dirks, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Occidental College

Jonathan Dueck, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Thompson Writing Program, Duke University


Susan Miller-Cochran, Associate Professor & Director, First-Year Writing Program, NC State


Image credits:

Teaching excellence:
Game on:


In preparation for this forum, I've been trying to figure out if I have an ethical bottom line. Not so interested in "right or wrong," I've come up with this question: What will make myself and the community of students I am nurturing most comfortable and productive? Not so comfortable that they aren't challenged, but so that they feel safe and respected enough to take intellectual risks.

Not all teachers and students have the same degree of comfort with publicity. In the classroom, that means that some students who shine in face to face discussions are skittish about contributing to course blogs. On the other hand, teachers rejoice over the fact that many reserved students really find their voices on the backchannel. All of this puts welcome pressure on our notions about which students are "engaged" and what it means to perform well in the classroom.

Digital networks have the power to amplify the voices of students who are vulnerable to marginalization but there is also potential for a new encoding of old problems. The recent volume Race After the Internet and crowdsourced reviews on are a terrific primer on some of these concerns. Also, last weekend's Black Thought 2.0 Conference at Duke was abuzz with discussions of the way social networking has empowered social justice activism and strengthened networks of black scholars, but also increased the prevalence of hate speech. As a follow up on the issues raised at the conference, Faithe Day wrote a really interesting blog post about Dubois' theory of "double consciousness" and the analog/digital public/private divide. As you will see in her post, the conference activities were supported by an extremely engaged online audience (the event was broadcast live).

As course-designers, how can we reinforce positive potential of digital pedagogy while minimizing negative impact? And as always, for whom? I hesitate to put such emphasis on a concept like "comfort," as I do in my ethical bottom line, but it makes sense to me. On the other hand, you might say that discomfort is one of the primary sensations of learning, or unlearning, as Cathy Davidson likes to call it. So that's something I am continuing to think about. My initial reflections have been fairly "meta" but I also look forward to learning from your experiences using specific media tools in specific contexts. Join us!


hi mary caton,

i'm wondering if we can unsettle or desediment the relationship of work that is public from work that seeks publicity. though they btoh share in the root -- "public" -- i think the nature of these two modes of presentation can be quite different. so attendant to the questions you ask about public/ity and scholarship, i want to step back and trouble the frame.

what is publicity? is availability resultant from a relation to others, those who are not similarly enclosed in spaces like universities, like "private" message boards? there's this fascinating book titled It by joseph roach that attempts to think about the notion of "it" -- you know, celebrity that emerges from having the "it factor" -- and having "it" is grounded in part by a conceptual "public availability" of figures, while those figures remain ever elusive. so we can think about all sorts of famous figures -- he begins with a discussion of uma thurman's picture on the cover of gq magazine as but one example -- to think through what it means to "have it." in the photo, she is there, eyes staring at the camera, at the audience as if in engagement with us; but she is likewise not there, not available, we cannot seize her, hold her hand, whatever. i jump in this discussion by asking about "it" because it seems that publicity is all about having the factor of "it," of a ruse of availability that is produced in the public; but what is most evident by this production is the boundary from which it emanates, we can never have the thing we want. publicity, it seems to me, is not tantamount to work that happens in public. publicity seems to be about work that happens in the zones of intentionally enclosed, bounded space but makes its appearance after such work has been done.

so what we're after, what you're after i think, is not publicity, but work that is public. how to have an ethics of work that is produced in and with the public, that eschews enclosure -- enclosure that is often fraught with problematics; it must be violent and violative -- but that does its thing intentionally with others. [briefly, i do not know if i believe that a private zone exists; private as a particular sorta desire for purity and boundedness; the history of blackness is the testament to not only the ruse of privacy but also the joy of what it means to create in public, as a publics, in common, as a commons.]

the above is, of course, a prefatory remark at best. but one of the things that is important that you want us to think through are levels of engagement in spaces that purport to privacy as well as others that occur publicly. in one course in which i was a TA, the professor had multimodal engagements: we had discussion in class but also had a document upon which anyone -- with the link -- could type ideas, notes, questions and this document was projected onto the screen for all of us to see. and as you noted, some students were much more comfortable typing on the document whereas others never typed but only talked. in some way, this multimodal engagement was moving toward work that happens in public while never attempting to be publicity, never presenting itself as done, never appearing as a finished product. 


Dear HASTAC Network Members:

I am delighted to help inaugurate this e-forum on digital ethics at HASTAC. As HASTAC network members know, we are no longer "transitioning" into a digital culture; we have arrived. And because we have arrived, everyday decisions of what to post, how to post, and whether to post are also a matter of everyday ethics. And, with this fledgling maturity, we are also moving beyond the naive dystopian and utopian approaches to the Internet. We know it is neither the perfecty democratic electronic community nor the great destroyer of human connection.

Now, we are asking subtler questions based on our understanding of digital culture as inevitably human culture.  If, as the philosopher Levinas has taught us, our obligation to  the stranger is best understood through a face-to-face encounter, how do we create such a a sense of obligation toward others on-line? How do we create the moral grounding of on-line learning communities?  How can we follow educator Lance Bennett in designing software to encourage civil discourse?  When do social media based on common interests reinforce identities across sameness and undermine our capacity to engage difference? All of these ethical concerns affect, and are affected by, every digital decision we make.

I am greatly looking forward to your responses to these questions and others that you have pondering in your everyday digital lives!

Laurie Patton
Professor of Religion
Dean, Arts and Sciences,
Duke University


When Mary Caton first approached me about joining her in co-hosting this forum, I immediately remembered an ordeal in online classroom management I experienced about a year ago when co-facilitating an online workshop. The workshop was a go-at-your-own-pace workshop spread over a week, held entirely online. Participants were asked to contribute to a couple different forums. These workshops (very HASTAC-ish in nature, now that I think about it) usually promote tons of interesting and enlightening discussion. Having facilitated and co-facilitated workshops of this nature many times, I have only experienced a troublesome student once (which is actually pretty spectacular). This student challenged nearly every positive comment on the forums with long-winded responses sprinkled with scholarly references. She really thought she was encouraging a deeper level of engagement with the material and promoting deeper and fuller discussion. She didn't realize she was coming across as a jerk while doing it. Our approach to dealing with this student was to reply to the most offensive of her comments with positive remarks, and directly call her out, in the public forum, on the tone of her comments. I'm not sure if this was exactly the best way of dealing with the situation, but it certainly was effective.

As Mary Caton discusses above, digital networks can provide outlets of engagement for students who might otherwise shy away from collaboration. But what happens when students get a little too comfortable – either becoming offensive as in my story above, or becoming too informal and possibly inappropriate? Most instructors have their own strategies of classroom management when in the classroom, but I'm interested in how we might translate these strategies into an online environment.


I'd also be interested to hear how others have dealt with overzealous or aggressive students in an online capacity. My own classes have been so small that the level of intimacy seemed to provide a sense of community standards. The only guidelines I've ever given are -- try to imagine saying your comment to your classmate, sitting in our classroom, or any other setting. Even if you'd *prefer* to comment online instead of in person, it's been a useful barometer. It seems like it would be a useful conversation to have with the students too.

In terms of your response to the student, you stumbled upon the best online mantra ever: Don't Feed the Trolls! 


Yes!! This is such excellent advice! I was so surprised when some students last semester had not heard of Internet trolls (and thus, did not know NOT to feed them!)... I needed this sign! :)


In the fall semester I usually teach a course on the sociology of "surveillance" during which, among other things, we wonder what to make of privacy, ethics and the business of surveillance in the "digital enclosure". I must admit that I've been hesitant, in the past, with the idea of compelling learners to sign up for accounts with for-profit social networking sites (you know the one with the everchanging privacy policy) to use as a platform for course related communication and/or teaching. And yes, there are some students who either out of disinterest, lack of access or as conscientious objectors choose not to sign up to these services. Instead, during my course they've used these sites (say, for example, Facebook) as "sites" for research. During one semester a group of students chose to collaborate on a project where they examined how events go viral, presentation of iSelf, survey methods, honesty and deception, and algorithmic surveillance and personalized ads all on Facebook. This was a really successful project that looked at Facebook as a "site of practices".

I've found that while giving a lecture the use of a dedicated hashtag with the Twitter feed projected on a screen for the class to observe, contribute to and interact with as a good way to have students shape the discussion, ask questions, check for understanding, and also keep me on my toes. Again, maybe it is something about the type of research that I like to do, but I'm still a wee bit weary of the possibility of such a data set being stored, but also admit that an archive like this could be used for really productive purposes around valourizing, sharing and transforming the work that we do in our classrooms and beyond.

I continue to use Blackboard with my classes for blogging and class wiki pages but, to me, it is nowhere near as interactive, publicly available and, let's face it, as "hot" as some of the posts that I see from the classes of my friend and colleague Danielle Dirks at Occidental College (here and here). Danielle's is a model that I will follow this coming fall semester as I liberate my course content to make learning about race, gender and surveillance more interactive, not only for the students registered in the class, but also for those who are interested in the topic and what the students have to say about it.

I'm really looking forward to this HASTAC forum on Pedagogical Ethics in a Digital Age. I'll write more this week about wikis, Second Life, blogging, success and how I've dealt with resistance.





the question of archive is one that intrigues me. i wonder, for example, if one day, emails and instant messages of a particular figure will be available for someone who is researching something about this figure. what are the ethics involved in such a project, in such communication that attempted to be "private" [i.e., not something produced with a large audience in mind, not something created in the commons, as a commons]? hashtagging on twitter gets us somewhere close to thinking through this because it collects and collates for us. i've been thinking a lot about hashtags because of the Black Thought 2.0 forum at Duke a few days ago (#BT2Duke). what i found fascinating where how there were multiple conversations taking place at the same time: in the room with the panel, on/in the livestream feed comments, and on twitter with the hashtag. it was curious but fun at the same time. but i also noticed people who were utilizing the hashtag for their own, sorry to say after my reply to mary caton above, publicity: questioning the choice of panelists, lambasting a lot of the things those panelists do, etc. to use the hashtag also became a moment of not mere critique but dissent. and though i'm all for dissent [and think dissent is originary], it was a strange thing to see happening. those dissents are also part of the archive because of the hashtag, which might be the greatest thing about practicing such digital convention. what is immediately noticed is how discourse is never simply about agreement; but what are the ethics of such discursive practices? i suspect folks were not merely using the hashtag for dissent but to build a sort of publicity by having others gather around their dissent, dissent made evident only when they used the same hashtag.

i hope what i'm saying makes a bit of sense...


These are all excellent questions!

Very simply: students’ privacy is paramount. In the age of Google, I see (at least) two primary reasons for this imperative: 1) students’ online work should not subject them to harassment, stalking, etc. and 2) students’ academic work should not follow them (unless they so choose) for the rest of their professional lives.

I’ll give two examples that helped to cement my views on this. First, a group in my Capital Punishment class at UT Austin created a blog series on racial discrimination and the death penalty. Within hours, their blog posts had become subject to the rants of a death penalty proponent who not only began harassing them in the comments sections, but also began emailing unwanted messages to my department colleagues and me around the same time.

Had the students used their names, it’s very possible this individual could have begun harassing them in other areas of their lives as well.

The second example comes from an assignment from my Deviance course this semester at Occidental College. I wanted students to be able to learn from each other’s diverse experiences and identities, but in a way that felt safer than perhaps sharing the intimate details of their lives to their professor or to each other on such a small campus where rumors can spread like wildfire.

I developed an assignment called Ask Me Anything so that students could 1) ask their peers about identity-related questions they’d always wanted to learn more about but were afraid to ask and 2) give students the opportunity to share a part of themselves that would allow others to learn from their experiences and backgrounds.

With the promise of anonymity for both the questions and the responses (using Google Forms), I was truly amazed at the results. We were able to collect about 200 topics and students were able to submit their work anonymously from their peers and me.
Students’ posts were often deeply personal and students wrote intensely moving pieces about their lives (from topics ranging from being the target of racial profiling, helping a friend cope with the aftermath of sexual assault, their struggles with eating disorders and family alcoholism, their regrets, etc.). I do not think we could have collected these types of narratives had anonymity not been promised throughout.

Given students’ comments to me, it appears as if this turned out to be a powerful teaching tool. In their reflections, they said this experience was “cathartic, terrifying, fulfilling and liberating” and I wonder how this assignment could be improved upon to further reduce the stigma around their experiences. Some of the students wished too that their responses could have been publicly tied to themselves, and these are important questions to ponder as well related to the concerns above.

Because of these privacy concerns, we also use the course management system Coursekit (for announcements, grades, informal class discussions, etc.) that allows students to use their real names and converse with each in addition to our “public sociology” course websites here, here and here. Some overall recommendations for doing online work

Some Do’s:

  • Allow students to self-publish when possible and provide them ways to remove content in the future
  • Seek students’ written permission to use their work in future classes or in other formats
  • Always have students use pseudonyms or handles that they have not used in any other capacity for online work
  • Use anonymous peer evaluations for group work (Google Forms has been great for this!)
  • Take caution in having students upload entire papers or other longer pieces publicly online (I tend to worry more about their work being stolen and placed on a paper mill/PDF aggregator than I do about their plagiarism)

I’ve been grateful to have wonderful HASTAC scholars as friends and colleagues (such as Simone Browne above who has been instrumental in keeping me up to date on latest digital teaching technologies) and the Oxy Center for Digital Learning and I’d love to hear how others approach these questions!


Hi Danielle,

Thanks for posting links to such inventive and interesting assignments. So often assignments merely use technology to replicate a 'pen-and-paper' assignment online: instead of posting reading responses on a private class discussion board, they might be posted to a collaborative blog. Even that simple move - from private to public - can provoke a different response, but it still leaves room for improvement. I want assignments which challenge students' relationship to the material, to each other, to the classroom experience, to the world. 

Your Ask Me Anything assignment for the Deviance class -- this seems to really utilize technology to provide a different space of engagement all together. It also brings up an interesting dichotomy in terms of 'levels' of confidentiality -- oftentimes students register under different code names, but they still know which name belongs to which student. So the identity is obscured to the outside world, but a known community is still maintained in the classroom.

But if I'm understanding you correctly, for this assignment, students were anonymous even to each other? I'd love to see the results - I was having a hard time finding the list of results. I can see the form for Submissions and your linked examples - is this the tag showing the Ask Me Anything results? It's like a classroom version of that beloved meme PostSecret, which is touted as an ongoing community art project. You might be interested in the PostSecret TED talk which features some of the most discussed secrets, and some of the stories behind the 7 year project. 

Did you discuss what it was like to read anonymous responses from their own classmates? How it changed their relationship to each other? I'd love to know if you're changing anything in the assignment for next time. 

Along the same lines - can I ask about the anonymous peer evalutations? Did you (as the teacher) or you (as a class) establish any guidelines for the responses? Did you screen them first? Was this a fairly small class? If so - would you think that could work in a larger class, or was the success tied to the intimate classroom experience?

And thanks for the reminder about untethered pseudonyms -- as we all continue to gather log-ins to different online communities, it's often easier to just use the same nickname, but you're definitely right that it can very quickly link someone to their 'real' identity. Part of me has wondered if the students don't think about the privacy issue differently, but it still seems prudent not to require students to produce a searchable trail of student work. If they *want* to link to it in the future, it seems easy enough to do.



Hi Fiona! Please forgive my delayed response - these are all GREAT questions!

Yes, for the Ask Me Anything assignment, students were anonymous to each other and to me as well. They submitted their writing in an online form that collected no identifying information. I also asked students to hide/anonymize anything that could personally identify them as best as they could so that no one could identify them. 

You should be able to view their responses here:

Ask Me Anything | Deviance

To help protect anonymity, I posted all of them under a single handle: AskMeAnything and students were instructed on how to comment on the posts without using their regular handles (along with the warning that WordPress does collect IP addresses so if they were very worried about it, to please use another machine).

In order to evaluate their work, I asked students to write a reflection on what it was like to write about their experience or part of their identity they shared in the assignment (again asking them to write it in a way that made it anonymous to me). This part was a bit difficult and 1-2 students asked if they could submit a reflection that identified their assignment (which involved a brief conversation about privacy, sharing, my not judging their experiences, etc. and them submitting whatever they felt comfortable disclosing). 

So, yes, this was VERY PostSecret, a site that I adore that must have been in the back of my mind when developing this assignment! :) Thanks for sharing the TEDTalk, I will share that with the class!

To answer some of your additional questions:

The original assignment is here if it's helpful!

We are a small class (~25) but I do think this could work in a larger class if the responses were staggered so that students weren't overwhelmed by having to read 50 or 150 at a time. I think organization (tags, dates, etc.) would be very helpful in ensuring they all have the same opportunity to be read. Perhaps certain students could post on topics of their choice over the semester or have them submitted by different groups over time. 

Because we're small, I released these each 15 minutes apart on a Friday afternoon/evening so that students could read them over the weekend. I encouraged students to read them over on their own but I think I will encourage a more formal mechanism for reading/reviewing in the future. I was concerned about reading them all together in a computer lab or in class for fear that certain ones would be discussed over others or students would hear how their experiences/identities/work were being evaluated, discussed, etc. 

For peer evaluations, here is an example of how they can be anonymous (we did not do them for this assignment, but we use them frequently!)


First I wanted to say thanks to Mary Caton Lingold for the mention and thank you to Simone for drawing my attention to this forum. In relation to Danielle Dirks comment and my experiences as a student in the process of finishing an undergraduate degree, I do believe that the privacy of students is incredibly important. With everything that I post online I am very wary of how those posts will be judged in the future. One of the ways that this privacy is maintained at my college is by using the WesPortal, which is a site powered by Jenzabar that all students and teachers have password protected access to and is used to register for classes, viewing transcripts, and a multitude of other activities. Within the portal there is a section titled Collaboration and an area called the Forum set up for each class that you take. The only people that can view the forum are those that are registered for that class during the semester that the class is being offered. In past classes, my professors have assigned us blog posts to write using the forum that pertain to the readings for that week. As someone who goes to a small school this has been a great discussion starter because we can open the class by reading certain posts and discussing what students have written, an activity that draws out students who are less likely to talk during a more organic class discussion. In addition, this form of collaboration encourages discussion outside of the classroom because we can all read each other’s posts and comment on them.

One of the main reasons that I love the idea of incorporating Digital Technologies into the classroom is that it gives people who are not big talkers the chance to voice their thoughts and opinions. Susan Cain, the author of the Power of Introverts, has been the topic of a lot of discussion but I think that it is important to remember that a lot of the times students don’t talk in class because they are not talkers, not because they are not engaged with the experience, which can be a common misconception. Therefore, writing things down is a great way to encourage students to not only be more thoughtful when it comes to discussing topics but you also get to see what everyone is thinking about and not just those people who talk the loudest.



i suppose the set of concerns i outlined with my replies to both mary caton and simone are pushing toward a question of privacy and its possibility. that is, what is privacy that we would want to have it, from where does this privacy come and how does privacy actually act in the world? from what i can tell, privacy has a lot to do with property and property has a lot to do with ownership; so immediately, claims toward or desire for privacy begin to rehearse claims toward and desire for particular notions of what it means to be a subject in the world. [and because of a private* [lol] email communication between myself and a professor, i have renewed interest to think the question of "world" coterminously.]

that is, simply, what are we attempting to protect -- and though mary caton asks for whom, i ask from whom -- when we make claims toward and have desire for privacy? it seems to me when we discuss privacy as a protection from surveillance, it is usually with respect to inequitable distributions of power vested in authorial instituions [e.g., the state]. so, is privacy "natural" or is it a reaction to the already set in motion imbalances and abuses of power? and if we're after an ethics in the digital age, what do those ethics have to do, not in response to the current configurations of power but in the service of challenging the current configurations of power?

so i've been teaching a course about wikileaks and state secrets and this is a fundamental, foundational concern: because wikileaks uses anonymity in order to force institutional structures, state governments, toward transparency; it utilizes the thing desired by the state against itself. it keeps informant biography "private"; but is this anonymizing in the service of a pure, unsullied zone? is this an unproblematic private? or does this private likewise need to be interrogated? or is privacy a mode of relationality and not a property? if it is not property -- that is, if it cannot be owned -- but is rather a way of relationality that makes worlds, just what can we do with privacy while likewise giving it away?





You really hit the nail on the head by connecting concepts of publicity and privacy to In practical terms, what I'm really thinking about here is what anyone who has ever taught ANYTHING has had to consider. Whether you taught someone to tie their shoe, how to structure sentences in a foreign language, how to develop algorithms, or how to close read a poem, you probably have worried (or should have worried) about your mastery of subject matter and your right to distribute knowledge.


Presumably, in the economy of knowledge, teachers teach because they know more (have more knowledge property) and more rarely, because they are expert at explaining more. This is the often critiqued assumption that frames the activity of learning and teaching in institutions. Cue Paulo Freire and the critical pedagogues! (There is something deeply satisfying about citing Wikipedia to acknowledge Freire.)


Freire explained all kinds of reasons why this "banking" model of education is unethical and he argued that classrooms should be student-centered, that students should have the opportunity to create their own knowledge, that the teacher should be more of a co-learner. But because we have taught and we know what it feels like to be afraid of our lack of mastery, it can be difficult to relinquish control of the content and conversations within our classrooms.


Personally, this is the reason why I think digital methods can be so revolutionary, or as Simone put it, potentially "liberating" for students. Ashon, you gave the example of a professor having a public document on display in the classroom that all students can contribute to. This is a terrific example of digital pedagogy that enables students think and learn (and offer dissent) in public during even a traditional classroom lecture. In this scenario, the professor's voice is no longer the only one "speaking."


But some students and teachers are concerned that by relinquishing control of the course narrative, the knowledge value might suffer. But I want to counter that with this question: What is the  

Danielle recommends two ground rules that cover some of the real stakes and I think they are excellent: 1) students’ online work should not subject them to harassment, stalking, etc. and 2) students’ academic work should not follow them (unless they so choose) for the rest of their professional lives.

Professional lives. Work. Income. Labor. Economy. Knowledge.


Implicit in any conversation about ethics is a conversation about "value." We may value the utopian possibilities of university systems but we also recognize the economic structures that enclose and partition actual institutions. The structures of enclosure that have been used to give value to academic knowledge, like peer-review (which has been rigorously debate among digital humanists) enable a kind of property-ownership. Similarly, part of what makes undergraduate degrees worth something is the idea that they are obtained in a classroom that gives students access to knowledge supposedly unattainable elsewhere. Thank you for pointing out this elephant, Ashon and for calling attention to its history.


Thanks so much for such an interesting conversation about the thorny question of privacy.   In the past, in my 21st Century Literacy class and in This Is Your Brain on the Internet--both undergraduate classes--I've tended to navigate privacy ambivalently, but always in conversation with my students.   I find I often have to convince them that there are future employers or future admissions officers at law school who will carefully screen all their online contributions for possible controversial material or offenses against institutional decorum that will disqualify them for admission . . . and then, once they are convinced, I ask them to make at least two "public contributions to knowledge" as part of the requirements of the course.  In other words, the process goes something like this:  (1) Prof Davidson brings horror stories of censorship and censure against those who express themselves on line; (2) Prof Davidson tells all students that nothing in the class will force them to commit public acts that will jeopardize their future unless they fully acknowledge, as non-minors, that they wish to act in a way that disturbs norms and take responsibility for their actions in those terms (i.e. they can make such a decision, of course, but I do not find it my right as a teacher to make it for them); (3) so class blogs are on a firewalled WordPress site that is only viewable by the class; except for (4) at least two or three posts that are explicitly written for the general public of the Web.

Yes, that is a deeply ambivalent procedure.  Especially as there is no way of ensuring that either all members of the class will keep the privacy of all other members or that WordPress will forever be safely, unassailably firewalled.   On the other hand, leaving a box full of student papers and journals out in the hallway back in the "good old days" was hardly protection of students' rights to inviolable privacy.


My point--and I see that as the point of a lot of the comments and conversation above--is that we all mediate these things in contingent ways, being as responsible as possible but aware of the contingencies.   And, of course, discussing all this with students is the single most important part of the process.   Everything we do in our lives, onlife and "off" (is there such a thing any more?) is under constant surveillance.  What that means for our future sense of self, community, identity, freedom, and a host of other values is exactly what a forum on ethics and pedagogies is designed for.  Thanks for helping me think these things through.  And I hope others will continue to contribute to issues that, every term, we are all figuring out together.



This discussion about privacy has got me thinking about the issue of online plagiarism checkers like I attended a seminar at NC State last semester where a few different lecturers from around the university engaged in a healthy debate over whether or not these checkers should be used, if they used them for their own course projects, and how their students reacted to the requirement (if they chose to require this). The conclusion I came to by the end of this seminar was that it depended on the culture of the department, the purpose of the assignment, and the ease at which students could plagiarize the assignment.


This seminar included a couple lecturers from English, and one or two lecturers who teach lab-based courses (although I can't remember the exact department). The English lecturers discussed how their students often felt violated when asked to submit to TurnItIn, and how even the request to do so itself ruined their credibility as facilitators and co-learners (as Mary Caton discusses above); in other words, their students didn't understand why their instructor didn't trust them. The lab course lecturers, on the other hand, acknowledged the severe limitations of TurnItIn, but discussed how their students were actually receptive to the requirement to submit to TurnItIn. These students wanted to ensure that their peers did not receive credit for work they did not do themselves. A critical difference between these two groups of lecturers and their courses was that in English, instructors are able to adjust assignments every year, whereas there are more strict standards on curriculum in the sciences, and there's only so many ways to write about one lab.


I think services like TurnItIn are useful in some ways, but it is by no means a silver bullet to erase plagiarism across the board. It has significant limitations, and its reports must be interpreted by a human being to be useful. What this seminar brought to my attention was that it should not only be considered for its uses and limitations on the instructor's end, but also its effects on the student end as well. It is another form of digital surveillance (as Prof. Davidson discusses above), and its effects on student writers and their developing identity as writers should not be thrown to the side.


To add to this discussion of ethics and responsibilities in the 21st century classroom, I'm posting here an open, public Google Doc that anyone can add to (posted on April 25, 2011): 

This document began as a  collaboratively written project produced in Bangkok, Thailand, at the March 28-31 teacher’s meeting of EARCOS, the East Asia Regional Council of Schools.  The public has been invited to participate and about a quarter of the bullet points have been added anonymously.  Feel free to add your own to the document:


The Ethics and Responsibilities of the 21st Century Classroom:

A Collaborative Guide to Best Digital Learning Practices for K-12 Teachers and Administrators

PREAMBLE: Tools aren’t teachers, they aren’t students, and they aren’t magic.  
We need to know the limits and possibilities of our twenty-first century tools and the role of teachers and administrators in ethically and responsibly using digital media to enhance and foster learning.   
To teach responsibly in a digital age, we have to respect what our tools can do to help us learn together--and what tools alone cannot do. We need to be prepared to adapt them to our specific needs as teachers and learners. We need tools that are as open as possible, that are designed to encourage students to participate and not simply consume. And we need to support teachers who are also learning how to use new tools for the most innovative, imaginative interactive teaching.

To that end, we offer several preliminary, general principles designed to spark conversations among administrators, teachers, parents, and students. Our goal is to generate dialogue about practical ways to support deep thinking about ways to improve ethical, responsible, connected learning practices in the 21st century classroom:

  • We need support for teacher training, including scheduled time for teacher collaboration and idea-sharing, in order for tools to be part of real learning in the most productive, creative way. Administrators and school leaders need to understand that adding technology to learning requires thoughtfulness, preparation, and support. Teachers need on-going training to insure that they know how to use digital technology effectively.
    • When teachers are expected to introduce a new technology into the classroom, schools should build in teacher-development time for its deployment. There should be set-aside staff time where teachers can join together to experiment, share ideas, and share resources to develop the technology in practical and creative ways. This method helps ensure the success of the technology, the teachers, and the students.   
  • We need  administrators to take the lead with digital technology, not simply requiring teachers and students to use it but actually modeling the effective use of technology. So often administrators have little or no idea of how to use the tools they are trying to promote. This makes for a very unclear message and often undercuts the implementation of new and innovative programs.
  • We need to ensure that students have the personal resources to support the tools they are being taught. Students need to have access outside of the classroom to the tools they are using in school, regardless of socioeconomic status. We need to level the playing field to ensure their success.
  • We need collaborative policy making. Teachers, administrators, parents, and even students need to be involved in designing consistent and enforced school-wide policies regarding responsible behavior when using computers. Involving the entire school community. Students and parents need to be active participants in this process. Schools need buy in from all the stakeholders.
  • We need the right platforms for collaboration to ensure that technology is part of the content of learning. How much is technology a classroom teacher’s responsibility vs the responsibility of the technology department? Integrative technology is important. We need to ensure that the standards for technology are incorporated into Core and Encore classrooms, both as part of the content and as a way to develop the content.   
  • We need to encourage high quality student input and output. How can we use technologies wisely and creatively with ELL (English Language Learners) to achieve success, so that the technology supports student learning in the best ways?
  • We need to address technology accessibility inequalities.  Different societies and groups offer different kinds of challenges to collaborative work, including from poverty (on the one hand), income inequality and opportunity and censorship (on the other).   
  • We need to create institutional, local, regional, and international platforms to encouraging the networking and collaboration of international school students, educators, and administrators that foster:
    • Collaboration for students, student-centered learning
    • Sharing of ideas
    • Editing and revising ideas (wikipedia model)
    • Blogging to share feedback and best practices
    • Open forums for the discussion of ethical issues/implications
  • We need a school-wide initiative to adopt or be adopted by a partner school in a local community in order to share technology and also experiences between international schools and locally-based community schools. This model goes beyond traditional service learning components to embrace peer-to-peer education, information sharing, tool sharing and building, and collaboration as a sustainable component of service learning and community engagement.  
  • We need to create an Innovation Challenge Course. We need to adapt the method used in this 90-minute innovative challenge to our schools, where students are offered the possibilities of exploring content together on a collaborative tool such as a Google Doc so they are learning the tool, learning best collaborative and peer-learning practices, even while they are also mastering content by teaching, editing, correcting, and offering feedback on one another’s contributions. They should also be assessing their effectiveness, working as peer-teachers together.  
  • We need to create more study groups with digital tools as the mechanisms for allowing students to learn from one another together.  Studies have shown that the single, best determinant of success at school is to work in groups (Article 1,
  • Article 2, Article 3). If this is the case, then steps should be taken to make sure that students can easily form these groups, perhaps using digital tools to form and maintain study groups. Like most things, there are good or bad study groups. Here is a blog post suggesting the positive things about about study groups.
  • We need to create a community among teachers using best practices and research to show the benefits of innovation and creative, collaborative partnerships in education.
  • We need to be aware of and sensitive to students with special learning needs. Technology accessibility inequalities can also be caused by the reading and learning difficulties experienced by certain students such as those with dyslexia. Best digital learning practices should therefore be inclusive to address those with special needs. We should push our school systems to support Universal Design for Learning, recognizing that redesigning systems to support students with disabilities helps many other students. At the same time, system supports should understand that individual teachers should not be expected to be experts at accessibility and should be supported in innovative practices rather than discouraged.
  • We can learn from the success of free and open source software development. It is important to give teachers and students the freedom to use open-source and inexpensive software rather than locking entire systems into proprietary management. Even if examined purely from a business standpoint, school systems are commonly poor at managing contracts with tech companies, sinking enormous resources into software that is quickly obsolete or overwhelmed by the realities of implementation. In many cases, relying on open-source technology is a better investment, especially where open-source development has a dense network of users and programmers who care about maintaining a package or service. Many significant, world-changing technologies shaping education today are the product of a non-proprietary approach to the development of computer software. In short, knowledge sharing. Open source initiatives have produced free operating systems, such as Linux and Android; free productivity tools, such as OpenOffice/NeoOffice (Mac)/LibreOffice; and free web tools, such as Firefox and Opera, which access systems written in free programming languages, such as Python and PHP. Look for inspiration at open, peer-to-peer tools software developers are now using for learning about rapidly changing technology, such as Stack Overflow.
  • We must come to understand how the shape of knowledge has been redefined as a network (rather than as a book, an older but less useful technology). In Too Big To Know, David Weinberger spells out how different -- specifically, how much bigger -- the whole of human knowledge has become: so big, it no longer fits between the covers of a book, or within the time limits of a course, or even within a student’s “school years”.
  • We need to be aware of work already done to envision the future of learning.   
  • We need to recognize and respond to the infrastructure deficiencies in many school districts.  Many erroneously believe that schools across the developed world have the IT infrastructure required to ensure best practice, but such is not the case. Many schools find themselves with inadequate devices and bandwidth, including in the U.S. The eRate has helped with connectivity and bandwidth issues - but not solved them and, of course, it does not address the devices for use in the classroom.  One of the reasons why some schools are liberalizing policies on use of student owned Internet mobile devices is to address this problem.  All one needs to do to get a sense of the magnitude of this problem is to visit schools.
  • We should be wary of relying on student access to particular technologies outside school or student familiarity and ease of use with specific technologies. Many students have laptops and homes with high-speed internet access, or smartphones with data plans. But many students do not have ready access to the latest computers, smartphones, or high-speed internet access. Instead, many students with cell phones have texting capability only, many students have access to internet only at schools and libraries (where there is often onerous filtering), and many other students may be familiar with computers but not as skilled as the term “digital native” implies.
  • We should not confuse better access to instructional media with interactivity. One of the great ironies of the popularity of Youtube and ITunes is that they have too often reinforced the superiority of lectures by disseminating teachers’ performances rather than student learning. Embedding multiple-choice quiz questions inside a video is not interactivity, either. Interactivity is when students can talk back to teachers, can talk with each other, can talk to the world, can manipulate the world.
  • An entirely new paradigm will have to evolve in order for public education in the US to become what it should be in this new age of digital learning. It is because the whole of human knowledge has become so big, that K-12 school districts will not be able to grasp and solve the issue.  They simply do not have the resources and energy to address the problems that face them, I hope we do not see the have and have nots in our society become further and further apart  in their ability to gain knowledge and fulfill their destinies.  

For those of you interested in these topics - there is an upcoming symposium on digital ethics in Chicago. See below for details!
2nd Annual Symposium on Digital Ethics Tentative Schedule
October 29th in Chicago for the 2nd Annual Symposium on Digital Ethics.
8 – 8:30 registration and breakfast
8:45 Welcome
9:00 – 10:15  Research concerns and digital ethics;  featured panel discussion.
Moderator: Annette Markham, Guest Professor, Umeå University, Sweden, Affiliate Professor, School of Communication, Loyola University, Chicago.
  • Contextual Integrity Confronts New Models of Education and Healthcare - Helen Nissenbaum, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, and Computer Science, at New York University
  • Big Real Problems: Emerging Ethics Issues in Human Experimentation in Virtual Worlds - Joshua Fairfield, Associate Professor of Law, Washington and Lee University
  • Identity, Authority and Unease: Examining the articulation of ethical positions in accounts of new media use/research - Natasha Whiteman, Lecturer, Department of Media and Communications, University of Leicester
  • The Ethics of Twitter Research: A Topology of Disciplines, Methods and Ethics Review Boards - Michael Zimmer & Nicholas Proferes, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
10: 30 – 11:45
Panel: Trust, ethics and moral agency.
Moderator: Bastiaan Vanacker, Loyola Chicago
  • Degrees of Trust and Levels of Moral Agency in the Context of Autonomous Machines, Herman Tavani, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Rivier University
  • Virtue Ethics and Digital ‘Flourishing’: An Application of Philippa Foot to Life Online - Patrick Lee Plaisance, Colorado State University
  • Online security and individuals rights, an ethical balance - Mariaroarosaria Taddeo, University of Hertfordshire
  • The Junk File Case: Identity collisions and the ethics of connectivity - Guillaume Latzko-Toth, Université Laval
Panel: Social media, law & ethics.
Moderator:  Don Heider
  • Control, Communication, and Conflict on Facebook Memorial Pages - Nicole B. Ellison, Associate Professor in the Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media Department at Michigan State University and Alice Marwick, Microsoft Research
  • Click here to comment: Combining ethical and legal perspectives on Section 230 - Susan Keith, Rutgers University
  • Should virtual cybercrime be brought under the scope of the criminal law? - Litska Strikwerda, , University of Twente
  • Journalists and Social Media: Professional Restrictions and Their Ethical Implications - Erica Bailey, Virginia Tech
11:45 Lunch
12:15 Keynote – Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and the founder and current director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self ( )
1:30 – 2:45
Panel:  Digital ethics and the fourth estate.
Moderator: Don Wycliff, Loyola Chicago
  • Re-Inventing Media Ethics Amid a Digital Revolution - Stephen J. A. Ward, Burgess Professor of Journalism Ethics, University of Wisconsin
  • The Emerging Uses of Ethical Principles in Journalist’s Privilege Law – Jason M. Shepard, California State University, Fullerton
  • The Ethics of Unpublication - Jasmine McNealy, Syracuse University & Laurence Alexander, University of Florida.
  • The Ethical Implications of an Elite Press - Jane B. Singer, University of Iowa
Panel: Global perspectives in digital ethics.
Moderator: Lauren Labrecque, Loyola Chicago
  • The Internet and Authoritarian States: Ethical Issues in Transnational Digital Activism - Cameran Ashraf, University of California, Los Angeles
  • “Yes, Vinton, there is a Human Right to the Internet” - Kay Mathiesen, University of Arizona
  • A Case Study of Censor Circumvention in Chinese Micro-blogging Site - Yiran Wang, University of California, Irvine
  • Secrets and Lies: Digital Media Ethics and Integrity in Global Perspective - Twyla Gibson, Harvard University
3:00 – 4:15
Panel:  Surveillance and privacy
Moderator: Steven Jones, Loyola Chicago
  • YouTube Shakespeares: Ethical Issues in Humanities and Literary Research Contexts - Valerie Fazel, Arizona State University
  • Digital ethics and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe: When moral rights about culture trump legal rights about digital image gathering –Kevin R. Kemper, University of Arizona
  • From Battlefield to Newsroom: Ethical and Legal Implications of Drone Technology in Journalism - Kathleen Bartzen Culver, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • In Context: Ethical Implications of Digital Surveillance – Jan Fernback, Temple University
Panel:  Balancing interests in digital technology.
Monderator: Meghan Dougherty, Loyola Chicago
  • The Curator’s Code: Toward an Ethics of Curation? - Shawn McIntosh, Columbia University
  • The Ethics of Online Coursework: Instructor Responsibilities, Student Participation, and Managing Public-Private Learning- Vanessa P. Dennen, Florida State University
  • Reading Privacy: The Role Interface Aesthetics Play in eReader Privacy Disclosure Decisions - J. Richard Stevens, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Plug away: disclosure of material connections in social media channels - David Kamerer, Loyola University Chicago
4:15 – 5:30
The ethics of games and virtual worlds; featured panel discussion.
Moderator: J. Talmadge Wright ,Loyola Chicago
  • Playing with ethics: Digital games and moral dilemmas" Mia Consalvo, Canada Research Chair in Game Studies & Design, Concordia University
  • The Virtual Other: Thinking about virtuality and the future of ethics - Lucas D. Introna, Professor & Associate Dean for Research, Centre ( ) for the Study of Technology & Organisation, Lancaster University
  • Beyond good and evil? Analyzing moral decision-making in mainstream video games - Thorsten Busch, University of St. Gallen
  • Biases on Truthfulness:  Using a Game to Prompt Self-Reflection - Ralph Vacca, New York University
5:30 – 6:30 Cocktails

Prospective students interact with life experience degree providers before they officially enroll in a program, and vice versa. This section examines the manner in which schools reach out to prospective students to attract them to their institution, as well as how students explore providers in making a decision to enroll in a life experience degree program.

Outreach: Connecting with Prospective Students.

When it comes to outreach to prospective students, two important factors differentiate online programs from other colleges and universities, and even from other online programs. First, life experience degree programs face a unique challenge that more traditional schools do not need to address.