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Author : Autumm Caines

Is it possible to ban remote proctoring?

This post is co-authored and jointly published with Sarah Silverman

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The harms of remote proctoring have been so extensively documented that some educational institutions have now instituted formal recommendations or policies against using remote proctoring.

But, is it possible to ban remote proctoring on campus? We have found that even when these decisions are made, the goal of protecting students from the harms of remote proctoring is not completely achievable. This is because directly purchasing a proctoring service from the provider is only one way to make use of proctoring software. Many other educational technology companies offer proctoring services, often for “free” or passing the cost on to the student.

While our own campus has a formal recommendation from the Provost Office against remote proctoring, and no contract with a remote proctoring company, we noted that proctoring was available on our campus for free through McGraw Hill Connect’s partnership with Proctorio. Our experience was that Proctorio became available without the consent or even the knowledge of the instructional technology staff on our campus and we only discovered its availability after learning about the MH-Proctorio partnership through outside professional networks.

Because of these vendor to vendor relationships, students and faculty can easily be exposed to these products without any oversight from educational technology, data privacy, or accessibility professionals. Because many of these proctoring options operate with a “freemium” model, students are potentially required to pay fees in order to complete their assessments.

It is useful to know which educational technology companies have agreements with proctoring companies and integrate their services into their products. After many months of communication we were able to get McGraw Hill to remove the proctoring functions for our campus. However, even those with proctoring in place at their institutions should be aware of these kinds of offerings as the training materials are not always consistent between the provider and the reseller with respect to the product’s functionality. For instance, we found examples in which the company purchasing and reselling the proctoring options was presenting the technology as being able to “detect cheating” while most proctoring companies are very clear that the technology alone cannot determine cheating and that human verification is required to be certain.

The following are some examples of educational technology companies and products that currently offer some form of remote proctoring for free or by charging a fee to students. There are likely to be many more examples, but this list represents ed tech products with which we are familiar in our work. These relationships are also liable to change at any moment, for example a company initiating a new proctoring partnership or ending one. Are you aware of vendor to vendor relationships that bring proctoring into your campus or school?

Primary Product Proctoring Provider Nature of partnership References
McGraw Hill Connect Proctorio Free settings available on all assignments, “Proctorio Plus” settings available for 15$ per course, paid by student https://www.mheducation.com/highered/connect/proctorio.html

https://www.mheducation.com/highered/connect/proctorio/compare.html

TopHat Proctorio Announced that Proctorio protected exams would be available for free on April 2, 2020 – current status of partnership unclear https://tophat.com/press-releases/top-hat-partners-with-proctorio/

https://success.tophat.com/s/article/Teaching-Online-Remotely-Proctored-Tests

McGraw Hill ALEKS Respondus LockDown/Monitor “Secure testing with LockDown Browser, always free. Deter cheating with Respondus Monitor via institutional agreement or $10 per student for the entire term.: https://www.mheducation.com/highered/support/aleks/how-to-move-your-course-online.html

https://web.respondus.com/aleks/

Derivita  Proctorio Lockdown settings available at no extra cost, unclear how payment for additional features works https://www.derivita.com/proctoring

https://www.derivita.com/lockdown-settings?_ga=2.54833771.1798584622.1626192772-1122037571.1621811441

Gradescope Respondus LockDown While currently in Beta, LockDown browser will be available to courses subscribed to Gradescope Complete, their paid product. Instructor or institution can decide to pay for Gradescope Complete https://help.gradescope.com/article/gm5cmcz19k-instructor-assignment-online#additional_security_with_lock_down_browser_beta
Pearson MyLab Respondus LockDown If the university does not have an existing license with Respondus, the instructor can choose for students to be charged $10 per course  https://web.respondus.com/pearson-mylab/
Wiley Online Homework Respondus LockDown Appears lockdown is free for students, but hard to find current information https://wileyplus.gallery.video/instructors/detail/videos/legacy-wileyplus/video/5827956956001/how-to-use-lockdown-browser-with-wileyplus
Cengage WebsAssign Respondus LockDown Lockdown browser available for free https://www.webassign.net/manual/instructor_guide/t_i_installing_webassign_lockdown_browser.htm

Image by succo from Pixabay

Playing with the Zoom Gaze: a facilitation guide

I was thrilled to have been asked to present at the American University in Cairo’s CLT Virtual Symposium this past week to consider virtual facilitation in the light of the Zoom Gaze. I was honored to present alongside of four other amazing facilitators, our plenary session was entitled: Touring the Many Worlds of Virtual Facilitation, and my portion was called: Playing with the Zoom Gaze.

I attempted to use play as a frame for looking at the very different experiences that each of us have in synchronous video environments. I framed this as something that teachers could do themselves in their own classes as an orientation to better understand the experiences of their students but it can be hard to both experience a technique and harness that technique yourself so I promised a facilitation guide that broke down and reflected on some of the elements of how I facilitated the session. I’m also making my rough notes available to anyone who cares to dig that deep.

Playing with the Welcome

One of the first things I do is simply ask everyone how they are. This may just seem like a thing that one does as a facilitator. An expectation. A basic out of the box or from the book hospitality move. But I’m being intentional about this little question and paying particular attention to how people naturally react. Who can I see nodding their head. Who chooses to use the emoji reactions? Who does not respond at all? Who uses the chat?

I can tell so much in these few seconds and with this simple question. This is the lowest bar of interaction for the whole session but the key is to withhold judgement and just observe. It is not a bad sign if someone does not respond – perhaps they don’t want to compete for response time – but it is very interesting to see how people respond when they are not specifically told how to respond.

Playing with Presentation

The Zoom Gaze makes explicit the power dynamics of the software itself and one of the most jarring experiences on Zoom specifically, for me as a participant, is the screenshare. I talked to the group about this and pointed out how it kind of hijacks your screen taking over your computer. I did have some material that I wanted to present to the group at the beginning but rather than use the screenshare function I hacked the virtual background feature by simply covering my camera while using it. This results in my image disappearing and the virtual background being the only thing shown. Participants can choose to stay in gallery view or use speaker view if they want to see my visuals bigger. Yes they could choose to look at another screen too but they choose, and their choice is more important to me for this kind of session. The background images I used for this are mostly to set the mood around the things that I’m saying – they are not bullet points or graphs. They are just beautiful CC0 images from Pixabay, Unsplash, or a similar site.

The content of this presentation is important in that I am setting a baseline for the fact that it only feels like we are together but that the togetherness is to some degree an illusion. It is during this little talk that I’m calling out the many differences that we each could be experiencing. I’m inviting people to come and play with the environment but also letting them know that it is okay if they don’t want to play – you can’t force someone to play. You can read the text of my little presentation in the rough notes.

Playing with Interaction

At this point in the presentation I really start prompting people to participate. One of the first things I do is have them answer a question verbally all at the same time. It has to be a simple question – even just your name and where you are from. This results in an audible mess of the mics cutting out and the camera focus jumping around and it makes the point that audio is not so equitable. We do the same question in the chat and everyone’s responses come rolling in kind of fast but at least you can make some sense of it. I think this is a basic interaction demo that most people have from doing multiple sessions but it is fun to tease it out. I then continue to ask them and prompt them about different ways of interacting. From the rough notes:

  • Playing with Audio –
    • Ask a simple question – What are the ways you can express yourself in zoom.
    • Ask everyone to turn on their mics and respond at once
    • Note the power struggle when everyone tried to talk at once
      This sets up the need and importance of non-verbals
  • Playing with non-verbals
    • Text – chatterfall – ask another question (maybe how did it feel when everyone was talking at once) one word in chat hold before hitting enter
    • Zoom reactions (virtual)
    • Physical reactions – gestures, facial expressions, sign language

 

Playing with the intersection between the physical and virtual environments

Some of this we did not get to in the session but here are some prompts for leading this kind of play. From the rough notes:

This feels like a shared space but we are actually each experiencing a virtual environment just a little different.

There is a real possibility that our spaces and ourselves are not as they appear in zoom.

Ask these questions – take answers in chat, reactions, physical, audio 

  • Who is in grid view/who is in speaker view?
  • Who has self view on – who has it off – who realized you could even turn self view off?
  • Let’s talk about grid view – go there if you would like – if your camera is on where do you appear in the grid? Who is to your left/right? Everyone is actually looking at a different order. What does this mean for the idea of “eye contact”?
  • Play with virtual backgrounds. How far back can you go before the background takes over? How far forward?

Playing with Physical Environment

  • “Touch” the boundaries of your “identity box” with your hands. The square that surrounds you. Where are the edges? Where are the edges in the physical space?
  • Move your whole body in and out of frame – what happens to audio when you do this? How is this impacted by the kind of microphone you might have?
  • Play with light levels

Your physical environment says something about you and is part of your identity

Playing with Identity

I really wish that we had gotten more time to get to this and there was a little of it but I think that there is a real opportunity to go deeper here.

  • Play with virtual filters on the body
  • Play with some kind of physical avatar or puppet 
  • Play with costumes, masks, or some kind of physical adaptation of self

 

Final Thoughts and Shout Outs

Preparing this workshop was a challenge for me. The Zoom Gaze article is a rather critical article as it shines a light on the many inequities that exist in synchronous video environments. How to use it to bring everyone together and to talk with educators about how to harness it in their own facilitation?

My work with Maha Bali and Mia Zamora around community building activities was recently referenced by Sarah Rose Cavanagh in How to Play in the College Classroom in a Pandemic, and Why You Should and this helped to remind me that perhaps play was part of the answer here. With Virtually Connecting I had the opportunity to co-author the idea of Intentionally Equitable Hospitality where we explore hospitality in inequitable spaces and the importance of informality in learning.

Huge thank you’s go out to several folks. Heather Pleasants met with me on two occasions to play with this weird environment, ask questions of it, and consider its effects on togetherness, space, and identity. Mia Zamora, Alan Levine, and the entire NetNarr and Equity Unbound communities provided me an initial playground. George Station taught me how to disappear into the virtual background. Maha Bali has been teaching me (and learning with me) about these virtual spaces for several years now.

My deepest gratitude goes out to all the folks who have worked with me in virtual environments over the last several years and especially those of the last year when these virtual rooms became one of the only ways we could connect.

Feature Image by beate bachmann from Pixabay 

The Zoom Gaze

Note: On December 7th I expanded my thinking on the concept of the Zoom Gaze into a full-length article with Real Life Magazine which you can find here https://reallifemag.com/the-zoom-gaze/ 


I’ve been doing video conferencing pretty intently since 2016 in connection with my Virtually Connecting work. This work has been technical, social, and critical. It has compelled me to ask questions around power, voice, and visibility. As the whole world distances from one another physically in fear of a sickness which could be nothing or could be death, those who have the means use this technology as a way to simulate normality. But all of this is anything but normal.

I’ve been thinking about the power of looking, seeing, and being seen – of speaking, listening, and being heard – of touching, feeling, and being felt. That last one is tricky and the one in which the physicality is problematic but as an act of emotion seems to come through from time to time in this virtual space – or perhaps we just yearn for it so much that the approximation is close enough.

There has been a lot of talk about not forcing students to turn cameras on and I advocate for this. I advocate for this out of an attempt to create equitable spaces as I know that not everyone can show their face/space. That video takes more bandwidth and so there is a technical inequity that privileges those with speedy internet and fancy equipment. Also, it is cultural in that we don’t just show our faces but we show our places and sometimes that is problematic for a variety of reasons. 

Even with this, as we begin the fall term I cannot help but think about the power dynamics at play in all of this. Gaze has a history and has been evaluated from multiple angles including the gaze as pure power such as in surveillance with Foucault’s panopticon and as racism in hooks’ the oppositional gaze; gendered analysis in the male gaze comes from Mulvey and the feminine gaze from Butler, and nationalized in the imperial gaze of Kaplan. 

My understanding of Gaze is limited but it seems to me that in all of the constructs of it above that the viewed is greatly impacted by the seer. The one who is being looked upon changes their behaviour, as well as their sense of self, because of the viewer. In our current time, in the “age of COVID-19”, what does it mean for so many of us to be under the Zoom Gaze? What does it mean for a teacher to see some of their students and to not see others? 

It is wonderful to give students the option of turning their cameras on or not but are there underlying power dynamics (unconscious, implicit, and unintended) of being seen that still create inequities in these environments? Are teachers unconsciously tuned in to faces, expressions, body language in such a way that privileges students who are privileged to have fast bandwidth, nice cameras, and good microphones? My gut tells me yes. 

And so “allowing” students to not have their camera on in our class session may seem like the super nice thing to do and a way to make your classes equitable but I’m coming to feel like it is actually the least that you can do. 

Here are my questions (which I don’t have answers to):

  • What is Zoom Gaze and what does it look like given different pedagogies and functions of technology?
  • How do we recognize the power structures within the Zoom Gaze?
  • How do we challenge the Zoom Gaze power structures to not perpetuate inequities?
  • Are there overlaps between Zoom Gaze and the development of parasocial interactions/relationships

Featured Image by Михаил Прокопенко from Pixabay 

Reflections after Day One of Digital Pedagogy Lab 2020

Starting Again

It has been a long time since I’ve written here but I think about it all of the time. This blog was born of eventedness and it seem that I struggle to write without an event (note of self-reflection). Still, I’m often here, in my head, struggling to pull all the threads together.

Digital Pedagogy Lab has been a staple gathering for me for several years and one that I’ve come to look forward to – where others I go to out of obligation.

So, if there was ever an event to blow the dust off this blog and get it going again I think this would be it.

I’m in the Education, Agency, and Change course led by Elena Riva and Naomi De La Tour and one of the first things we were asked to do is to gather beautiful things around us to create a learning environment for ourselves. I think this was meant to focus more on our physical space but the digital space of this blog has long been a learning space for me and it was in need of some beautification – so, besides a fresh post for the blog I’m trying on a new theme.

Models, Styles, and Taxonomies; Oh My

There are three keynotes for DPL this year and the first is from Jesse Stommel – Not Taking Bad Advice: a Pedagogical Model.

This keynote intersected for me with a little tweet conversation that I got caught up in this week. Did you see the whole – “I have a joke but” thing?

Like – “I have a statistics joke but the average person would think it is mean”

Well, a bunch of us started doing educational ones and

I came up with “I have an instruction joke. I’ll tell the joke and you will then laugh” – Note: I’m breaking convention here a tiny bit because mine does not have a ‘but’ in it. I didn’t give it a lot of thought when I tweeted it – I was just tying to be funny.

As Jesse’s keynote brought in and critiqued all of the models and best practices I couldn’t help but come back to this little joke and start to feel like it was doing a little more work than I had originally intended.

I’ve often thought that instruction is but one kind of pedagogy. I think it has its place but it can only do so much. As Jesse talked about how all of these models have their limitations and how they never seem to get at the human side of education I couldn’t help but think about my joke.

There is nothing quite like an honest laugh. The kind that sneaks up on you and just comes as a reaction. Giving someone instructions on how to respond to a joke makes about as much sense as some of these models that Jesse critiques.

I suppose it works – to some extent. We are being very clear in what we are expecting and if we tied external rewards to the outcome we are seeking (the laugh) we could further incentivise it. If we felt that the laughs we were getting were not authentic enough we could create a rubric to further clarify.

Unacceptable – not laughing or just going ha ha sardonically – 0pts

Good – a chuckle with a smile – 3pts

Excellent – full on belly laugh with tears in eyes – 10pts

Of course this is ridiculous. If we are really trying to get at authentic human laughter – instruction is not the tool.

What kind of education do you want to create?

Jesse is clear in his talk that “None of this is to say Bloom’s taxonomy or the Quality Matters rubric have never ever been used to support good pedagogy.” and I would argue that instruction is not always such a lackluster tool.

If I’ve bought a new shelving unit that needs to be assembled by all means give me good instruction. Please don’t let me discover how to build this on my own through a human process of trial and error.

So, for me, this comes back to a question of what kind of education we are shooting for and what education is for in the first place. And that brings me back to my track around Education, Agency, and Change.

I’m hopeful to have a few blog posts this week but I’m not sure how much I’ll get out. I’m also leading up a workshop with Nathan Schneider around Ethical EdTech which starts tomorrow which I’m sure will give me lots to think about.

Free image from Pixabay

Presenting #DigPINS at Original Lilly Conference on College Teaching 2019

I am super excited to be presenting with Joe Murphy at the Original Lilly Conference on College Teaching about #DigPINS – a small cohort online faculty development experience that Joe and I have run in network with one another and several other institutions for a few years now.

This presentation is a basic “what is #DigPINS” kind of poster. We focus on the foundational theories, philosophies, and foundational practices of #DigPINS. We also give a taste of the curriculum and tools as well as answer some questions about what it takes to facilitate #DigPINS. This part is especially important because we are hoping to do another networked run in Summer of 2020!!

You can find out more in our written proposal for the conference and at http://digpins.org

Welcome to D3 – Domains, Data, and Democracy: with special thanks to agency, identity, and environment

On May 20th I was invited to speak at St. Norbert College’s D3 – Domains, Data, and Democracy conference and deliver a welcome address. The post that follows is the text I worked from to deliver that address reworked just a bit – the biggest add was the addition of hyperlinks. The slide deck is also embedded in the bottom. Header image credit Siggy Nowak from Pixabay

Before I begin with the welcome address I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the historical memory of the land we are on and its indigenous peoples as well as our responsibility to work towards reconciliation by reading the St. Norbert College Land Acknowledgement.

You may or may not be familiar with this idea of a land acknowledgement. They are much more ubiquitous in Canada where they are often used to start public meetings such as this one but also in smaller meetings, to start the school day, and I’ve even heard that some of the major hockey teams use one before their home games. There is no one land acknowledgement but rather each is crafted to the local area and the native peoples who at one time maintained the predominant culture there. They don’t have to be tied to the subject of the talk, or the hockey game for that matter, but they are offered as a reminder of how we got here so that perhaps we can think about how we want to go forward. In this case, I do think that there is alignment with this talk as I will be addressing issues of democracy, ownership, and environments (though some may be digital) but I wanted to point out that this connection to the subject matter is not needed and I have included the acknowledgement as part of this talk as a remembrance of the this land and its history.

In the spirit of the Norbertine value of stabilitas loci, a deep commitment to the local community, we acknowledge this land as the ancestral home of the Menominee nation, which holds historical, cultural, and sacred significance to the community. We acknowledge the living history and contributions of the indigenous communities that inhabited this land prior to the establishment of St. Norbert College, as well as the sovereign Native American Nations who continue to contribute to the flourishing of our communities

In 2016 I first became acquainted with St. Norbert College through attending and presenting at the T3 conference. T3, like D3, is a shortened version of a longer name. When I presented it was Transformative Teaching Through Technology and I quickly pointed out that was 4 T’s not 3 but I was told the “Through” did not count. I was also told that in previous years it had been Transformative Teaching AND Technology but that the exact meaning of the name was somewhat neblus.  That there were some who saw this as ‘Transformative Teaching’, and Technology. While others thought that the idea of transformation could encompass both teaching and technology I guess as Transformative: Teaching and Technology.

Fast forward a few years to the planning of this year’s conference – I’m horribly late to an online meeting with Martha and Krissy and when I enter the meeting they tell me that in my absence they have been thinking and talking about changing the name of this year’s conference from T3 to D2 – Domains and Data. This is because SNC has in the past year gotten really serious about its commitment to the Domains project and we had been getting some requests for more support around data literacy. I tell them that I love the idea but point out that we have also been having lots of conversations in ITS and Full Spectrum Learning leadership for many years around digital citizenship and communicating to our students about what it means to be good stewards of the web and I suggest D3 – Domains, Data, and Democracy … and it stuck.

As planning progressed, I started to notice that D3 might be having some of the same problems that T3 was having around the name and how it is being interpreted. There were just these subtle things like the way folks were pausing when they said the name like Domains…. Data and Democracy. I think there was a lack of an oxford comma in drafting some of the materials that we were using. There also might have even been some confusion about where to put the “and” like “Domains” and “Data” and “Democracy” but also Domains and “Data and Democracy”.

At some point I brought up that I was noticing these subtle differences and I that I didn’t think that they were wrong but that I saw democracy as being central to both domains and data and that I also saw connections and overlaps between domains and data themselves. So Krissy asked me to come up and give a welcome address to paint a picture of how the name aligns with the conference and to talk about some of these things.

Last year we had Robin DeRosa come to T3 as our keynote speaker and one of the ideas that Robin hit upon that resonated with several people was this idea of bricolage. She contrasted the methods of the engineer with those of the bricoleur saying that an engineer takes brand new materials, lots of measurements, and lots of money to build perfect products. In contrast the bricoleur takes what may seem like disparate parts that already exist and puts them together as a new whole through a process of trying, testing, failing, and playing around.

I see the main themes of Domains, Data, and Democracy as being a list so they are separated by commas and you could even put them into a bulleted list. Each of these D’s are complex realms and we could have a whole conference on any one of them. Each has multiple moving parts, incorporates subjective decision making with a variety of impacts, and each is open to interpretation from outside entities. All of these themes have problems and issues as well as great gifts to give. My hope is that we have put together a conference for you that is flexible enough to allow you to be a bit of a bricoleur with your thinking around these concepts weighing the complex nature of each. I also hope that you will use the themes as a starting place and connect them not only to each other but also to your own interests and contexts in your own work.

It is my hope that by presenting them as a list of things we can encourage participants of the conference to think of them as building blocks. Some of you may want to grab onto one of these and spend the next two days looking at every event and workshop through that lens. While others may only want to concentrate on some particular set of connections like “Data and Democracy” or “Democracy and Domains” or “Domains and Data”. Still even others may want to keep all three in mind and look for the connections between them.

To help demonstrate this I’d like to share with you a bit of my own bricolage or how I see these themes fitting together. I will use three other frames that I think are important to this. As this is a welcome address I’ll also try to weave my thinking with some information about the instructors that we have invited to the conference and snippets from some of the workshops and other events we have lined up.  I want to encourage you to keep in mind what your own bricolage creation looks like as you weave these themes for yourself.

Domains as Agency

D3 is being held as this past year St. Norbert College has made great headway into a centralized domains project with connections to their philosophy of Full Spectrum Learning and the college’s strategic plan. I’m excited to hear a State of Domains address from the Full Spectrum Learning leadership tomorrow to get all the details about how things are going but I also realize that there may still be those in the room who have different levels of understanding around what a domain is and what it means to give one to a student.

Audrey Watters says that giving a domain to a student is a “radical act” but radical acts do not come without risks and complexity. I will point out in my short examination of each of our themes that all of them come with affordances and constraints. I believe the most radical thing that a domain does is encourage and enable agency – the ability for an individual to act independently and make their own choices. Agency is central to democracy but it can be seen as risky in educational environments as students by nature are not as informed and have not had the opportunity to build specialized knowledge. However, education cannot exist in a risk free environment rather it is the job of educators to weigh risks to the student with the opportunity for learning.

Martha Burtis gives us several opportunities over the next two days to look at the complexities around domains as educators from considering the web itself as a subject of study to situating students and student agency in domains pedagogy.  Martha is one of the founders of the Domain of One’s Own movement and has worked to help higher education see how we interact with and support student use of digital environments and technology as more than a transactional exchange and rather an opportunity for truly transformative learning. No  matter if you are new to domains or have a start and are looking to dig in deeper Martha has planned some amazing conversations and collaborations for us.

Data as Identity

A domains project often gets legs as an e-portfolio project. This ties back to showing a student how to create a digital identity but let’s be clear that a domain does a lot more than that. There are plenty of platforms that we could direct students toward which they could use to build a digital identity but when we direct students to use 3rd party platforms we not only teach the student how to create a digital identity we also teach them that it is okay to give that identity data over to a 3rd party without question.

For all of the hype and promises of a better life through data, like all of our themes, data is not without its imperfections. We have been generating, collecting, and analyzing data long before digitization but the digitization of data, especially personally identifiable data, has changed the paradigm for what it means to live in a democracy and no one knows this better than Kris Shaffer. Kris works on matters related to digital disinformation, data ethics, and digital pedagogy and his new book Data versus Democracy: How Big Data Algorithms Shape Opinions and Alter the Course of History, will be published this spring.

He writes in the description for his Data Literacy workshop later today that “Big-data algorithms affect just about everything we do these days: the news we read, the shows we watch, the music we listen to, the students we admit, the mortgage rates we’re offered” he goes on to say that many of the claims around the promise of data is nothing more than a marketing scheme and this workshop will help us to understand the difference. Besides helping us to demystify big data and machine learning Kris also offers us workshops around data privacy, fact checking online, and a cryptoparty.

Democracy as Environment

Democracy is a system of governance for and by the people. Rather than having a monarch or a dictator who makes political decisions for the people – in a Democracy the people gather together to govern themselves or, most likely, to elect representation. It sounds great but then like all of our themes, you guessed it, it gets messy fast – few proclaim it is an flawless system.

Often it is hard to see issues in our environment because we live in it every day and it is easy not see the forest for the trees. Ideas get normalized and we stop questioning things that might have earlier given us pause. Let’s stop for a moment and remember that land acknowledgement that I started this talk with which is a reminder that this land was once held by different people than those who are here now – see there is an assumption in this idea of a democracy for and by the people about who “the people” actually are and who “counts” as “the people”. Those who are not included can fight for greater acceptance but there are always those who see this as a zero sum matter and fight to keep barriers and boundaries high.

Digital tools and technology can be used to transcend and span these boundaries, make short work of some of the oldest and strongest barriers like time and distance, and be used to further justice for society. But it is easy to forget that those digital environments themselves can be problematic and can reinforce threats to our societies and cultures.

Another criticism of democracy goes something like this – if all these people, who are not trained in the ways of governance and who are likely uninformed or ignorant, have an actual say in the running of things, well then things are going to go to pot because uninformed people are calling the shots. Democracy answers this criticism with a call for education and an informed citizenry. My interests, questions, and thinking are around what an informed society looks like in a digital age. What literacies and skills are needed to be informed in such an age and how does that impact who we are as a people?


Evolving Digital Identity – The “Real Life” of watching and being watched

This post is around the #DigPINS Pedagome “Identity” week. I want to just sort of riff on my own about some personal experience so forgive me for not doing a map or otherwise following the prompt. I’ve long been interested in the impact of environment on identity but I recently took on a little personal project that made me think harder about the intersection of physical environments and digital identities. I’ve been wanting to write about it and this seemed the time to get it out.

I’ve been interested in data privacy and surveillance for some time now. About a year ago I started paying more attention to the signage that indicates that my physicality is under surveillance and started snapping pics of them. This was very much an aside and I wasn’t doing much more than snapping the pics. I did find some use for them in tweets and headers for blog posts about data privacy and surveillance but most of the time they just lived on my camera roll. I did find them interesting and noted some nuances to myself such as subilities in iconography and rhetoric but this was all just sort of in my head.

A few months ago I started wanting to do more with these pics and I had the idea that a social media presence could give them a home, help me be more intentional about looking for signage, and help me in noticing those nuances and chronicling them. Since they were pics I tried to establish an Instagram account but I’m not much of an Instagram user and the account never got off the ground. I’m not sure I ever even got one follower and then a few weeks later Instagram actually shut the account down – I think because I missed a verification email. Still, I wanted to do something and considering that I’m more of a Twitter user I decided to reestablish there. After being two days old on twitter @SurveillanceSam/Surveillance Signage had a few hundred followers – so something to be said about having an established network on a particular tool and even just knowing the tool.

For me, @SurveillanceSam is an establishment of a digital identity to scaffold a new kind of awareness and a way of being for myself. Right away several folks pointed out similar projects that were more robust or suggested that this project could be or do more. Suggestions included creating intricate maps, attaching levels of metadata, or scraping data of where surveillance equipment might be deployed and displaying it. All of these are fascinating and ideas I may want to evolve @SurveillanceSam to do at some point but right now it is just an outlet for me to be more aware of my surroundings. It is an outlet for a part of my brain and an expression of my current living experience right now. As great as all of those other ideas are that is not what I’m interested in doing with it right now.

Then something interesting happened – a few people started wanting to do this with me. They started tagging @SurveillanceSam in tweets that had pics of surveillance signage that they had come across and I started using the account to retweet. Some even backchanneled them to me and I would use the account directly to post them.  

I have mixed feelings about this phenomenon – on one hand I it is really fun to have other people doing this same kind of thing that I’m doing: paying attention to their surroundings, capturing these signs, sharing them with me to curate in one place. On the other I worry a bit about encouraging folks to follow along. I sometimes worry about snapping these photos even myself. I used to just carry a camera with me everywhere and snap pics of everything around me – I was a bit of a photo nerd. One day I was shooting a large outdoor fountain and some kind of angry enforcement officer (I can’t even remember if it was a proper cop – it was many years ago) wanted to know why I was taking pictures of the bank. I had not even noticed there was a bank in the background of the fountain. You sort of have to assume that you are under surveillance when you are taking these photos and that could look somewhat shady to whoever is watching. If you are not a middle-class looking white lady and if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time I can see how this could perhaps not be the best practice for you. So I hesitate to promote people joining me on this journey. But it is a journey that I am on and for those who find it possible to capture signs that their identity is being captured I’m happy to amplify.

So, what have I learnt?

It has been an interesting few months with @SurveillanceSam. Since creating the account I have become much more aware of signage and where I might find it. It feels a bit like geocaching in a way but with instinct rather than a GPS. One of the first things that I noticed was being more aware of where I would find surveillance but what was really interesting was how often there was no signage. I drew a line with the account that it was not a place for pics of surveillance equipment but rather just signage. I’m interested in how surveillance is communicated, why it is communicated, and who it is communicated to – and my experience so far has found that most often it is happening without communication. More often than not I find equipment without any signage.

And about the signage and my questions of how, why, and who?

“How” surveillance is being communicated is an interesting question which bleeds into “why” and “for who”. Iconography stands out to me: eyes, shields, and cameras permeate. I made note that often the cameras are mounted – though usually they are mounted to nothing. There is often a mount on the icon and sometimes a wire but it just hangs there in a void. This is a common kind of camera I suppose but it is interesting to me that so many of the cameras are old school – the newer cameras are dome ones but you never see those in the icons.

Screenshot from SurveillanceSam account showing camera mounts

The “why” and the “who” questions are even more interesting. Especially in light of my experience that most surveillance is not communicated. If not then when it is being communicated why is it being communicated. A favorite way of mine to question this is to put images indicating that you are for sure being surveilled next to one’s that say you may be being surveilled. What exactly is the point of a sign that says you “may be” under surveillance?

Yellow sign that reads "This area may be under surveillance"

“Who” is a sobering question as in my experience I’ve seen signs of surveillance more often in poor neighborhoods and in communities of color. But also digging into the signs themselves. Who are they directed at? Many are directed at the criminal stating in all caps WARNING or ATTENTION you are on camera, microphone, closed circuit TV, etc. but for others the audience for the sign is the person who is doing nothing wrong and states that the surveillance is for their benefit for protection or will even save them money by stopping theft at the store.

Black and white sign mounted to post that reads "Closed Circuit Television Cameras are in use to help provide you with low prices. Recordings will be used in the prosecution of criminal offenses".

In conclusion, I’m two months into @SurveillanceSam and it is an interesting overlay of a digital identity and how it can impact a “real life”. If you are familiar with some of my past thinking you know that those scare quotes are because I have issues with the term “real life”. I think this creates a false dichotomy. Unless we are talking about your dreams, imaginagings, psychedelic hallucinations, spiritual encounters, or the like we are talking about “real life”. @SurveillanceSam is not a “real person” but I am and it is an extension of my attention and current thinking. I’m sure that there are folks out there who have taken a deeper look at these things but I’m just starting to explore them and this is where I’m at for now.

Becoming, Making, and How Do We Do Equity: some quick thoughts as an informal lit review

I was given a pretty cool opportunity last week to think with some pretty cool people about equitable design of digitally-distributed, studio-based STEM learning environments (think makerspaces – but at the same time destroy you idea of makerspaces and rebuild it to mean something more… at least that is what I ended up doing). It was put on by some folks at the University of Arizona and Biosphere 2, where we stayed, and was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The plan was to reflect and write and come away having created some resources – a white paper mainly. It is an awesome opportunity in itself but I was also just humbled to be among the others attending, many of whom are some of my favorite thinkers in our field though I made new connections too – (I’ll save posting a list for fear of leaving someone out or naming someone who would rather not be in my blog post but you can check out #stemequityb2 on Twitter if you would like to see some of the folks who are posting tweets and blog posts about the event).

I’ve never built or run a proper “Makerspace” per se and I can’t even claim to have participated in a “Makerspace” all that much. I suppose I took an old-school photography class back in the day and the lab had that kind of feel. However, I have participated in and even built a few online and face to face learning communities and I have been very interested in how we harness intrinsic interest of students to motivate learning.

It is here where I feel most comfortable – I think this is the idea of the Maker Mindset – tinkering and failing and starting again. I’m new to the more formal theoretical representations of this idea which I believe are tied to bricolage as laid out by Derrida and Levi-Strauss but I feel this kinship in those ideas which seems to also go back to rhizomatic learning for me. I’m still piecing the theory together.

Some resources

So, something feels incredibly spot on in all of this but I also feel a little bit like a fish out of water too. In thinking about all of this in terms of a blog post – rather than diving deep on any particular branch in my thinking I thought it might be best to reflect on some of the shared resources that I got from the gathering. Sort of half blog post half lit/resource review – or perhaps just a really informal lit/resource review – I suppose you will decide. There is no way that I can reflect on all of the resources shared and I’m sure that I will miss several really good ones but these are the ones that I was able to get into a bit enough to have some thoughts about.

Embodied Learning – Michelle Schria Hagerman

I started taking in some of the lit and resources around this trip even before we arrived on site. There was a Slack team created and a channel for resources. Here I became acquainted with Michelle Schria Hagerman from the University of Ottawa and this awesome preprint that she has out about embodied learning in maker environments – which she just released on her blog. This piece has my brain all aflutter about how we think about digital and hybrid spaces and reinforces my belief that all learning is hybrid (nod to Hybrid Pedagogy).

From the piece “You might read this and say: of course our minds and bodies are inextricably dependent on one another. How could this not be the case? Historically, learning scientists have been concerned with higher order cognitive processes such as language, critical thinking, and metacognition, all of which presumably happen in the mind. Proposing that the body is the foundation for higher order thought, that sensory perception is inextricable from abstract cognitive processes, and that humans use the environment to scaffold cognition are relatively new ideas for both psychology and education.

Technology and Learning: A Provocation – Punya Mishra

Once on ground and on the first day we were presented with three provocations. I have to admit some skepticism going in with the first one, which was by TPACK creator Punya Mishra, if for no other reason that it was going to be delivered via a 14 minute video but then…

… Then Punya went ahead and blew me away!

Seriously, this is an awesome reflection on the evolution of thinking in edtech and social learning over the last decade or so and ends with a call for more attempts to understand broader systems and cultures in our work going forward. Seriously, take the 14 minutes to watch this video – you will not be sorry:

Two Resources from the National Equity Project

The second day of the gathering was our big writing day and after some work to define a few projects we broke out for three hours to write and collaborate in our teams. I ended up on a merged group that were separately proposed by Amon Millner and Sundi Richard which attempted to create a Foundations of Equity and Inclusion document that could potentially be used by those who might be proposing (or evaluating) a project to the NSF that included an Equity and Inclusion component.  I don’t want to share the document that we ultimately wrote since we drafted it in just a few hours and it is now in the hands of the project PIs and could go through further revisions but it is basically a list of questions that we drew up using established resources that I would like to share. Both are from the National Equity Project: The Liberatory Design Cards and the Lens of Systemic Oppression. Basically what we did was a journey map of creating a makerspace and then put questions that pertain directly to matters of equity and inclusion to the different stages of development. Some of the questions we made up ourselves but some of them we reworked from these two documents which I found to be a great resource for thinking about .

Random Resource: Phenology

I really love this one so much but it is so random and unstructured I was not sure how to share it other than to simply say it is random and unstructured. Some may say this is not so much a resource but just a passing thought and they would not be wrong. This one did not come from any presentation, conversation, or any shared resource on Slack. It was simply there in Biosphere 2 on several signs and informational kiosks. It is this idea of “Phenology” which is simply the study of the change in life cycle of plants and animals as impacted through seasons (not surprising that stood out to me). It is concerned with questions about why flowers bud and leaves fall etc. but stood out to me in that so many of the learning theories that I’ve come to love are tied to metaphors of nature. Is the learning environment an ecology? Is the story of learning a rhizome? These questions intrigue me but I’m not sure any of them have really accounted for the changing nature of the learner as impacted by a changing learning environment. Could a learning environment have seasons and if so what would that look like and how would those seasons affect a learner depending on where they are at in their own journey? Perhaps that needs to be its own blog post – To every thing…

Several other resources

There are a ton more but I wanted to call out a few really quickly – these were either in the Slack or those that I was putzing around with on my own during this same time that I found overlap with – some of these are on my to read list still yet:

Techno-vernacular creativity, innovation and learning in underrepresented ethnic communities of practice – A dissertation my Nettrice Rosallye Gaskins, Georgia Institute of Technology. Nettrice also gave a provocation about the role of story and of telling the stories of underrepresented populations in makerspaces.

The Inclusive Design Guide from the Inclusive Design Research Center at OCAD University – I posted this one myself after listing to a podcast interview with Jess Mitchell. I love this thing so much as it is filled with practical design perspectives for all kinds of environments. It is a nonlinear resource that you can pick through in all kinds of creative ways.

Making Culture from Drexel University – In-Depth report on makerspaces in K-12 US educational context

Maker Culture has a Deeply Unsettling Gender Problem – from Edsurge

No Textbooks, No Lectures, And No Right Answers. Is this what Higher Education Needs – The Chronicle of Higher Education – Paywalled

A symposium of four articles in Equity and Excellence in Education called Equity in STEM-Rich Making: Pedagogies and Designs – Paywalled

Two resources: an infographic and a white paper – from Techbridge Girls

From Good Intentions to Real Outcomes: Equity by Design in Learning Technologies – by the Connected Learning folks – I do love the CLAlliance folks in general.

Making Through the Lens of Culture and Power: Towards Transformative Visions for Educational Equity – SHIRIN VOSSOUGHI, PAULA K. HOOPER, and MEG ESCUD

Cruel optimism in edtech: when the digital data practices of educational technology providers inadvertently hinder educational equity –  Felicitas Macgilchrist – Paywalled – again this is one that I personally brought to the experience with me but it is a great look at some of the systemic problems surrounding using technology in education.

Digital Identities and “Real” Selves

Well, we are drawing on the end of week 1 around the prompt for Digital Identity in our #DigPINS group and I thought I would check in about my own thoughts on the topic. As a facilitator of the community I can’t promise I’ll have the bandwidth to blog with everyone for every week but digital identity is something that I’m fascinated by and my thinking has been stimulated by all of our conversations and I was inspired to jump in.

Selves and Spaces

Digital identity is an interesting topic to me because it falls in this intersection of who a person is and what impact their environment has on the way they present themselves and how those two realms interact with one another. This is also why I appreciate how the identity week and the networks week in #DigPINS sort of feed into one another.

We like to think that we get to make the choice about who we are and while I think that we have a lot control over defining ourselves I can’t shake how much we are defined by our environments, the roles that we hold, and those that we are surrounded by. 

We like to think that we have the luxury of precisely and specifically defining ourselves for the world but that is never the case. This becomes particularly problematic in thinking about digital identity because there is a plethora of rhetoric both condemning and advocating for presentation of self online that just muddies the waters. 

One side of this paradigm promotes presentation of self, in excess, in as many platforms as possible, toward a complete representation of an authentic self, and holds up this idea as a way to become more in tune with who you are through the connecting with others. This is flawed of course but no better is the other side which sees digital connecting as narcissism and navel gazing at best and demonizes any kind of presentation of self online. 

Active listening

In 1956, Donald Horton and R. Richard Whol published “Mass communication and para-social interaction: Observations on intimacy at a distance” in the journal Psychiatry. Here, they brought in a new concept and term – the parasocial interaction. They observed that there was a one-sided social interaction that spectators could experience with television characters that could begin to feel like a personal relationship to some. If you have ever had a crush on a celebrity or hoped that your favorite TV character might fall in love with another character, you have had a parasocial interaction. 

Parasocial interactions most often are healthy and normal and can even aid in self-development. But for me this begs to ask a question about digital identity. Horton and Whol were looking at connections that spectators were making with people on television but in our modern times so many have the opportunity to create environments where they can be watched and where they try to build an audience. So many who are not professional actors or journalists. I’m sure there is more literature about how spectators of online content creators have parasocial interactions. I need to look into this more but I’m curious how this bleeds together when the content creators are connecting with each other.

Our identities are not just shaped by the digital creations we put out but by how they are received by those who read, view, and consume what we create. I’d like to suggest that as humans we are bigger than what we create. Be we celebrity or low-level education blogger we can’t control every aspect of how our creations will be received. They cannot represent the whole of who we are and yet it seems there persists an expectation that they should. Is this because we are used to parasocial connections that are made with those who are professionals in making content? Are we comparing our digital representations of self to those that have whole production teams behind them?

Real and Authentic Selves

I have a complicated relationship with the way we use the word “real” in online spaces. In terms of digital identity the word “authenticity” is another that gives me pause. It seems that those two narratives that I mentioned before – those two extremes: utopian presentation of self in excess and the other that shuns digital representation – both of these paradigms love to use these words. Both ascribe to the idea that “real” and “authentic” are things that could be simple. Simple as excess of content or lack of content in favor of physicality.

It rings more true for me that our “real” selves are much more complex than we want to admit and that our audiences, friends, and yes even families know us in contexts and environments that align to different presentations of self. That I don’t behave the same way with my family that I would in a job interview or in this blog post is normal and healthy. I think that expectations that we be all things in all contexts are misplaced. 

I recognize that this is dangerous territory,  and I should be clear that I’m not advocating for any of this at a lack of personal integrity. I am advocating for sincerity over authenticity and finding a way to celebrate digital contextualization that is not based in celebrity but in something closer to every-day experiences. It seems that if we can do that anywhere that it would be in learning spaces.  

I’m excited to start week 2 around networks and I’m really grateful that #DigPINS gives us all an opportunity to discuss these concepts. 

This post is cross listed as part of the January 2019 #DigPINS cohort that I helped to facilitate at https://snc.digpins.org/uncategorized/digital-identities-and-real-selves/

Image CC0 Author Foundry from Pixabay

What Do We Owe Students When We Collect Their Data – a response

It has been a few weeks since we issued our #DigCiz call for thoughts on the question “What do we owe students when we collect their data?” and there have been a few responses. The call is in conjunction with the interactive presentation at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference that I’ll be helping to facilitate with Michael Berman, Sundi Richard, and George Station. The session will be focused around breakout discussions both onground and online during the session. We don’t necessarily have “answers” here – the session (and the call) are more about asking the questions and having discussion. The questions are too big for one session and often there are not easy answers; so we released the call early hoping that people would respond before (or after) the session. I’ve yet to respond to it myself so I’m going to attempt to do that in this post.

The #DigCiz Call

We want the call to be open to everyone – even those who don’t know a ton about student data collection and we want people to respond using the tools and mediums that they like. We have had some great examples already and I wanted to thank those who have responded so far. I threw the call out to some of our students at SNC and I was super honored that Erica Kalberer responded with an opinion piece. Erica does not study analytics, she is not a data scientist or even a computer science major. She didn’t do any research for her post and it is an off the cuff, direct, and raw response from a student perspective – which I love.

Additionally, Nate Angell chose to leave a hypothesis annotation on the call itself over at digciz.org.

Nate points out that there are many “we”s who are collecting student data and that students often have no idea who the players are that would want to collect their data let alone what data is being collected and what could be done with it. What do we mean when we ask “What do WE owe students….” Who is this we? Instructional designers may answer these questions very differently than accreditors would, or as librarians would, or even as students themselves would. I hope that by hearing from different constituencies that we can bring together some common elements of concern.

Framing Things Up

I am really intrigued by our question but I also have some issues with it.

The question is meant to provoke conversation and so in many ways it is purposefully vague and broad. It is not just “we” that could be picked out for further nuance. So many simple definitions could be picked out of this question. What is meant by “data” and more specifically “student data”.

What are we talking about here? Is this survey data? Click data from the LMS or other educational platforms. What about passive and pervasive collection that is more akin to what we are seeing from the advertising industry? The kind of stuff that does not just track clicks but tracks my where the cursor moves, the speed of how my cursor moves, where eyes are on a screen, text that has been typed into a form but has not been submitted. What about if we are using wearables or virtual reality? Does the data include biometric information like heart rate, perspiration, etc. Is this personally identifiable information or aggregate data? Some of these examples seem particularly sensitive to me and it seems like they should all be treated differently depending on context.

We could keep going on…. What is meant by “collect”, “students”, “owe”… a whole blog post could be written just about any one of these things.

Another of my issues is that the question assumes that student data will be collected in the first place. I’m setting that issue aside for this call and presentation because if I like it or not I am part of field that is collecting student data all of the time. As an instructional designer I make decisions to use technologies that often track data and to be honest if I wanted to avoid those technologies completely I’m not sure that I could. Over the course of my career faculty and administrators have often come to me asking to use technologies that collect data in ways that I consider predatory. How do I respond? How do I continue to work in this field without asking this question?

People who know me or follow my work know that over the last few years that I have often struggled with considering our responsibilities around student data. Even though I have been thinking about these kind of questions for a few years now I don’t think that I will be able to dive into all of the nuance that any of these could bring. (I want to write all the blogs – but time). So, I just have to resolve that – that is why this is a broader call for reflection and conversation and invite others to respond to the call around things that I may have overlooked.

Though I am still new to this conversation, I’m not so new or naive to think that there are not already established frameworks and policies for thinking about the ethical implications of student data collection. I’ve been aware of the work that JISC has been doing in this area for some time and had just started a deeper dive on some research when I attended the Open Education Conference in Niagara Falls a few weeks ago.

Somehow I missed that there were two important data presentations back to back and though I only caught about ¾’s of the Dangerous Data: The Ethics of Learning Analytics in the Age of Big Data presentation from Christina Colquhoun and Kathy Esmiller from Oklahoma State University, I got the slides for Billy Minke and Steel Wagstaff’s “Open” Education and Student Learning Data: Reflections on Big Data, Privacy, and Learning Platforms which I missed completely.

Both of these presentations looked at different policies and ethical frameworks around using student data which was a goldmine for me. Dangerous Data’s list did not make any claim about quality of the framework’s while the Open Education and Student Learning Data presentation did specifically state that their list was curated for policies that they were impressed by.

Open Education and Student Learning Data listed:

Dangerous Data listed:

My Response

I’ve started reading through the policies and frameworks listed above and while I have not had a chance to dive deep with each one of them, I’ve found a lot of overlap with what I have identified as four core tenets that I believe start answer the question “What do we owe students when we collect their data?” at least for me – for now. I’m personally identifying with “we”s as in instructional designers, college teachers, IT professionals, librarians (as an official wannabe librarian) and institutions – at least on some level.

I’m still learning myself and I could change my mind but for the purposes of this post I’m leaning on these four tenets. I feel like before we even start I need to say that there are times when considering these tenets, in practice, that the answers to the problems that inevitably arise come back as “well, that is not really practical” or “the people collecting the data themselves often don’t know that”. In these cases I suggest that we come back to the question “what do we owe students when we collect their data?” and propose that if we can’t give students what they are owed in collection that we think twice before collecting it in the first place.

I will list these tenets and then describe them a bit.

  • Consent
  • Transparency
  • Learning
  • Value

Consent

This one seems of the most importance to me and I was shocked to see that not all of the policies/frameworks listed above talk about it. I understand that consent is troubled, often because of transparency – more on that in a bit –  but it still strikes me that it needs to be part of the answer.

There is a tight relationship between ownership and consent; there is a need for consent because of ownership. If I own something then I need to give consent for someone else to handle it. But not all of these frameworks recognize that. The Ithaka S+R/Stanford CAROL project, listed above, talks about something called “shared understanding” where they basically envision that student data is not owned solely by the student but is a shared ownership between the school, the vendors, and third parties. In a recent EDUCAUSE Review article some of the framers of the project actually said “the presumption of individual data propriety is wishful thinking”. This, after they put the word “their” in scare quotes (“their” data) when referring to people being in a place of authority around the data about them. Ouch!

I mean I get what they are doing here. One looks at the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal and says “oh how horrible” but their response is: you are a fool not to realize that it is happening all of the time. And maybe I am a fool but I still think it is horrible. The article points to big tech firms, how much data they already have about us, and how much money they have made with those data and uses it as a justification. But here is the thing, we are talking about students not everyday users. I think that makes a difference.

In another EDUCAUSE Review article Chris Gilliard points out the extractive nature of web platforms and the problems of using them with students. What of educational platforms? Is it really okay to import the same unethical issues that we have with public web platforms into our learning systems and environments? I’m comforted that most, if not all, of the other frameworks listed above and those that I’ve come across over the years do understand the importance of consent and ownership.

I’ve read broader criticisms of the notion of consent that I found quite persuasive by Helen Nissenbaum (Paywalled – sorry) but even she does not abandon consent completely. Rather she points out that consent alone, in and of itself, is not the answer. We need more than just consent – especially now when our culture grants consent so easily and thoughtlessly. Nissenbaum’s criticisms of consent are in thinking of it as a free pass into respectful data privacy. But here I’m thinking of consent in terms of what we owe students – I see it as a starting place and the least of what we owe them.

What do we owe students when we collect their data? We owe them the decency of asking for it and listening if they change their mind.

How we ask for data collection and and how we continue to inform students about how it is changing is not easy to answer and I want to be very careful of oversimplifying this complex issue. I think that, at least in part, it also an issue of my next tenet – transparency.

Transparency

Asking for consent is no good if you are not clear about what you are asking for consent to do and if you are not in communication about how your practices are changing and shifting over time. In the policies and frameworks it seems like transparency is sort of a given – even the guys over at Ithaka S+R/CAROL have this one. We need transparency in asking for consent around data collection as consent sort of implies “informed consent” and we can’t be informed without transparency.  But we also need ongoing transparency of the actual data and of how it is being used.

I found a blog post from Clint Lalonde published after the 2016 EDUCAUSE Annual that pretty much aligns with how I feel about it:

Students should have exactly the same view of their data within our systems that their faculty and institution has. Students have the right to know what data is being collected about them, why it is being collected about them, how that data will be used, what decisions are being made using that data, and how that black box that is analyzing them works. The algorithms need to be transparent to them as well. In short, we need to be developing ways to empower and educate our students into taking control of their own data and understanding how their data is being used for (and against) them. And if you can’t articulate the “for” part, then perhaps you shouldn’t be collecting the data.”

What do we owe students when we collect their data? We owe them a clear explanation of what we are doing with it.

But I actually think that Clint takes things a bit further than transparency at the end of that quote and it is there that I would like to break off a bit of nuance between transparency and learning for my third tenet.

Learning

Providing information is not providing understanding and while I can concede that in consumer technologies providing information for informed consent is enough, I think that we have an obligation to go further in education and especially in higher education. We have an obligation because these are students and they have come to us to learn. While they will learn from “content” they will learn a lot more from the experience of the life that they lead while they are with us. If that life is spent conforming and complying to data collection practices that they don’t understand and never comprehend the benefit of then, at best, they will graduate thinking all data collection is normal and they will be vulnerable to data collection practices from bad actors.

Of course this means that we ourselves need to better understand the data that we are collecting. It means that we need to know what is being collected and how it can be used ourselves before we start putting students through experiences where this is happening inside of a black box.

Inside of institutions we need to know what our vendors are doing. We need to create and articulate clear expectations about how we view the responsibilities of vendors around privacy and security. We need to vet their privacy and security policies and continue to check on them over time to see if any of those policies have changed. We need to build a culture of working with reputable companies. Then, we need to build that into the curriculum through increased digital, data, and web literacy expectations.

What do we owe students when we collect their data? We owe them an understanding, an education, about what their data are; what they mean; and what can be done with them.

Collectively, as teachers, librarians, instructional designers, administrators, product developers, institutions, etc. it seems that we will always have a leg up on this though – we will always be in a position of power over students. And so my final tenet has to do with the value of the outcome of data collection.

Value

Finally, if we are collecting student data I think that we should be doing if for reasons where we believe that the benefits to the student outweigh the potential costs to the student. This means putting the student first in the equation of what, when, why and how of student data collection.

I also need to be clear that I’m not talking about a license to forgo consent, transparency, and learning because it is believed that the best interest of the student are in intended. This is not an invitation to become paternalistic or to do whatever we want in the name of value.

My point being that the stakes are too high to be collecting student data for the heck of it, or because the system just does that and we are too busy to read the terms of service, or because someone is just wondering what we could do with it. If we have data we should be using the data to benefit students. If we are not using it we should have parameters around storage and yes even eventual deletion.

Collecting student data makes it possible to steal or exploit those data; while we can take precautions and implement security measures no data are as secure as data that were never collected in the first place and, to a lesser extent, data that were deleted. If we are going to collect student data then we have to do something of value with it. Having piles of data stored on systems that no one is doing anything with is wasteful and dangerous. If there is not a clear value in collecting data from students then it should not be collected. If student data has been collected and is not serving any purpose that is valuable to students and no one can envision a clear reason why it will hold value in the future then maybe we should discuss deleting it.

Amy Collier speaks to how data collection can particularly impact vulnerable students in Digital Sanctuary: Protection and Refuge on the Web? (at the end of which she presents seven strategies that you should also read – no really, go read them right now – I’ll wait). Collier starts with a quote from Mike Caulfield’s Can Higher Education Save the Web?

“Caulfield noted: “As the financial model of the web formed around the twin pillars of advertising and monetization of personal data, things went awry.” This has created an environment that puts students at risk with every click, every login. It disproportionately affects the most vulnerable students: undocumented students, students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and students who live in or on the edges of poverty. These students are prime targets for digital redlining: the misuse of data to exclude or exploit groups of people based on specific characteristics in their data.

What do we owe students when we collect their data? We owe them an acknowledgement and explanation that we are doing something that will bring value to them with those data.

Summation – Trust

Policy is great but I think taboo is stronger.

I can’t get that power difference out of my head. I mean it is like the whole business model of education – knowledge is power and we have more knowledge than you but if you come to us we can teach you. There is this trust to it; this assumption of care. We will teach you – not, we will take advantage of you. And to offer that with one hand and exploit or make vulnerable with the other – yeah…

I’ve been working in educational technology for fifteen years and when I first started there was very little that I heard about ethics. Security, sure – privacy… that was a thing of the past, right? It seems that we are starting to see some repercussions now that are making us pause and I’m hearing more and more about these things.

Still, I see these conversations happening in pockets and while I’m seeing lots of new faces there are ones that are consistently absent. I wonder about new hires just entering the field, especially those in schools with little funding, and what kind of exposure they are given to thinking about these implications. I wonder if a question like “what do we owe students when we collect their data?” ever even comes up for some of them.

There is a whole myriad of issues that are now coming to light around surveillance and data extraction. What is happening to trust in our communities and institutions as we try to figure all of this out? 

Perhaps more than anything, what we owe students when we collect their data is a relationship deserving of trust.

Don’t forget

So, don’t forget, the #DigCiz call is open for you to respond how you see fit. Share your creation/contribution on the #DigCiz tag on twitter or in the comments on the #DigCiz post.

We go live Friday, November 2nd at 10 AM Eastern Time with a twitter chat and a video call into the session. Please join us!

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Thanks go out to Chris Gilliard, Doug Levin, Michael Berman, and George Station, all of whom offered feedback on various drafts of this post.

Photo by Taneli Lahtinen on Unsplash