Dean of Learning

Ethics in an information age

In the last two weeks Years 7 and 10 have been issued with new Windows 10 laptops and of course we want them to look after their device and use the carry case that was provided for them. Perhaps what is more important is that we want all students  to look after themselves and each other as they make positive use of technology in learning.

Dr David Tuffley and Dr Amy Antonia in the Australian Quarterly in 2016 encourage us to reflect on the ethical use of technology in an article examining “Ethics in an information age”.  The author’s acknowledge that good technology is life affirming but there are pitfalls to consider of which two are significant for our students.  In building the argument about these pitfalls and how to manage them they set the scene by suggesting we reflect on this example. 

“A hammer, for example, can be used constructively or destructively according to the intention of the user.”

The first area to consider is privacy, and where do we draw the line between public and private.  In the real world there is often a clear demarcation between public and private space.  However, in this physical world the line is becoming grey. For example, now the police can drive past our cars, scan our number plates and in some cases  know more about us than we do; for example, if we have forgotten to pay our car registration. The authors ask the question: “How soon till face recognition technology can be applied to people walking in public spaces?”  It is probably happening now and we do not know it, reflecting the view there is a degree of sacrificing privacy for our safety. 

Secondly, another space to watch is in relation to intellectual property and copyright. The internet can be viewed as a big copying machine and it is so easy to access digital resources. At school we work on developing skills of selectively accessing information, note taking and referencing other peoples’ ideas.  Do we model ethical behaviour in relation to other aspects of intellectual property? For example, are we aware of and do we act upon bit torrent downloads of movies and do we consider the alternative of a more ethical stance of paying under $10 per month for commercially available movie streaming services?

As a school in the classroom and during conversation periods we speak about and present on the ethical use of technology discussing many issues including privacy and intellectual property.  Our message is outlined in the framework of Digital Pathways at Loreto where we look at a student’s digital footprint, digital reputation, digital citizenship, digital resource management and digital leadership.  Much stems from the appropriate use of technology and Dr Tuffley and Dr Antonia provide a three prong approach to test for the ethical use of technology. Firstly, before you start something with technology ask yourself  would it be alright if everyone did it? Secondly, is what I am going to do going to harm or dehumanise anyone even if I don’t know or will never meet them?  Finally, do I have informed consent of those who will be affected?

The answers are self evident in relation to what is ethical behaviour, however, in practice our collective responsibility is to help our students  to ask these questions to promote ethical and safe use of technology for their learning and life.

 

Mr Martin Pluss

Dean of Learning