In my work in the field of educational technology or TEL (technology-enhanced education), questions of values and ethics arise much more than one might expect. For example: is it right to collect data on students, data such as when they use the gym and when they leave the library, and use that data to make inferences about them, without their explicit knowledge and permission… or even with their permission? Current interest and new capability in learner analytics is bringing such ethical questions to the fore. Another example: in my involvement with the open educational movement, I had to consider awkward questions such as: are CC-copyrighted and open-source materials in iTunes U “open” since they are collected in a corporate-funded cloud and served out by corporate-created software? Does the involvement of the corporation negate the “open” even if materials are CC and open source? It could be argued that giving out such materials everywhere in the world — especially in countries where other such platforms are banned — is taking an emancipatory stance. But it’s all about the corporation’s bottom line, of course, and so the questions continue.
Yesterday I attended Leicester Medical School’s Medicine Day, and heard inspiring talks from health care workers who had seemingly put aside both profit and health to travel to areas of great need and to help satisfy the need. And sometimes TEL plays a major part. One doctor described how access to technologically-simple e-learning material helped indigenous community health care workers dramatically increase knowledge and skill to treat sight problems, compared to receiving only traditional teaching.
Dr David Nott (pictured above) of Medicine San Frontier and Syrian Relief told us how once, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he was faced with a boy dying from a gangrenous infection. All the doctor had was a pint of blood, a basic operating theatre, and his mobile phone. He had never done the type of amputation which he believed would save the boy’s life, so he texted his colleague in London who was expert in such operations. The colleague immediately texted back succinct instructions, which David understood and followed, and the boy recovered. I’ve never heard of a clearer example of TEL use for good.
I’m currently writing a dissertation for my masters in International Education (by distance, with the University of Leicester School of Education — I recommend this course). I now wish I had chosen a project on the topic of emancipatory TEL. Maybe that will be a future study.
Terese Bird, Educational Designer, Leicester Medical School