Monday, December 6, 2010

What Have We Learned?

"More and more educators are tapping into the power of digital media and technology for teaching and learning. The variety of information resources available online is simply staggering. Teachers and students are using the power of social media to promote students' active engagement, critical thinking and literacy skills" (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/resources/teachers/).

Undoubtedly, technology has the ability to change the way that teachers teach and students learn. Technology has the ability to appeal to students with different interests and abilities by motivating them to learn using visual, auditory, and kinestetic learning modalities. With properly integrated technology use in education, failing schools can become an extinct concept. For example, one moving example of how technology can transform teaching and learning watch the following video about How Google Changed a School (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/resources/teachers/):

video

The goal of this blog was to make readers more aware of the ethical issues associated with the important and ever growing topic of using technology in education. These issues include accessibility to electronic data and information, copyright issues, internet use and censorship, cyber bullying, and the use of social networks. In each post, information on a specific important ethical issue was presented, with links to resources for more information for individuals who are responsible for using, implementing, or overseeing technology in education because these issues require schools leaders to make good decisions and implement appropriate procedures and/or policies when tough issues related to technology in education arise on a daily basis.

In education, school administrators are often expected to be the school leaders. Yet, with regards to technology use in education, "Ethical Decision Making Occurs at All Levels of the System" (Professor Christopher Unger, Northeaster University). As shown in the blog posts below, many individuals are responsible for providing leadership to students when it relates to ethical behavior related to technology in education. Teachers, parents, students, and others are involved in implementing the policies and procedures to ensure ethical behavior. After all, technology will continue to evolve, and the specifics of the related issues will change. However, the necessity for teachers, parents, and school administrators to teach their students how to behave with the new technologies will not change.


Levels of Ethical Decision Making by Professor Chris Unger, Northeastern University


The following Ten Commandments For Computer Ethics, developed by Arlene Rinaldi for computer network users at Florida Atlantic University, are a good guideline for teachers, administrators, and students (http://thilina.gunarathne.org/2006/06/ten-commandmentsd-for-computer-ethics.htm):

  1. Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.

  2. Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work.

  3. Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's files.

  4. Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.

  5. Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.

  6. Thou shalt not use or copy software for which you have not paid.

  7. Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without authorization.

  8. Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output.

  9. Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you write.

  10. Thou shalt use a computer in ways that show consideration and respect.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Ethics of Facebook


The statistics on the popularity of social media networks is staggering. The social networking website Facebook, for example, reports that it currently has more than 500 million active users, fifty percent of which log on to website each day. Furthermore, people spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. (http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics)

Initially, Facebook was a website utility that allowed users to connect with other individuals subscribing to the service. However, it has evolved and individuals or organizations are able to create pages promoting something that they care about on Facebook. As a result, Facebook users are now using the website to do things like promote their business, promote a cause for which they are passionate, or promote an event.

With statistics like these, it is apparent that many educators and students are using Facebook, and they are using it often. Today's students find Facebook to be an engaging and useful tool. As a result, many educators have started using Facebook for educational purposes. "Teachers can utilize Facebook for class projects, for enhancing communication, and for engaging students in a manner that might not be entirely possible in traditional classroom settings" (http://www.onlinecollege.org/2009/10/20/100-ways-you-should-be-using-facebook-in-your-classroom/). For example, teachers can create a Facebook page to share multimedia with their class. Or, students can use a class Facebook page to brainstorm and share ideas with their classmates and instructor. Example of some other very innovative ideas for ways to use Facebook in an educational setting can be found at 100 Ways You Should Be Using Facebook in Your Classroom. Facebook itself also has a page regarding can best use Facebook. Visit http://www.facebook.com/education to see examples of topics that include setting up blogs for kids, social networking tips for teachers, and ways that specific Facebook games reward the brain.

Some critics have pointed out potential ethical problems with using Facebook in education. For example, a 2009 New York Times column by "The Ethicist" titled A Facebook Teaching Moment (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/magazine/05FOB-ethicist-t.html) discusses a teacher who became privy to her student's underage drinking after connecting with them on Facebook. Similarly, in November 2010, the St. Petersburg Times published an article about a Florida "High School English teacher and cheerleading coach who resigned this fall after buying a "morning-after" contraceptive for a student and having inappropriate Facebook discussions with the girl's boyfriend" (http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/plant-city-high-teacher-resigned-after-accusations-she-gave-student-a/1133893).

Some of the ethical and privacy issues related to using Facebook in education are addressed in at the websites below, which provide educators with best practices for using Facebook in education are:


Educators who use social networking in their classrooms must make good decisions when it comes to using social media in their classroom. In other words, they must remember that teachers are in leadership roles in the eyes of their students, and they are often held to higher standards than people in other professions because they should be role models for their students.

In the case of Facebook, users sometimes feel a sense of anonymity while on Facebook because they aren't face-to-face with anyone. They feel a sense of comfort, and an ability to share things that they wouldn't necessarily share if they were actually face-to-face. However, teachers must remember that they are ethical leaders.

Dr. Chris Unger, Professor of Education at Northeastern University said in his lecture on Big Ideas on Ethical Decision Making for Educational Leaders, "Decisions are driven by what's inside us, but shaped by our context." In other words, the decisions that teachers make are based on their beliefs, knowledge, and prior experiences. However, they are also influenced by the context of the situation as it presents itself. Therefore, whether or not educators decide to use Facebook in the classroom is in somewhat irrelevant because they must be conscious of trying to make the best decisions that they can in all of the different situations that they encounter.


Contexts of Ethical Decision Making by Professor Chris Unger, Northeastern University

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cyber Ethics and Cyber Bullying

The internet and related technologies give students the ability to access an infinite amount of information, often without leaving their bedroom or classroom. Much of the information is informative, age appropriate information that will help students to learn and grow. However, the internet also contains information that is inappropriate for students to view.

Sometimes, the inappropriate content is a website with pornographic content or hate speech. Other times, the inappropriate content is a result of individuals who virtually make hateful or hurtful comments towards specific individuals, some of whom are students. When the hateful and hurtful remarks become hostile and repeated, it is often referred to as "cyber bullying."

Bullying existed long before modern technologies developed. But, the ability to bully someone electronically has seemed to increase the occurrences and severity of bullying. "Online, people can feel invisible and capable of doing things they normally wouldn't do in person or in public - things that they know might be wrong" (www1.cyfernet.org/conffav/05-09-Varnadoe-Cyberbully-WS.ppt).
Located below are graphs, taken from the Cyberbullying Research Center (http://www.cyberbullying.us/research.php), that show how common cyber bullying incidents have become. The graphs represent a visual display of research regarding the current number cyber bullying victims and the current number of cyber bullying occurrences.






























When speaking about cyber bullying versus traditional bullying in the video below, Bill Modzeleski, the Director of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools for the US Department of Education, said "Cyberspace provides us with cover, it provides us with anonymity, it provides us the ability to research many, many, many more people. I think those two issues are the significant issues between bullying, traditional bullying where I have to look at you square in the eye and where basically I have to be part of the bullying equation where I have to be stronger than you to have that doesn't always have to be the case with cyber. We have kind of changed the equation because now, because of the anonymity of the internet and other forms of cyberspace I can bully almost anyone. I can name call. I can rumor monger."
(
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmjoDK0LZwI&feature=related)




"As the Internet becomes an indispensable tool for everyday life, it is more important than ever to dust off the concept of "citizenship" and "ethics" and apply it to the online world" (
www1.cyfernet.org/conffav/05-09-Varnadoe-Cyberbully-WS.ppt). First, parents must educate their children on appropriate behavior and also teach their children what to do if they become involved in a cyber bullying incident. Second, teachers and administrators must be aware of the problem and be able to take actions that will both teach their student how to protect themselves and how to avoid being a victim or perpetrator of cyber bullying. After all, as Ernie Allen, President & CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children said "The reality is school administrators, schools systems, are liable to all kinds of behavior in their schools....We hope that administrators will recognize and realize that when kids are online, their in public and there are risks, and you should prepare for the kinds of risks that kids will face in your school online, just as you would any other sort of risk. That means having appropriate policies in place, training teachers and staff about those policies, communicating clearly in words and language that parents and kids understand what acceptable use is." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmjoDK0LZwI&feature=related)

Suggestions for policies and/or information for training is readily available. For example, the following sites are all examples of places where schools and/or parents could find information to help.
As our kids go online in increasing numbers no matter what the electronic medium, cyber ethics is a critical lesson, especially since poor e-habits can start at an early age. (www1.cyfernet.org/conffav/05-09-Varnadoe-Cyberbully-WS.ppt) Yet, admittedly, "the balancing act is to protect our kids without going so far overboard that we're so protective that we don't allow our children to engage in the effective use of the cyberspace tools that we have" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmjoDK0LZwI&feature=related)








Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Digital Divide

Undoubtedly, we are living in a digital age. The internet has enabled those of who own internet accessible computers and related technology to have the ability to access limitless information right at our fingertips. Email, text, and video chat are just a few of the capabilities of many of the current computers or handheld devices. Technology is becoming more and more common and, as a society, we are becoming more and more dependent on our digital devices. After all, almost all businesses, schools, and/or government agencies are now requiring anyone seeking information to access their website.

Yet, even though society is becoming more and more reliant on computers and their related technologies, there are many inequities that exist with ownership and use of these technologies. This inequity, dubbed the "digital divide" is most commonly defined as the gap between those individuals and communities that have, and do not have, access to the information technologies that are transforming our lives" (http://www.edutopia.org/digital-divide-where-we-are-today).

Although the digital divide often refers to the actual ownership of or access to current technologies, there is also another important component to the digital divide. That is, the nation not only divided in the ownership and access to current technologies, it is also divided in the ability of people to effectively use the technology. Sometimes, users have limited proficiency and are able to get some minimal benefits through the use of the technologies. Other time, users have non existent skill and are unable to use and benefit from the technology.

Many factors contribute to the digital divide in education. The most obvious one probably relates to the cost of technology. In public schools, districts that have committed to the importance of infusing technology into the curriculum and ensured adequate funding generally have more hardware, more software, and better internet access than schools that lack the funding to purchase adequate technologies for their students.

Another reason for the digital divide is students who have "technophobic" or disinterested teachers. These students do not have the opportunity to utilize the technologies at school. As a result, some are often more hesitant to utilize technologies that will benefit their learning on their own. Others do not understand the disconnect between their technology use outside of school with their technology use inside the school. One Pew Internet Research study actually said that "Students report that there is a substantial disconnect between how they use the Internet for school and how they use the Internet during the school day and under teacher direction. For the most part, students’ educational use of the Internet occurs outside of the school day, outside of the school building, outside the direction of their teachers" (http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2002/The-Digital-Disconnect-The-widening-gap-between-Internetsavvy-students-and-their-schools/Summary-of-Findings.aspx?view=all)

When the students who reported the disconnect between home internet usage and school internet access were questioned on suggested ways to improve the usage, they suggested "that professional development and technical assistance for teachers are crucial for effective integration of the Internet into curricula" (http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2002/The-Digital-Disconnect-The-widening-gap-between-Internetsavvy-students-and-their-schools/Summary-of-Findings.aspx?view=all) However, a 2008 report by the National Education Association (NEA) reported that only nineteen states had technology requirements as part of the requirements for teacher certification (http://www.ehow.com/about_6588824_role-information-technology-teacher-education.html).

Many critics dismiss the idea of a digital divide. Specifically, these critics believe that technology is equally accessible to all United States households. However, the Pew Research Center recently published a report summarizing the results of technology ownership and usage in United States households. The report, which was published on November 24, 2010 reports that higher income households use the internet more frequently and own more desktop computers, laptops, ipods and related technologies, e-book readers, tablet computers, and gaming systems than lower income households. Additionally, the report states that the "well off" are more likely to use the internet at home and are also more likely to have home access to a broadband internet connection. (http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Better-off-households/Overview.aspx)

The graph below, taken from the previously mentioned Pew Research Center's report, shows the differences between the income levels. It also clearly shows the large discrepancies between the top income earning households and the lowest income earning households.


"At present, most of society’s attempts to decrease the widened inequalities that new
educational technologies could create are centered on access and literacy. In schools that serve
disadvantaged and at-risk populations, extra efforts are made to increase the amount of
computers and communications available. Similarly, educators and learners in have-not situations are given special training to ensure that they are literate in information tools, such as web browsers. To compensate for more home-based technology in affluent areas, many feel that our best strategy is providing teachers and students in low socioeconomic status areas with additional technology to “level the playing field” (Coley, Cradler, & Engel, 1997)." http://www.virtual.gmu.edu/pdf/ASCD.pdf

The noticeable differences in access and usage create some ethical questions. For instance, since the differences have been repeatedly documented, shouldn't we act to correct these disparities? Don't we owe it to our students to ensure equity of access and acquisition of critical skill that are undoubtedly necessary in today's technological lifestyle and business environment? Why isn't more being done?

In a lecture for Northeastern University, Professor Christopher Unger said that "Ethical decisions are multi-layered." In relation to ethical issues associated with the "digital divide," it is true that the associated decisions are multi-layered. For example, state and government officials need to mandate technology proficiency for teachers and technology integration into existing lesson plans. Government officials and taxpayers need to advocate for adequate budgets to support the purchase of the actual technologies, along with the money needed to adequately prepare the teachers. Parents and students need to advocate for the existence of, and usage of technology, in all schools. Teachers need to commit to mastering use of current technologies and also commit to using technology in their lessons as often as possible. Parents also need to do their best to provide their children with appropriate technologies and also encourage their use. Working together, all stakeholders can implement change for the better!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ethics and Internet Censorship

The first amendment of the United States Constitution awards citizens with the freedom of speech and expression. However, the amendment does not protect every form of speech. Specifically, it does not protect against obscene speech, defamation, or incitement of panic (ie. yelling "fire" in a crowded room).

The Internet has made access to all types of information very easy. While the first amendment ensures that adults have a right to both post and access websites that include pornography or hate speech, the issue is complicated by childrens' access to the internet. Most people feel that it is unethical to allow children access to pornographic or obscene material and that it should be censored. However,since it is currently impossible to check proof of age via the computer, the censoring of the material would mean that it would be censored for adults also. Civil rights activists generally argue against the restriction, saying that parents need to be responsible for monitoring what their children access. Those who believe that information should be censored believe that it is impossible to for parents to monitor their children because they are not always present and because pornographic or obscene material is sometimes inadvertently accessed while looking for apppropriate material.

The government has tried to regulate the issue on several occasions. In 1995, the government passed the Communications Decency Act (CDA), aimed to protect children from online pornography. However, critics argued that the act had broad language and vague definition of indecency. In 1997, the Communications Decency Act was found unconstitutional. Then, in 1998, the government passed the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). It applied to communication for commercial purposes and imposed penalties for exposing minors to harmful material on the web (http://www.auburn.edu/~fordfn1/ethic05.ppt). In 2004, it was found unconstitutional.

"The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is a federal law enacted by Congress to address concerns about access to offensive content over the Internet on school and library computers. CIPA imposes certain types of requirements on any school or library that receives funding for Internet access or internal connections from the E-rate program – a program that makes certain communications technology more affordable for eligible schools and libraries. In early 2001, the FCC issued rules implementing CIPA. Schools and libraries subject to CIPA may not receive the discounts offered by the E-rate program unless they certify that they have an Internet safety policy that includes technology protection measures. The protection measures must block or filter Internet access to pictures that are: (a) obscene, (b) child pornography, or (c) harmful to minors (for computers that are accessed by minors). Before adopting this Internet safety policy, schools and libraries must provide reasonable notice and hold at least one public hearing or meeting to address the proposal. Schools subject to CIPA are required to adopt and enforce a policy to monitor online activities of minors. Schools and libraries subject to CIPA are required to adopt and implement an Internet safety policy addressing: (a) access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet; (b) the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications; (c) unauthorized access, including so-called “hacking,” and other unlawful activities by minors online; (d) unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors; and (e) measures restricting minors’ access to materials harmful to them." (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/cipa.html)

As a result of CIPA, most schools and libraries utilize some sort of Internet filter. These filters work in different ways but, most commonly, they generally block access to websites by blocking specific website addresses, blocking keywords that are associated with unacceptable websites, and/or utilizing dynamic content filtering, which uses artificial intelligence to analyze the website immediately before it is displayed. But, because none of these filtering options is full proof, most schools and libraries also require users to sign an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that clearly delineates acceptable behavior when searching the Internet.

But, as Doug Johnson's website so perfectly states: "Schools in which students consistently practice safe and ethical behaviors don’t just happen. The relative newness of the Internet itself and almost daily new resources on it lead to uncertainty about its use by both students and teachers. Just having an Acceptable Use Policy, an Internet filter and a set of restrictions as long as one’s arm, does not insure students will use the Internet well.


A good approach to teaching ethical values in relation to internet searching should:
  1. Articulate personal values. Talk to your students about what you believe to be ethical conduct online. Set clear limits about what is allowed and what is not allowed. Be knowledgeable about your school’s Acceptable Use Policy. Make sure your labs, libraries and display lists and have available handouts of conduct codes.
  2. Build student trust. In the example above, I hope that Ms. Hanson gave Jennifer the benefit of the doubt that accessing the page was accidental and used the incident to teach some strategies about using clues in search result findings to discriminate between relevant and non-relevant sites. Using humor and understanding will go far in helping lessen student anxiety. All educators should make it a goal to build the willingness of their students to discuss ethical dilemmas with them.
  3. Allow students personal use the Internet. If the Internet computers are not being used for curricular purposes, you should allow students to research topics of personal interest (that are not dangerous or pornographic, of course), send email to friends, etc. The best reason for allowing this is that students are far less likely to risk loss of Internet privileges if that means losing access to things that they enjoy.
  4. Reinforce ethical behaviors and react to non-ethical behaviors. Technology use behaviors should be treated no differently than other behaviors - good or bad - and the consequences of such behaviors should be the same. It is important not to overreact to incidents of technological misuse. If a student was caught reading Playboy would you take away all his or her reading privileges?
  5. Model ethical behaviors. All of us learn more from what others do than what they say. The ethical conduct we expect from our students, we ourselves must display. Verbalization of how we personally make decisions is a very powerful teaching tool. It’s useless to lecture about intellectual property when we as adults use pirated software!
  6. Create environments that help students avoid temptations. Computer screens that are easily monitored (no pun intended), passwords not written down or left easily found, and getting into the habit of logging out of secure network systems all help remove the opportunities for technology misuse. Our simple presence is a far more effective means of assuring good behavior than any filtering software.
  7. Encourage discussion of ethical issues. “Cases,” whether from news sources or from actual events from your students’ experiences, can provide superb discussion starters and should be used when young people are actually learning computer skills. Children need practice in creating meaningful analogies between the virtual world and the physical world. How is reading other people’s email without their permission like and unlike reading their physical mail?
  8. Design practice activities on making good ethical choices. Direct teaching of ethics should be a part of your information literacy curriculum. The Allen (Texas) Independent School District has incorporated a program called “Chip and Friends” into its schools. The curriculum includes an hour-long videotape that uses puppets to teach little kids right and wrong online. Deborah Maehs, LMS, from Kingfisher Middle School, Kingfisher OK, offers a plagiarism-prevention plan in workshops for her staff that includes laying the foundation of technology ethics, examining the assignment’s purpose, and teaching the writing process.
  9. Stress the consideration of principles rather than relying on a detailed set of rules. Although sometimes more difficult to enforce in a consistent manner, a set of a few guidelines rather than lengthy set of specific rules is more beneficial to children in the long run. By applying guidelines rather than following rules, young learners engage in higher level thinking processes and internalize behaviors that will continue into their adult lives. Think how wonderfully the Golden Rule applies to so many situations. Children who have internalized such ethical concepts can make good choices whether in the classroom, on the playground, or at home.
  10. Help children understand that ethical behaviors are in their own long-term best interest. Rules of society exist because they tend to make the world a safer, more secure, and more opportunity-filled place.
  11. Assess children’s understanding of ethic concepts. Technology use privileges should not be given until an individual has demonstrated that he or she knows and can apply ethical standards and school policies. Schools need to test appropriate use prior to students gaining online privileges such as email accounts or Internet access. Teachers or librarians should keep evidence of testing on file in case there is a question of whether there has been instruction on appropriate use.
  12. Educate parents about ethical technology use. Through school newsletters, talks at parent organization meetings, and through school orientation programs, librarians can inform and enlist the aid of parents in teaching and enforcing good technology practices.
  13. Be personally knowledgeable about the ethical and safety issues surrounding Internet use. Keep your eyes peeled for articles and stories in both professional journals and the news. New ethical situations regarding schools and technology seem to appear everyday. A current bibliography of books, periodical articles, and websites can be found at .
Ethical instruction needs to be ongoing. A single lesson, a single incident, or a single curriculum strand will not suffice. We must integrate ethical instruction into every activity that uses technology. Good teaching is an ongoing process even, or perhaps especially, in the virtual world." (http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/proactively-teaching-technology-ethics.html)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Privacy Issues and Electronic Student Data


With the popularity of technology, along with the data recording mandates of the No Child Left Behind mandate, schools are collecting and storing data about students and staff. Much of this information is private and needs to be confidential. However, more and more commonly, news stories of serious breaches in security at US schools are being reported. Recent examples of these breaches include, but are not limited to:


  • An error by a tech director at one of Maine’s school districts that exposed various SSNs of school staff at various schools around the state (http://www.pogowasright.org/?p=14906)

Luckily, officials at the National Center for Education Statistics division of the United States Department of Education now realize that the security and confidentiality of electronic school data presents security and ethical issues. On November 10, 2010, they announced that they would begin to offer assistance and guidance regarding guarding student privacy in school data. (http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/11/10/11privacy.h30.html?tkn=QRSFCad/aSMhDXMjqFS5OyU3J9s+/E1KtmZD&cmp=clp-edweek) Marilyn M. Seastrom, the chief statistician and director of the statistical-standards program at the department’s National Center for Education Statistics, believes that “we have laws at the federal level, individual states have their own laws, and we have good data ethics on protecting the privacy of these children” (http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/11/10/11privacy.h30.html?tkn=QRSFCad/aSMhDXMjqFS5OyU3J9s+/E1KtmZD&cmp=clp-edweek). However, she also stated that changes need to be made to the Family Educational Rights Protection Act, or FERPA so that the Act specifically covers the security and confidentially of electronic data files.

On the National Center for Education Statistics website, it elaborates on the importance of ethics with regards to maintaining electronic records. Specifically, it states that:
Each and every day, educators collect and use data about students, staff, and schools. Some of these data originate in individual student and staff records that are confidential or otherwise sensitive. And even those data that are a matter of public record, such as aggregate school enrollment, need to be accessed, presented, and used in an ethically responsible manner. While laws may set the legal parameters that govern data use, ethics establish fundamental principles of "right and wrong" that are critical to the appropriate management and use of education data in the technology age. The exponential growth of information systems that provide ready access to education data—often drawing upon individual student records—has heightened the importance of training data users about their ethical responsibilities regarding how they appropriately access, use, share, and manage education data. Technology makes data readily available to many staff members in an education organization. While improved access helps staff perform their jobs more effectively, it also raises issues about the appropriate use of data because the power to transmit information electronically multiplies the consequences of irresponsible behavior. How much more vulnerable are we to the inappropriate disclosure of information (for example, a student's assessment results, grades, medical history) in the age of downloads, copy and paste, and web posting than we were when cumulative folders could be locked away in a file cabinet? How much easier is it now to create a technically accurate but misleading presentation to policymakers or the public (for example, manipulating the axes on graphs to give the wrong impression about data trends)? Laws may set the legal parameters in which data users operate, but ethics go deeper and are often more stringent—after all, it is usually not illegal to change the axis on a graph, but it is unethical to intentionally represent data in a manner that is likely to be misunderstood." (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/dataethics/introduction.asp)

Furthermore, the Department of Education's website (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2010/dataethics/challenge.asp), give specific suggestions to help data handlers understand and exhibit standards of ethical behavior. Specifically, education organizations should:
  • train staff about their ethical responsibilities;
  • publicize the expectations for ethical behavior;
  • create explicit policies and procedures pertaining to data ethics;
  • state clearly the consequences of unethical behavior; and
  • enforce these rules uniformly so that everyone is accountable.


Useful websites to visit for more information:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Copyright Infringement as it Applies to Students and Teachers


In 1790, the first U.S. Copyright Act was first created by George Washington and enacted by Congress. The statute gave authors of books, maps, and charts ownership of their work for up to 28 years. ("The copyright site") Since then several modifications have been made to copyright laws in order to clarify new situation or technologies. For example, in 1909, Congress amended the law to include sound recordings. In 1998, Congress specifically enacted a Digital Millenium Copyright Act to regulate issues related to digital storage, retrieval, reproduction and display of copyright material. ("The copyright site")

Admittedly, many people don't take copyright protection as seriously as they should. They think that it is legally and ethically acceptable to use someone else's work and "call it their own," especially if they think that they will not be caught or punished for using it. However, abusing copyright law is neither legal or ethical. People who use copyrighted work without permission are sometimes subject to a criminal misdemeanor or felony, prosecutable by the U.S. Department of Justice. (The Library of Congress, 2010)


The "Fair Use Doctrine," initially enacted in 1841 and again amended in 1976, was added to the copyright laws so that people could legally use a portion of copyrighted material if it was for non profit or educational purposes. The fair use component allowed both students and teachers to able to reproduce a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson. However, the fair use law is often misunderstood, and copyright is a significant ethical issue in education. Many teachers and students are misusing other people's work, some purposefully and some not on purpose.

In many ways, technology has made it easier for some copyright laws to be broken. For example, the availability of scanners and high speed copiers have made it possible for teachers to easily copy copyrighted print works for their students. Admittedly, the vast majority of these teachers do not intend to break copyright laws. It is my experience that most teachers who copy copyrighted material copy it because they were unable to acquire funding for the textbook, trade book, magazine, etc. itself. So, to be able to use the work in with their students, they simply copy it using the technology that is available to them.

On August 1, 2010, the New York Times published an article titled "Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/education/02cheat.html). The article argued that today's students don't understand that using words that they didn't write is unethical. In the article, Teresa Fishman of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, says that "“Now we have a whole generation of students who’ve grown up with information that just seems to be hanging out there in cyberspace and doesn’t seem to have an author. It’s possible to believe this information is just out there for anyone to take.” Furthermore, surveys conducted from 2006 to 2010 by Donald L. McCabe of the Center for Academic Integrity and a business professor at Rutgers University showed that about 40 percent of 14,000 undergraduates admitted to copying a few sentences in written assignments. "Perhaps more significant, the number who believed that copying from the Web constitutes “serious cheating” is declining — to 29 percent on average in recent surveys from 34 percent earlier in the decade." (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/education/02cheat.html)

Since software is also copyrighted, it is also important that school personnel ensure that the schools are in compliance with copyright regulations with regards to their digital property. For example, when schools purchase a certain number of copies of a specific software program, they have to be sure not to violate the copyright guidelines and allow installation on more than the allowed number of computers. They must also ensure that district software is not being illegally copied for use outside of the school Similarly, they have to ensure that the school equipment is not being used for activities that violate copyright issues.

At the beginning of this decade, illegal music sharing sites are used by many students in secondary and post secondary schools. They were clear examples of copyright violations and the recording industry attempted to fine students who used them. (See http://www.pcworld.com/article/106959/copyright_cops_target_workplace_schools.html) This "crackdown" helped to stop or greatly diminish the use of many of these music and file sharing websites. Although they are still used by many students, services such as Amazon MP3 and iTunes have become legal options for music sharing.

When making decisions regarding copyright, educational decision makers have to consider several factors. Even though it may be tempting to participate in or allow copyright infringement through the unauthorized duplication of text or electronic media, school decision makers must consider the ethical issues. After all, educators are supposed to be role models for their students. Educator must consider many questions, asking themselves if they are sending the right message through their actions? Also, should someone who is a "teacher" allow themselves or others to take credit for something that they didn't create or buy?

As Dr. Christopher Unger of Northeastern University stated in a lecture for a graduate level Ethics course, "Ethical Decision Making is multi-layered." In other words, when considering ethics in relation to copyright infringement, educators must think about then entire issue and not just what is on the surface. Specifically, teachers cannot allow copyright infringement with regards to print or electronic media. They must look beyond the potential cost savings of copying someone else's work, remembering that the creator undoubtedly put time and effort into their work. As educators, a person's "intellectual property" should be very valuable to them. Additionally, they must remember that if they model inappropriate action in regards to copyright compliance, their students will do the same.



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