Exploration versus Exploitation

Before enrolling in the MALAT program I had never heard of the term MOOCs. And until my teammates and I selected a MOOC, from Coursera, as our learning activity, I had never enrolled in one either. It quickly became apparent that MOOCs are indeed massive, which is only matched by the enormity of critical issues that can be explored in the study of this learning environment. During my initial research and analysis phase it emerged that there are many topics that are important to consider. But what resonated most strongly for me was the issue of  privacy and security as they relate to our digital presence.

The dilemma, of course: is how do we engage in the richness that the Internet offers while keeping ourselves safe from the dangers that are ever present as well? Otherwise the fear of the potential risks of MOOCs, and other valuable learning resources, may actually inhibit learners from taking advantage of them. The big question for me has become: how do we ‘play’ safely in our global learning environment?

With regard to MOOCS, and Coursera, registration consists of your first and last name and an email address, which appears innocuous enough. As Peterson (2015) notes however, “Inside the course […]the data observed is extensive” (para. 8) which may include a user’s IP address and possibly their geographic location. As a potential outcome, the imagined risks become exponentially much more dangerous. But, is the alternative to avoid the Internet all together?  To learn in a bubble? No.

Instead, I believe that as educators, we have an important role to play in helping learners understand what the risks are to better equip them to practice measures to protect their digital identity. Additionally, the protection of learners’ private information should be regulated exactly the same, regardless of the learning environment. In that, only what is necessary data should be collected (Marshall, 2014). Just because the online environment affords us the opportunity to acquire significant amounts of data, it does not mean that we should, much less exploit it (Watters, 2014).

References

Photo Retrieved from https://imagineimmortality.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/to-boldy-go/

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Coursera (2020) About page. Retrieved from https://about.coursera.org/

Marshall, S. (2014). Exploring the ethical implications of MOOCs. Distance Education (35)2, 250-262. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01587919.2014.917706

Nissenbaum, H., & Zeide, E. (2018). Learner privacy in MOOCs and virtual education. Theory and research in education 16(3), 280-307. Retrieved from  https://nissenbaum.tech.cornell.edu/papers/Learner%20Privacy%20in%20MOOCs%20and%20Virtual%20Education.pdf

Peterson, R. (2015, January) How MOOCs threaten your privacy. Minding the campus. Retrieved from https://www.mindingthecampus.org/2015/01/22/how-moocs-threaten-your-privacy/

Watters, A. (2014). Convivial tools in an age of surveillance, Chapter 14. In The monsters of education technology. Retrieved from http://hackeducation.com/2014/12/01/the-monsters-of-education-technology

 

6 Replies to “Exploration versus Exploitation”

  1. Hi Sue,
    Thank you for the insightful and thought-provoking topic on security and privacy in the virtual learning environment. More than ever, cyber threats and privacy breaches are critical issues of the digital age. For example, at the organization I work for, the cybersecurity threats have significantly increased due to the pandemic crisis (UHN, personal communication, May, 2020). I think big data and data science are integral components of the digital environment and using data judiciously is important, similarly to what Bates (2020) asserted when he spoke of the rapid use of online learning due to the COVID-19 crisis. There are also been arguments and debates on the neutrality of technology- going back to Clarke and Kozma’s debate if the technology is just merely a vehicle to deliver learning or if it does influence learning. Based on my research on culturally inclusive design, I am leaning more on technology is not neutral. It is influenced by the designers’ and developers’ ideology, perspectives, and values. So, if it is not neutral, there is also the moral dilemma of what data is valuable to make a good and ethical decision.

    Reference
    Bates, T. (2020). Crashing into online learning: a report from five continents – and some conclusions [Blog post]. Online Learning and Education Resources. Retrieved from https://www.tonybates.ca/2020/04/26/crashing-into-online-learning-a-report-from-five-continents-and-some-conclusions/

  2. Hi Sue, I resonate with every point you’ve made. Same here – I never heard of MOOC’s until my first week in the MALAT program and they intrigued me. Coming into the program, security and being so exposed online were points of discomfort for me, but over the past year I’ve become much more comfrtable. I also agree that we must look out for our learners. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sue, privacy and security are certainly a big part of the question of for-profit technology companies, as so much of the value of their technology is not in sales but in student data. The evolution of learning management systems (LMS), for instance, from locally installed applications to a cloud service has drastically changed the picture, opening up the data collected to many uses beyond those required directly by students and educators. Marachi and Quill (2020) would agree with your statement that educators must understand the risks to learners’ private information with the use of learning technologies such as some MOOC learning platforms. Unfortunately, in their words, using the example of the Canvas LMS, “…institutions of higher education are currently ill-equipped to protect students and faculty required to use the Canvas Instructure LMS from data harvesting or exploitation. We challenge inevitability narratives for blind adoptions of such systems and call for greater public awareness among members of college and university communities concerning the use of predictive behavioral and learning analytics, the impact of algorithmic bias, the need for algorithmic transparency, and enactment of both ethical and legal protections for users who are required to use such software platforms in educational settings” (p. 419).

    This topic is a big one and ripe for more critical inquiry. I would be onside with the inclination that technology is not neutral, and as Sharon notes and Susan agrees, in fact “is influenced by the designers’ and developers’ ideology, perspectives, and values. So, if it is not neutral, there is also the moral dilemma of what data is valuable to make a good and ethical decision.” In other words, these issues demand informed moral and ethical decisions on the part of educators and institutions, beyond mere efficacy.

    Marachi, R., & Quill, L. (2020). The case of Canvas: Longitudinal datafication through learning management systems. Teaching in Higher Education, 25(4), 418-434. Accessed at https://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/doi/full/10.1080/13562517.2020.1739641

  4. Thank you, Sharon, Susan and Irwin, for sharing your perspectives as they have added so much depth to this topic. In particular, the addition of the moral and ethical responsibilities of educators and institutions in this conversation raises another important aspect. In that the collection of data has moral and ethical implications which may not always be obvious, but does however, instill a responsibility to whomever is collecting the information to protect learners’ privacy. As Marachi and Quill (2020) state, “Educational leaders can choose to require stronger data protections, or to discontinue harmful contracts with edtech products that exploit user data” (p. 431).

    With regard to the issue of the neutrality, or lack of, in technology, I would agree with both Sharon and Irwin. However, I do believe this is an inherent bias in ALL educational environments, which are “…influenced by the designers’ and developers’ ideology, perspectives, and values” regardless of their delivery model. That said, with the aid of technology, the balance tips ever more so in a direction that is less controlled by human interpretation, in favour of the manipulation that artificial intelligence allows us. In so doing, we risk empowering our machines to make our decisions. However, it is not a technological problem, it is instead, a political one (Watters, 2014) that must be addressed at its source, rather than as a separate, symptomatic ailment. I believe the solution must be a holistic approach to a system that is comprised of many moving parts. A system that at its core is about the evolution of education, elevating the learners’ experience and the ever present, albeit unfortunate, by products of exploitation, and power.

    Reference
    Marachi, R., & Quill, L. (2020). The case of Canvas: Longitudinal datafication through learning management systems. Teaching in Higher Education, 25(4), 418-434. Accessed at https://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/doi/full/10.1080/13562517.2020.1739641

  5. Hey Sue,

    Thanks for your thoughts on the potential ethical ramifications to think about in regards to MOOCs. Your comment on educators being responsible to help students understand the risks involved with MOOCs was of particular interest to me. Marshall (2014) spoke about the risk of educators curtailing their instruction to their “individual academic passion or interest that have not been viable within traditional university programs” (p. 253). This idea of MOOCs being a vessel of detailed individual research is something I have seen at Universities firsthand. I would be curious to your thoughts on that? Marshall (2014) elaborates on his comment but making the ethical claim that “academics need to be clear that [by teaching on their individual area of study/research] they are introducing a personal bias or position that needs to be carefully considered by potential students and clearly apparent to third parties…” (p. 253). The idea that ones individual area of study and/or passion can be of an ethical concern is news to me. MOOCs can be unique in terms of topics and sometimes be directly related to one’s own personal area of academic passions. I believe the takeaway message is that MOOCs, as learning tools, are multifaceted in general and require ethical considerations before starting. Thanks for your insights.

    Marshall, S. (2014). Exploring the ethical implications of MOOCs. Distance Education (35)2, 250-262. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01587919.2014.917706

  6. Thank you Mark for sharing your thoughts and posing a very provocative question for me to think about. On some level I was certainly recognizing that Marshall (2014) was shining a light on the potential use of a MOOC as a platform for personal expression. Your comments served to highlight Marshall’s findings in the realm of academic integrity more concretely than I had originally perceived. Thank you for raising a salient point that underlines the importance of the ethical considerations of educators utilizing MOOCs. It is an interesting aspect that may find its way into my final paper!

    Nissenbaum and Zeide (2018) identify yet another layer to this complex issue “With privacy as the lens, this article highlights problematic dimensions of virtual learning platforms, which fashion themselves as education providers while shaking off the normative and regulatory constraints of traditional educational institutions” (p. 280).

    Much to ponder for sure.
    Sue

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.