New Technologies and Ethics in educational research

Filed Under (Events, General, Research) by ronan on 04-04-2014

Professor Luciano Floridi at the BERA seminar March 2014

Prof. Luciano Floridi at the BERA seminar 13/03/2014



I attended a recent BERA (British Educational Research Association) event which looked in the main at new technologies and ethics. The outline for the day noted: “For those who engage in research in learning technology there are codes and guidelines for best practice in research ethics from professional bodies such as the British Educational Research Association and the American Educational Research Association.  These cover the researchers’ responsibilities to the participants in their research, to their sponsors and the wider community and to those who publish and disseminate their work.”

The keynote presentation – and it really was keynote – was from Professor Luciano Floridi Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, and Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford.  Floridi’s books include: The Fourth Revolution – How the infosphere is reshaping human reality (OUP, 2014), The Ethics of Information (OUP, 2013), The Philosophy of Information (OUP, 2011), The Cambridge Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics (editor, CUP, 2010), which I recall reviewing some time ago and Information: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2010). I was interested to hear Prof. Floridi explain the challenges associated with data protection as an ethical issue and particularly pleased to get his view on the emerging challenges around big data in the education context.
One of the areas for discussion was the identity of groups (of people) and how we might treat such groups in relation to how the individual is treated vis-a-vis privacy laws and information disclosure. The problem is that groups are transient in nature, may come together for a brief period of time or may have a long history. Also groups can be self-selecting or one may find oneself included in a group against one’s will.  Of course technology enables data to be manipulated in many ways and can be seen both as empowering the individual and as a threat, this compounds significantly the ethical challenges.

The abstract of Prof. Floridi’s talk is outlined below.

In education research, the analysis of large datasets (Big Data) has become a major driver of innovation and success. However, the use of Educational Big Data (EBD) raises serious ethical problems, which may threaten the significant opportunities it offers. The risk is that of a double bottleneck: ethical mistakes or misunderstandings may lead to distorted legislation, which may cripple the usability of Big Data in educational research and practice. In this talk, I clarify what the nature of Big Data is and how it leads to a group of ethical problems that are either unprecedented, or at least utterly renewed. In the end, I shall argue that we should invest in the development of a national framework for the ethical use of EBD.”


Leave a Reply