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Ethics Challenges & Information

A couple of days ago, I posted a question that was sent to me by Cable in the Classroom concerning our challenges, as educators, in making ethical use of the new world of digital content, and helping our students learn to respect the new information landscape on the grounds of ethics.

The question was:

“What is your greatest challenge in teaching appropriate, ethical use of web-based media to your students?”

..and I asked readers to respond either by commenting on that blog post or by blogging their response and tagging their blog with:

     ethicschallenge

So here’s my response!

Content is becoming increasingly networked, digital, overwhelming.  Perhaps even more crucial to this discussion is the fact that information has become nearly impossible to contain.  You can’t keep it in a book, on a book shelf, in a library, in alphabetical order in an encyclopedia, or even on the top shelf of the magazine rack in your local drug store.  It flows on its own and is called up in ways that would have seemed completely foreign to me when I started teaching and the last half of the last century. 

Due to these changes, I believe that we are challenged, from a point of ethics, in three distinct ways as we seek to adapt what and how we teach in this rapidly changing information landscape.

Information Reliability

First of all, we are challenged by the reliability of information.  So much depends on information today.  It is practically the infrastructure that we run things on, and it is only as valuable and solid as it is true to what we are trying to achieve.  This is why it is now our ethical responsibility, as information consumers, to assure that the information you are using is accurate, reliable, valid, and appropriate to what we are trying the achieve.  It is equally our responsiblity to assure and document that the information we are producing is accurate, reliable, valid, and appropriate.  It’s why my students would be accustomed to my pointing to a paragraph in their writing, or a bulleted item in their presentation and ask, “How do you know that is true?”  It would be a regular part of daily activities that I could challenge them — and that they could challenge me.
Information Ownership
Secondly, the ownership of information has challenged not only students but also teachers, as they, in the spirit of the holy mission we are on as teachers, insist on the right to make use of copyrighted information in their teaching.  In the published-print information environment, it was easy to feel righteous in using information that we had payed for.  However, as we all become content producers and intellectual property owners, we must come to respect that ownership in new ways and for new reasons.  We all work hard to put together and publish our ideas and knowledge.  It is worth, if not money then recognition.  Equally, as we work more and more with information as the raw material of our achievements, it’s value changes, and the need to pay for it, if not with money, then recognition.
Information Infrastructure
Finally, the information infrastructure requires a place in our conversations about information ethics.  The fact is that the wires, routers, servers, airways, satellites, etc. are the infrastructure that we live on, to no less degree than our roads, bridges, and railways — and planting a virus on a network is no different from planting a bomb under a bridge.  Education alone,  invests millions of dollars in software, hardware, staffing, and staff development , all designed to protect our information infrastructure from what is simply unethical use.  The solution is not technical. That is merely a band aid.  The solution is to teach the ethical use of information and its infrastructure as a basic literacy skill, and integrate it into every subject, every lesson, every day of education.
2¢ Worth


Image Citation
Gillespie, Richard. “Information Sign 2.” EdgeNumbers’ Photostream. 30 June 2006. 26 Jan 2007 <http://flickr.com/photos/edgenumbers/178291557/>.

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
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Raw Materials for the Mind
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