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7 Principles for Edtech Ethics: Deliberative Democracy in action

“What principles should govern UTS use of analytics and artificial intelligence to improve teaching and learning for all, while minimising the possibility of harmful outcomes?”

This was the brief for a novel community consultation process which aims to build engagement and trust across diverse stakeholders at UTS. Learnings are shared to assist colleagues in UTS and beyond who are seeking more participatory models for community deliberation, with (in this case) specific application to the responsible use of educational technology that is powered by analytics and artificial intelligence.

Trialling a Deliberative Democracy approach

Deliberative Democracy (DD) is a movement in response to the crisis in confidence in how typical democratic systems engage citizens in decision making. DD works by creating a Deliberative Mini-Public (DMP). DMPs can be convened at different scales (organisation; community; region; nation) and can take many forms.

A DMP of 20 was selected from UTS students, casual tutors and academics, who engaged in a series of five online workshops over seven weeks. With little to no prior knowledge among most members, they learned about the topic, worked together and converged on a set of principles that they felt reflected their shared values.

Deliberative Democracy, even when conducted wholly online, appears to offer educational institutions an approach to address the urgent need for meaningful student/ staff consultation on the ethical implications of introducing Learning Analytics and Artificial Intelligence into teaching and learning. The implementation process is now beginning, which we will be studying with equal interest.

The outputs: 7 Principles for Edtech Ethics

The DMP’s deliverable was to present a set of principles in the final workshop. Among other points, the preamble to these principles notes that Analytics/ AI-powered Educational Technology (AAI-EdTech) systems will have a huge impact on the UTS community and on global society, and that teaching and learning is a fundamentally human activity, which should drive the implementation and use of AAI-EdTech at UTS; AAI-EdTech should not replace the human dimension, but should complement it.

The seven draft principles are:

  1. Accountability/ transparency – UTS is accountable to the university community and its stakeholders in the open, transparent, fair and equitable use of AAI-EdTech
  2. Bias/ fairness – UTS should aim to reduce bias involved in AAI-EdTech programs, and maintain the fairness in their development, use, and application of these tools
  3. Equity and access – UTS should aim to ensure that AI-Edutech programs promote social justice and are equitable and accessible. This includes ensuring equitable access to information and technology that is delivered in language and formats that reflect the diverse needs of the UTS community and equitable access and input to the review of AI-Edutech systems
  4. Safety and security – The data lifecycle is managed safely and with the intent of assuring security for all
  5. Human authority – UTS commits to preserving human autonomy, agency and decision-making while harnessing the opportunities presented by AAI-EdTech
  6. Justifications/ evidence – AAI-EdTech should aim to use evidence-based practices that contribute to meeting the primary goal of improving learning
  7. Consent – All consent should be based on transparency and each individual should be able to make an informed and voluntary decision about the level of consent they decide with each system, and in an ongoing way

What happens next?

In terms of the process of reviewing and implementing the principles, several important questions now arise, including:

  • How does the wider community learn about, and become part of the conversation?
  • How do these principles align with existing UTS policies?
  • How will the principles and the policies they inform be applied, and by whom?
  • How will we know if they’re making a difference?
  • How will UTS be accountable to its community?

We are now planning how best to disseminate the work to date, and facilitate the ongoing conversation in a fast-moving field. As will be obvious from the draft principles, the issues raised transcend the UTS context, so we hope this process, and the particular outcomes, will be of wider interest to different communities.

Learn more about the project

The recording of the final briefing [18 mins] conveys the passion and commitment that the DMP invested in the process and outcome, reinforced by the preliminary themes emerging from interviews with students, educators and senior leaders.

You can read about the project in more detail in the full report, and keep an eye on updated information from UTS:CIC on the EdTech Ethics Deliberative Democracy Project Pages.