Towards a Framework for Guiding the Socio-technical Reflection of Ethical Issues in Technology Enhanced Learning

Sebastian Maximilian Dennerlein, Stefan Schweiger, Christof Wolf-Brenner, Robert Gutounig, Viktoria Pammer-Schindler, Maaike Endedijk

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherAcademic


In society, there is a rising interest to consider ethical principles when designing technology, and particularly technology for learning [1]. To mitigate concerning consequences of using technologies, so-called ethical issues, technology-enhanced learning (TEL) design-teams must reflect on when and how humans interact with technology, which is where ethical issues arise. However, there is no guidance of how to structure and trace reflection alongside alternating phases of technology development and use. In this design-based research, we developed and pilot-tested an ethical-by-design framework [2,3] to guide reflection of interprofessional design-teams. We used sociotechnical system theory [4] to build a framework (Fig.1) that explicates human involvement in collaborative-design [5] and stimulates ethical reflection [6] at these sociotechnical interactions (STIs). Humans have different roles in technology development and use, such as frontend developer or student and, according to their role, technological and ethical aspects of the reflection object differ. The framework, therefore, understands ethical issues as expressions of sociotechnical systems, and their inherent more-detailed sociotechnical interactions. Principles of modelling include the specification of the reflection object [7] with respect to STIs and ethical principles [8], and formulating ethical reflection prompts in the form of questions. We suggest tracing convergent evidence on the emergence and resolution of issues alongside design iterations [9]. To test this framework, we carried out a secondary case analysis [10] in an innovation initiative [11]. TEL prototypes were designed in a half-year participatory process with three iterations including students on regular basis. To include a broad spectrum of issues, we selected two cases, a simple audience interaction tool (Moodle) with a 4 person design-team and a complex intelligent-tutoring-system (Matlab) with 3 persons. Recorded meetings and innovation canvases were analyzed to understand the emergence and resolution of ethical issues in collaborative-design that have been previously identified with the ethical-by-design framework. By identifying human roles (e.g. student) and technical components (e.g. output) for development and use, we deducted stereotypical STIs (e.g. development: student-output) for ethical reflection in TEL software development (Fig.2). Mapping them to the ethical principles of fairness and transparency, we identified three ethical issues for technology development and seven for use, whereof four issues remained (partially) undiscovered. In the tutoring system, for example, students must understand the automatic feedback on their code-submission (STI: student-output + principle: transparency) to prevent that ”immediate output is inappropriate and there is no chance for recoursing”. This results in the question: “How can system issues be clarified with a real tutor?” The analysis shows that our framework helps in identifying plausible ethical issues in TEL. Mapping ethical principles with STIs allows to trace reflection in a generally applicable format, making insights accessible to others. This suggests to initiate ethical reflection from the individual perspective, and share the reflection question for social-regulation with the design-team. The detailed study of the reflection object allows to trace back issues to the point of their emergence. Next, the framework is investigated in a prospective case study to understand the quality of such prompts and their effect on the reflection practice.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2022
Event11th EARLI SIG14 Learning and Professional Development Conference 2022 - Paderborn University, Paderborn, Germany
Duration: 17 Aug 202219 Aug 2022
Conference number: 11


Conference11th EARLI SIG14 Learning and Professional Development Conference 2022


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