Deliberative Democracy for EdTech Ethics

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 challenge we set a team of 20 people – students, casual tutors and full-time academics. And 5 intensive workshops later, they had delivered their response! A draft set of ethical principles to govern the use of these fast-changing technologies in UTS. How did we manage this? Below is the executive summary from the report on the EdTech Ethics website.

Executive Summary

This report has been written to document a novel community consultation process, using the principles and methods of Deliberative Democracy to consult with the UTS community on the following brief:

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?

We’re sharing this 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. This is not a research paper, seeking to argue conceptual or empirical contributions to academic fields, although research is underway analysing and evaluating this process. We do hope, however, that this represents an interesting and novel ‘data point’ that others will find useful.

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 through stratified sampling from UTS students, casual tutors and academics, who engaged in a series of five online workshops over seven weeks, due to Covid-19 conditions. With little to no prior knowledge among most members, they learned about the topic, worked well together, and converged on a set of principles that they felt reflected their shared values. The university experts who were involved in the workshops recognised the quality of the progress made in such a short period. UTS now has a plausibly representative expression of the community’s values, interests and concerns, in response to the brief. The principles can be viewed in Appendix 1: Draft Ethics Principles.

The raison d’etre for the initiative is to build trust within the university that these technologies are being deployed responsibly. The DMP process delivered on its promise to build engagement and trust across diverse stakeholders. The recording of the final briefing (18 mins, below) 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.

Deliberative Democracy, even when conducted wholly online, would appear 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.


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