The Ethics of Online Education

The Ethics of Online Education

The aim of e-learning is to increase knowledge, skills and productive capabilities of learners (Ismail, R. et al., 2011, p. 49-52). It serves as a substitute for the traditional classroom setting and offers education without space or time limitations, education in which discrimination against age and race is almost non-existent, record keeping is much easier, and discipline problems are kept to a minimum (Njenga, J., Fourie, L. 2010, p. 199-212). Despite its undisputable benefits, many people view e-learning as inferior in quality in comparison with the traditional classroom setting. The critics often argue that the lack of personal contact causes low motivation among students. They also claim that lack of control makes students ignore their (Khoury A. H. et al., 2011, p. 53-56). Another disadvantage is that e-learning provides more possibilities for academic fraud as Nagi (2006) states that it is easier to cheat online than face to face.
To begin with, in general terms, ethics is about ‘what people should do’. Ethical questions arise when different interests of individuals conflict and thus there is need for a higher level of principles that are fair to the rights of all concerned. These principles are fair in the sense that all members of the society accept them as binding, in order to solve the conflict of interests. So the principles are shared by the community, for every one’s well being. A learning environment is no exception. There is a social contract about norms and expectations for all interactions. In this context, ethical principles mean cooperative and rational norms that have higher priority when compared with self-interests of the participants. This is why ethics in a learning environment denotes sensitivity to multicultural understanding, tolerance and civility.
Ethical considerations in e- Learning are derived from both communication ethics and instructional ethics. Though technology and methods change, the nature of students does not. Students are going to act like students whether virtually present or not.
So, how do you keep order in an online classroom?
Whether you are teaching at College/ University level or you are teaching lower classes, a good strategy for moderation is necessary to make a great learning experience. Students of any age can act up, whether online or in person, and in either case the behaviour has to be moderated to have a productive classroom. Otherwise, you may have users sending inappropriate messages, harassing each other, undermining your lecture, or they could be just plain lost.
It starts with you.
Online etiquette is absolutely essential. It’s more important to exercise formal etiquette when you are in a leadership role. This means correct spelling and purposeful choice of words. Just like in real life, different online settings call for different nuances online. In most case, especially with students, it’s more formal to avoid using even common acronyms such as LOL and the like. Instead, it may be more appropriate to say ‘(laughs out loud)’ when you feel the need to express that in text. Even though students are already familiar with how to communicate through online text, these more literary/ formal approaches to online text communication are essential because they are distinct from students’ normal behaviour. It’s this distinction between pupil and instructor that is useful for establishing a formal, moderated online learning environment. Of course, proper spelling and grammar are also essential to use around your students, because exposure to that kind of online speech is vital for young people. Your online presence is an excellent opportunity to make an early impression of what mature professionalism looks like online. This is your opportunity to be respectful, polite, formal, proper, professional, and organised. The importance of students’ exposure and acclimation to this cannot be understated. Being able to communicate online professionally is going to be of ever-increasing importance to their futures, and that is not something that they can, for sure, learn on their own without your example.
So, what does bad behavior look like online?
Online moderation is something of a skill of perception. If you’re not used to multiple layers of virtual communication, it can be challenging to spot exactly when a student is disruptive. The clearest and obvious negative behaviour on the internet anywhere is a failure to read and abide by the posted rules. When someone very clearly disregards a simple rule, it indicates a failure in discipline that can and should be moderated. That’s not to say that all forms of bad behaviour are violations of rules. Online community members can and will find creative ways not technically to violate any rule but still manage to be disruptive with excessive sarcasm – or simply probing the limits of what you’re willing to tolerate. Students can purposefully be very loud on their microphones when called on for voice-calls, or they can spam chat-boxes – or even make honest mistakes such as asking questions that were already answered in the FAQ or had other resources available to them like online discussion forums before taking up class-time with their redundant question.
What can you do about it?
The first and most important measure to take against deliberately undesirable behaviour is starting with a set of rules that you are comfortable with and making sure that everyone knows about those rules. Beyond that, most forms of organised online communication come with moderation features built into them. Forums can have posts locked or removed, chat-boxes can have timers on them to combat the potential for people to flood the chat deliberately, and of course, in voice chats, you should have the ability to silence users who cause problems on VOIP.

—The writer is a research scholar at Central University of Kashmir. farooqeffe621@gmail.com

 

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