Digital Ethics Audit

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Balance, Inclusion, Grace, Agency 

Part 1: Ethical Audit Report 

Demographics 

The middle school in this audit is a suburban Title 1 school in Port Orchard, Washington with a student to teacher ratio of 16.97 to 1 (NCES, 2018). Although Port Orchard is the county seat, it is a small-town suburb with rural and suburban neighborhoods. The school is a non-charter public school serving students in grades 6 through 8. Two thirds of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and 30% are specifically “low income” under the National School Lunch Act of 1946 (NCES, 2018). 

Because this report focuses on ethical values in digital education for traditionally underserved families, it is important to note these demographics. For this report, these populations are as follows: 

  • Ethnic minority populations 
  • Children with disabilities (504 and IEP plan students) 
  • English Language Learners 
  • Low-income students
  • LGBTQIA students and their families 

Ethnic Minority Populations 

Ethnically, the school is a majority white school, with 60% of students identifying as white and 38.5% identifying as part of the diverse array of minority students. This is a lower percent of minority students than the average in Washington state, which is 52.5%, but higher than the district average of 31.8% (OPSI, 2020). There are some significant differences in the population make up of Marcus from the state but Marcus Whitman is ethnically similar to the demographic makeup of most school districts in the county.  

Children With Disabilities 

The school serves approximately 17.3% of its student population through the special education program, and 3.6% of the students have 504 plans (skschools.org, 2020).  

English Language Learners 

Only 1.8% of the students qualify for English Language Learner support (skschools.org, 2020). Traditionally underserved students at Marcus progress each school year but do not reach the standards. For example, while only 14.3% of English Language Learners met the academic standard in 2018-2019, 50% were progressing toward the standard and were considered “on track to leave services within 6 years” according to the state of Washington (OSPI, 2020). This mirrors the trends for the rest of Washington State. 

Low Income Students 

Among the 705 students enrolled in the school, 48.1% meet the federal definition of low income. Other indicators of income include classifications of “mobile” (4/8%) and homeless (1.1%) (OPSI, 2020). Foster care students represent 0% of the school population, however my team this year has 2 students living in foster care, so the actual number is not zero, though the percentage is. 

LGBTQIA Students

There is no data available regarding the prevalence of LGBTQIA students and their families in this school, however 6% of the students on my 6th grade team self-report as fitting into this category (Student Survey, 2020). 

Existing Staff and Technology

Effective technology implementation is a goal of the school and district, and the school is working toward one-to-one device ratios for students. The bulk of the school budget is used for classroom support at 89.8% of the budget, and only 5.7% is used for library books and supplies (skschools.org, 2020). The digital technology spending comes from these two budget areas under the discretion of the principal and librarian. 

Mrs. C is the librarian and technology facilitator for the school. As such, she wears many hats—she coordinates the school’s technology tools, runs the library, and provides technology training and support for staff and families. In these roles, she has engaged in several informal initiatives to evolve the role of the library in student. 

Harmony 

Harmony occurs when complexity unifies: voices or instruments blend to create one unified sound, the stories of the gospel are woven together to create a coherent story, or diverse aspects of a society join to create a peaceful whole (as in “racial harmony”). Seeking harmony in implementation of educational technology requires weaving together technology usage and systems with the widely varied people using them. Achieving harmony means safe, and healthy uses of technology.

This middle school appears to thrive on informal norms and systems. Regarding the value of harmony, an oft-quoted mantra from the school principal comes to mind: “assume positive intent.” This mantra informs all aspects of the school’s practices regarding the development and maintenance of safe learning and interacting spaces for students. The school staff relies heavily on the librarian and technology facilitator for guidance in establishing habits and classroom expectations that create harmony for students. 

Because of the informality of the school structures around this topic, there is also a dearth of data. For example, there are no measurement tools in place to measure the effectiveness of the steps taken takes to encourage and ensure students use technology in a way that is healthy and balanced for them. Individual students are tracked only following a misstep in technology behavior – to include bullying or inappropriate communications. 

Technology-based restrictions have gradually minimized over the years according to the librarian, who explained that they have moved from relying on a net nanny to teaching students to use technology safely and reporting when they do not. To facilitate the creation and maintenance of a safe and healthy digital environment, the district instituted a curriculum from Common Sense Media in the elementary schools to teach safe and appropriate online behavior, and the school librarian and technology facilitator teaches lessons throughout the year at the request of teachers (Common Sense Media, 2020). 

Inclusion  

Inclusion is a variant of diversity which requires the active involvement of diverse learners and their families in planning, implementing and using technology. One of the important aspects of inclusion is the removal of barriers to entry for members of under-represented groups, and working from the assumption that diverse learners add to the overall value of the learning experience for all involved.

The ethical value of inclusion at this school also reflects a reliance on informal norms and systems in that there are several areas within this topic that have a lack of data collection. For example, there is no data available regarding the ways in which technology implementation at the school provides a voice for traditionally under-represented populations. Additionally, there is no data gathered regarding the usage or efficacy of technology tools for students with disabilities at the school, nor is there survey data regarding the effectiveness of technology use for families and students divided out by demographic. 

As a result, most of the information regarding inclusion is qualitative in nature and reflective of the experiences of the librarian and educational technology facilitator. Though this is a limiting factor, it is important to note that this individual plays an important role in technology distribution and successful implementation, and as a result has an outsized understanding of the way in which technology is used among the staff and families, so these anecdotes reflect a significant percent of incidents and individuals at the middle school. 

The specific demographics of this school has a direct effect on the inclusion of diverse populations in technology use. As the librarian and technology facilitator explained: “our families are working people – for the most part, they have jobs that have them doing things and working at jobs where they aren’t on a computer all day. They didn’t grow up with that culture of coding and video games. Our parents were at the park as kids, outside and not on video games or computers growing up” (Chang, 2020). While this emphasis on activity and outdoor experiences results in a community for whom healthy boundaries for technology are a cultural norm, it also forms a barrier for parents in implementing technology effectively in a remote crisis learning environment. 

 The librarian observes that this creates a unique set of problems for families because students are often more tech savvy than their parents, which contributes to misuse. Furthermore, it means parents are often unable to help their students with digital assignments when they return home. As a result, a larger percent of our students than ever before is using technology in increasing amounts with minimal supervision. This concept is reflected in emails that I get from parents as a teacher. For example, a parent wrote about her 6th grade daughter “I have attempted 3 programs to block YouTube, including one that was supposed to block the app from even opening. She goes around it all. . . today alone, she watched 7 hours of YouTube content. . .This is a daily struggle. . . This isn’t ending” (email, 2020). 

Additional challenges our families face regarding digital learning access are slow or non-existent internet, several family members using the same internet connection or devices, unusual living environments (to include living on a boat or being on the road), students working during school hours. The school approaches each of these situations in an individualized manner using a team of administrators, school guidance counselors, the district social worker, and the technology facilitator to pinpoint problems and build solutions. 

For students with disabilities, technology provides solutions to include a program that uses word completion software to support students with reading and writing disabilities. Further, technology provides read-aloud options for texts, and support with learning videos. For some families, this has proven a less adequate free and public education, but for others these tools have been sufficient to provide inclusion for students in the learning environment.  

Grace  

Grace as an ethical value in education is represented by the idea that children don’t “earn” a place in the classroom and their families don’t “earn” the right to access technology and support. Instead, schools provide support, flexibility, and accommodations for all students and families who need them.

As with inclusion, the librarian plays a key role in providing grace for students and their families. She does this both informally and formally at the building level and as part of the district-wide technology support team. She maintains the MWMS Parent Support website that includes essential information such as calendars, video tutorials, contact information, and links to the district parent support site (Chang, 2020). During the day, she is available for communication with parents through a tech support zoom link and via phone. 

Much of her role in providing grace for students and parents is through teacher education. She trains teachers and works informally with them to help them assume positive intent as well as assisting teachers in seeing their work and programs from the perspective of students or their families. Informally, she also has built a culture of peace and empowerment in the library, and it is a place where kids can use computers for research during class time, for games during lunch and before school, and for academic support after school. She describes this as creating a space “where students can have a different relationship with technology and school.” 

The school uses digital tools to balance rigor with accommodating families and students who struggling during remote crisis learning. This means providing support across a wide spectrum of technology, from simple tools such as paper packets to higher tech adaptive digital tools. Some examples include providing student emails for a concerned parent, iPads for English language learners, and chrome extensions that remove barriers to learning. 

All students have equal access to school technology because the school provided school devices to any families that needed them. There is, however, a lack of data regarding some aspects of the implementation of technology among underserved populations. Specifically, we do not have data regarding how our implementation of technology lowers barriers for these populations, and whether our implementation of technology erects or maintains barriers for these populations. 

 Agency  

Agency occurs when individuals take ownership of their environment and learning. The middle school reflects the value of agency formally with the publication of its green and golden rule, which includes the reminder that students “play an important role in promoting a positive school climate at Marcus Whitman,” and all students pledge to do their part to make the school “a positive, caring, and respectful place to learn” (MW Handbook, 5). 

 Another policy that supports student agency is that all clubs are student driven. To start a club, students need to find a staff advisor and set meeting dates. By removing traditional hurdles for clubs, the school encourages students to build and lead communities of interest. As a result, each year’s clubs reflect the student body’s interests in topics like environmental awareness, role playing games, or Rubik’s cubes. This includes digital components with the recent additions of an Among Us club, and the incorporation of community speakers via zoom. 

Most courses are more likely to create or ensure student agency over learning environments within digital spaces than they are within the class curriculum unrelated to digital tools. For example, individual classes include projects related to community change but there is no centralized plan for this. AVID classes are the notable exception. As part of the AVID curriculum, AVID students in the 7th and 8th grade work with 6th graders on essential skills for education, such as organization and study skills. The AVID teaching teams are expanding that into further skills that will continue to allow AVID students to serve a role in substantive community change within the school. 

 the school allows students to take ownership of technology tools to shape their digital and actual community from the moment the children first access technology. The librarian and technology facilitator explained that “we hand them chrome books and their google accounts. From there, they can make any changes that are school appropriate” to include wallpaper, icons, orientation of the screen and access to entertainment and learning tools. Students in middle grades through high school have district email accounts, which allows them to communicate with each other and practice digital inter-personal skills. 

 Formal limits to technology form the backbone of the limitations to students’ abilities to take ownership of technology tools. For example, student cannot run their own Zoom sessions, nor can they maintain their own google classrooms. However, the librarian explained that when students advocate for change in digital learning or face to face learning their ideas get serious consideration. As a teacher, I have seen this in person when a student advocated for the ability to create her own zooms to maintain contact with her peers. She had a lengthy consultation with the librarian, who took the ideas introduced in the discussion to the school administration and to the district technology team. 

As with the other ethical issues covered in this interview, a lack of data resulted in an incomplete picture. Specifically, there is no demographic data regarding the numbers of minority students and students in underserved communities involved in student-centered initiatives such as clubs. While we have internal data regarding title one student and special education student demographic, the librarian and technology facilitator did not have that data during the interview. The one area in which we have data is AVID demographics, and that data shows an ongoing problem with underrepresentation of minority and low-income students involved in the AVID program. The school is engaged in efforts to increase involvement in AVID courses by students in these demographic groups. 

 Recommendations 

To the extent that is observable, the intent and actions of staff at this school adheres to the ethical values outlined in this ethics audit. The overarching theme of technology implementation and use is on building a safe and positive learning environment for youth that provides grace and inclusion for them and their families.

However, a profound lack of data regarding the involvement and effect of technology with underrepresented communities at this school makes it impossible to fully gauge the effectiveness with which the policies and procedures at the school adhere to the ethical standards outlined in this report. This school would benefit from gathering and examining data regarding these demographics and their involvement in the school programs and technology tools. 

Part 2: Interview Questions 

The interview questions develop from the core values of harmony, inclusion, grace, and agency. They align with the ISTE standard 7: Digital Citizen advocate. 

Harmony 

  • How do we measure the effectiveness of the steps our educational institution takes to encourage and ensure students use technology in a way that is healthy and balanced for them? (ISTE 7b) 
  • How does our technology help or hinder the creation of safe learning and interacting spaces for students? (ISTE 7b) 

Inclusion  

  • How does our technology provide a voice for traditionally under-represented populations? (ISTE 7a) 
    • In what ways are our families struggling in the digital only environment? (ISTE 7b) 
    • In what ways are our families achieving in the digital only environment? (ISTE 7b) 
  • Is our technology inclusive of populations which may traditionally be underserved?  
  • How are we maintaining rigor while lowering the barriers for entry and not erecting more barriers for these families and children? (ISTE 7a) 

Grace  

  • How do we ensure academics in our school are rigorous and relevant while also providing grace for struggling students and families? (ISTE 7b) 
  • What role does our building technology coordinator play in providing grace for students? Parents? (ISTE 7b) 
  • In what ways do our digital tools help us balance rigor with accommodating families and students who are struggling in this time? (ISTE 7b, ISTE 7c) 
  • In what ways are our digital tools preventing us from accommodating families and students struggling currently? (ISTE 7a) 
  • How is our technology inclusive of populations that historically are under-represented or historically lack access in our district? (ISTE 7a) 
    • How does our implementation of technology lower barriers for these populations? (ISTE 7a) 
  • In what ways does our implementation of technology erect or maintain barriers for these populations? (ISTE 7a) 

Agency  

  • Do any course projects engage in substantive community change? (ISTE 7a) 
  • Does our institution have student-driven projects or organizations? (ISTE 7a) 
    • Do our initiatives come from students? (ISTE 7a) 
    • Do any initiatives center on students? (ISTE 7a) 
  • In what ways do we allow students to take ownership of technology tools to shape their digital and actual community? (ISTE 7a, ISTE 7b, ISTE 7c) 
  • In what ways do we limit student ability to take ownership of technology tools? (ISTE 7a, ISTE 7d) 
  • Is there a difference in quantity of underserved communities as student-centered initiatives? (ISTE 7a) 

Part 3: Interview & Summary 

Summary 

The school that is the subject of this audit is a suburban Title 1 school with a student to teacher ratio of 16.97 (NCES, 2018). The school is working toward one-to-one device ratios for students. This is a public school, that operates within a large rural and suburban district in the Puget Sound region Washington. The interviewee, Mrs. C, is the librarian and technology facilitator for the school. She coordinates the school’s technology tools, runs the library, and provides technology training and support for staff and families. 

An interview was conducted on November 6, 2020 via Zoom with the purpose of conducting a digital ethics audit. During the interview, several questions resulted in qualitative data regarding the implementation and effect of digital technology with the specific population of this district and the school. This interview focused primarily on the ethical values of harmony, inclusion, grace, and agency. 

The overarching theme of the interview responses is that the lack of data makes forming a complete picture of the school’s digital ethics practices difficult. The motives of staff within the school in the deployment of technology appear to adhere to the ethical standards that form the basis of this interview, but without data regarding usage divided by demographics, it is impossible to draw conclusions regarding the systemic ethical practices. 

Interview 

This interview, held on November 6, 2020, examines the implementation of technology and technology use policies at a suburban middle school in the south Puget Sound region of Washington. The goal of this interview is to identify ways in which the current educational technology policy and practices support the ethical values of harmony, inclusion, grace, and agency for students in traditionally underserved populations. 

Harmony 

How do we measure the effectiveness of the steps our educational institution takes to encourage and ensure students use technology in a way that is healthy and balanced for them? (ISTE 7b) 

  • We don’t really have a measurement tool. 
  • We track individual student behaviors if they break the rules or are unsafe and use that. 

How does our technology help or hinder the creation of safe learning and interacting spaces for students? (ISTE 7b) 

  • We have the Commonsense Media curriculum in place for teaching technology safety at the elementary schools, 
  • The middle school librarian teaches a lesson at the start of the year and does lessons during the year if teachers request it 
  • Our net nanny has gotten much less stringent over time as we have moved from relying on that to relying on teaching students to use it safely and to reporting when kids don’t. For example, if you assigned a research paper on breast cancer, you would have found most sites blocked before, and now they are open. 

Inclusion  

How does our technology provide a voice for traditionally under-represented populations? (ISTE 7a) 

  • We don’t really gather that data 

In what ways are our families struggling in the digital only environment? (ISTE 7b) 

  • our families are working people – for the most part, they have jobs that have them doing things and working at jobs where they are not on a computer all day. They didn’t grow up with that culture of coding and video games. Our parents were at the park as kids, outside and doing things not on video games or computers growing up. This creates a unique set of problems now that we are handing their kids chrome books and needing them to monitor their children’s use. The kids can say what they want and know that their parents won’t always be able to check it. 
  • Our parents are working and coming home unable to help their kids with the work as easily as they could before we went to remote. 
  • We also have families with slow internet. We provided hot spots for kids with no internet, but we cannot speed up the internet for kids with bad connections. [student name]’s grandmother watched 9 school aged children every day. We made sure they all had devices, but how is her internet going to support 9 zooms at once? How is she going to support that? 
  • We have a child living on a boat. We got him a hot spot too. He does his work and turns it in from this boat, wherever it is. It is things like this that make us different from a lot of places. 
  • We can solve some of the challenges our families face, but we can’t bring in these parents to help them, and there is a lot we can’t do. 

In what ways are our families achieving in the digital only environment? (ISTE 7b) 

  • I’m not in the classroom so I don’t see kids unless they visit the tech support zoom. 
  • Teachers tell me about kids who are doing well who I know from before were not doing as well in the school building – kids who get sucked into the drama of it. 

Is our technology inclusive of populations which may traditionally be underserved?  

  • Yes. We gave out chrome books to everyone. 

How are we maintaining rigor while lowering the barriers for entry and not erecting more barriers for these families and children? (ISTE 7a) 

  • We have tools like Co-Writer rolled out on all the laptops 
  • We have my tech support zoom, where I can talk to parents and help them live. Parents also call the office and that goes back to me so I can talk to them. 

Grace  

How do we ensure academics in our school are rigorous and relevant while also providing grace for struggling students and families? (ISTE 7b) 

  • see previous response 

What role does our building technology coordinator play in providing grace for students? Parents? (ISTE 7b) 

  • A lot of this is teacher training and working with teachers to help them “assume positive intent” for these kids and understand that kid’s perspective is different. Sometimes it’s just helping them use technology tools in different ways to make sure all the kids can use them and sometimes it’s talking about a specific student. 
  • I do my best to make the library a place where students can have a different relationship with technology and school 

In what ways do our digital tools help us balance rigor with accommodating families and students who are struggling in this time? (ISTE 7b, ISTE 7c) 

  • We do a lot for families when they want it 
    • Packets 
    • Copies of emails 
    •  tools 

In what ways are our digital tools preventing us from accommodating families and students struggling currently? (ISTE 7a) 

  • I can’t speak for the district. Practices. If I could, I would bring all the parents in and teach them how to use the tools, so it wasn’t so overwhelming. We can’t do that, so that is our biggest problem. 

How is our technology inclusive of populations that historically are under-represented or historically lack access in our district? (ISTE 7a) 

  •  all students have access to school devices 

How does our implementation of technology lower barriers for these populations? (ISTE 7a) 

  • We don’t have data on that 

In what ways does our implementation of technology erect or maintain barriers for these populations? (ISTE 7a) 

  • We don’t have data on that 

Agency  

Do any of our courses’ student projects engage in substantive community change? (ISTE 7a) 

  • Different courses have projects about change 
  • AVID classes work with 6th graders, and we are expanding that out 

Does our institution have student-driven projects or organizations? (ISTE 7a) 

  • All our clubs are student driven. The rule for starting a club is that students just need to get an advisor, so all our clubs are created by students and run by them. 

In what ways do we as an institution allow students to take ownership of technology tools to shape their digital and actual community? (ISTE 7a, ISTE 7b, ISTE 7c) 

  • We hand them chrome books and their google accounts. From there, they can make any changes that are school appropriate—wallpaper, icons, etc. 
  • Students can email each other. 

In what ways do we limit student ability to take ownership of technology tools? (ISTE 7a, ISTE 7d) 

  • We don’t let students run their own Zooms or set up their own google classrooms. The software lets them do the classrooms, but IT shuts them down whenever they start. 

Do our initiatives come from students? (ISTE 7a) 

  • Some things do. When students advocate for something to change it gets serious consideration. 

Do any initiatives center on students? (ISTE 7a) 

  • I guess they all do. We are a school serving students. 

Is there a difference in quantity of underserved communities as student-centered initiatives? (ISTE 7a) 

  • So, there is not a lot of data on even the numbers of minority students in these. For example, clubs are the most student-centered initiative we have, but we don’t have any demographic information on the students in our clubs. 
  • I know that we are working to get minority and low-income students in avid because those numbers are low. 
  • We have demographic information on our title one students and special education, but I don’t have that here. 

Resources 

Bush, D. (2020, September 30). Odyssey Team Student Survey. [internal document] Retrieved November 10, 2020.  

Chang, C. (2020, November 6). Interview with Carol Chang. [Notes from recorded interview, no recording available]. 

Chang, C (2020). MWMS parent support. Retrieved November 15 from https://sites.google.com/skschools.org/mwmsremote/home

Common Sense Education (2020) Everything you need to teach digital citizenship. Retrieved from https://www.commonsense.org/education/digital-citizenship

Marcus Whitman Junior High School (2017). The Trailblazer Pledge. Marcus Whitman Student Handbook (2017) p 5. Retrieved from https://marcuswhitman.skschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_60836/File/parents/students/Planner%20MWJH%20Semester%201.pdf

National Center for Educational Statistics. (2018) Retrieved November 12, 2020 from https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/schoolsearch/school_detail.asp?Search=1&DistrictID=5308160&ID=530816001351 

OSPI (2020). Marcus Whitman Middle School, South Kitsap School District. [OSPI Report Card]. Retrieved November 11, 2020 from https://washingtonstatereportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us/ReportCard/ViewSchoolOrDistrict/101748

South Kitsap School District (2020). School Reports. Retrieved November 10, 2020 from https://marcuswhitman.skschools.org/our_school_/school_reports

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