On the 5th day of the OOLidays: Considering Ethics and Equity in Educational Technology

On the 5th day of the OOLidays: Considering Ethics and Equity in Educational Technology

Ashlyne O’Neil (she/they), Learning Specialist in the Office of Open Learning

In our ever-evolving digital ecosystem, fostering innovation in teaching and learning is imperative for meaningful student engagement and the cultivation of digital literacies. However, the prevalent tendency to stick with default institutional tools (e.g., Brightspace) or hastily adopt new, flashy technologies often overlooks the potential inequities they may introduce to our classrooms.

Postman’s insights from 1998 emphasize that the impact of technology is not uniform – it often reflects and perpetuates disparities along lines of class, race, disability, and gender, while also affecting the environment. He uses the automobile and modern western medicine as examples with demonstrable differences in their impact, pushing us to think about who will benefit from any given educational technology, and who will thereby be harmed.

I have been thinking about this a lot, recently, and am part of an interdisciplinary and multi-institutional project focused on ethical, equitable, and sustainable procurement of educational technologies in higher education [1]. Although this project focuses on institutional procurement processes, we necessarily recognize the power of individual instructors when it comes to the technologies employed within their classes. Relatedly, I recently wrote an article [2] with UWindsor colleague Frankie Cachon (to be published this December), which details ways in which the work of bell hooks informed the development on an open and online course [3]. Grounding ourselves in praxis, this article is a testament to the tangible impact pedagogical considerations have on shaping educational experiences.

We advocate for a critical assessment of tools, moving beyond behaviorist approaches that reinforce colonial systems of domination. Instead, we encourage a focus on critical and engaged pedagogies, carefully choosing digital tools that serve to empower learners and disrupt the status quo.

Pedagogy should always drive our use of educational technologies in our classes – not the other way around.

Once our pedagogical motivations are clear, we can use the S.A.F.E.S. Framework proposed by Nick Baker (2023) which serves to push us toward a future where educational technology aligns with ethics and equity. The tools we use in our classes should work for students, rather than introducing additional unnecessary barriers to their learning experiences.

Safe: Your decisions may impact you, your students, your classroom, and potentially the entire campus. Evaluate risks, security, privacy, data collection, and integration capabilities with the diligence they deserve.

Accessible: Extend your commitment to inclusivity to the tools you choose. Assess alignment with accessibility standards (e.g., AODA) and inclusive design principles, ensuring every student can participate fully.

Feasible: Consider the practical aspects – learning curve, cost, implementation timelines. These are the foundational elements of successful integration.

Equitable/Ethical: Scrutinize tools for biases, considering their impact on diverse user groups. Evaluate the ethical stance of the company behind it. Make choices reflecting fairness and integrity.

Sustainable: It’s about building a future. Examine how the company supports sustainability in environmental, social, and financial realms, and align your choices with broader sustainability goals.

Imagine the transformative impact of your decisions – creating an inclusive, ethical, and empowering learning environment. By making informed decisions you’re shaping a future where education transcends boundaries and reaches every student. The power is in our hands – let’s pave the way together.


Baker, N. (2023) Considerations for ethical, equitable, accessible and sustainable procurement of technology. Presented at the University of Manchester.

Postman, N. (1998). Five Things We Need to Know about Technological Change. Retrieved from: https://web.cs.ucdavis.edu/~rogaway/classes/188/materials/postman.pdf.

[1] This project was funded by the eCampus Ontario Virtual Learning Strategy grants, and is a partnership between University of Windsor, Brock University, McMaster University, Nipissing University, OCAD University, University of Guelph, University of Toronto, and University of Waterloo.

[2] O’Neil, A.I. & Cachon, M.F. (in press). Transgressive Course Design: Collaborative, Student-Engaged, Online, and Open. Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy Special Issue 23: The Legacy of bell hooks.

[3] Note: this course design project was a collaborative effort among scholars and students, and will be discussed in depth as the 11th gift of the OOLidays.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *