uOttawa researchers contribute to Harvard Berkman-Klein Center-led international report on digital ethics and education in the times of COVID-19

Posted on Monday, March 8, 2021

Researchers from the University of Ottawa Centre for Law, Technology and Society contributed to Digital Ethics in Times of Crisis: COVID-19 and Access to Education and Learning Spaces, an international report led by the Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University in collaboration with the Global Network of Internet and Society Centers.

Digitalization efforts are rapidly proliferating across sectors, prompting new and large-scale ethical challenges that arise from technological development and deployment that have important rights and justice implications. In light of these challenges, the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG), the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and the Digital Asia Hub, and in collaboration with the Global Network of Internet & Society Centers (NoC), launched The Ethics of Digitalisation: From Principles to Practice project to advances dialogue and action at the intersection of science, politics, digital economy, and civil society. The multi-year project will engage interdisciplinary networks of scholars and students, as well as civil society groups, policymakers, and other stakeholders in order to advance research outputs with social relevance in application-related and practice-based contexts such as content moderation, tech-assisted learning, or well-being.

Under the leadership of Dr. Florian Martin-Bariteau, students and researchers from the University of Ottawa had the opportunity to participate and contribute to a research sprint to explore specific normative questions around the disruption, challenges, and opportunities that the COVID-19 pandemic represents in the realm of education. The virtual program hosted by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society convened over three months nearly 40 student participants from 21 countries spread over five continents to explore the digital transformation of education in a time of crisis. Laura Garcia Vargas, a PhD candidate at the Centre, was one of those students selected from candidates across the world as a participant for the entire research sprint.

During a period of three months, participants met to discuss and explore the ethical, societal, and policy challenges that COVID-19 has created and thus disrupted access to education and learning spaces for learners. Looking at various learning spaces, from schools and campuses to clubhouses and museums, the research activities placed a focus on youth which was transformative in understanding the perspective of the students that were a part of the research sprint when relating to the experiences of their and others communities. Students conducted research and engaged in debates, notably as part of a series of anchor sessions with expert panelists from across the world who brought forward their expertise, knowledge, and vital perspectives to analyze the topic for each anchor session in-depth and in collaboration with students and other researchers in the room.


The results of their findings was recently published in Digital Ethics in Times of Crisis: COVID-19 and Access to Education and Learning Spaces. This collaborative report provides a map of the critical issues and questions in order to inform policymakers globally of challenges that need to be addressed through digital technology while also making efforts to avoid potential consequences of utilizing such technology during COVID-19. Some of the cross-cutting themes that the report explores include inequities in access and skills to use digital technologies; privacy, surveillance, and safety concerns related to education and learning; and the importance of cultivating learners' social and emotional development and well-being.

This document is the result of an iterative co-creation process among student participants, program staff, and subject matter experts, with some key insights provided by our community. Indeed, CLTS Faculty member Professor Jane Bailey was invited to share her insights as a panelist for the second anchor session “Overview of Key Ethical Issues” to discuss key ethical issues with the current state of education and its reliance on digital tools.

The AI + Society Initiative and the University Research Chair in Technology and Society facilitated an anchor session on digital ethics and inclusion which insights can be found in Spotlight 4 of the report. Coordinated by Muriam Fancy, Research Coordinator at the AI + Society Initiative, the anchor session featured Indigenous thinkers and teachers to foster a conversation on creating inclusive and safe digital learning spaces for Indigenous youth. Dr. Florian Martin-Bariteau, the University Research Chair in Technology and Society, acted as the facilitator for this conversation that notably featured Danielle Lussier-Meek, PhD candidate in Law and part-time professor at the Faculty of Law, who provided invaluable insights on Indigenous pedagogy, and the need to decolonize curriculum and learning spaces.

It is also worth noting that CLTS Associate Member Professor Nagla Rizk took part in the research sprint as a panelist in the second anchor session “Overview of Key Ethical Issues”.


Download the report


A video recording of the report presentation is available here, and an evolving resource list is available here.

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