12 heuristics for the ethical design of learning systems

Last night I got out my well-used An Introduction to Business Ethics by Joseph Desjardins, professor of philosophy at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in Minnesota. This was my textbook when I used to teach ethics for OntarioLearn, in Canada.  From reviewing the book, I put together the following list of ethically-oriented heuristic evaluation categories, and a sample question in each category, to be used by designers of learning systems

  1. Sustainability: Does this system encourage responsible use of earth resources?
  2. Privacy: Does the user have control over what information about themselves is being collected or disclosed?
  3. Confidentiality: Is information accessible only to those authorized to have access?
  4. Disclosure: Do we provide full information about vulnerabilities in the system which may provide an attacker the ability to reduce system information assurance?
  5. Security of account information: Are passwords robust?
  6. Intellectual property: Who owns learner-generated content?
  7. Usage of software: How many times do we allow the learner to download this content?
  8. Ownership: have we protected content with appropriate copyright and trademark indications?
  9. Termination: Under what circumstances will we terminate a learner account?
  10. Enforcement: Which state or federal laws are applicable to violations of our policies?
  11. Safety: Does the use of our learning web site or application ever cause physical problems such as photoepileptic seizures?
  12. Diversity and equality: Does our site/application exclude or offer biased views of a race, ethnicity, gender, culture, etc.?

In the design of learning systems, these issues should be considered along with standard usability categories such as those described and promoted by usability guru Jakob Nielson.

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