OER and Student Privacy

Open Educational Resources (OER) are increasingly being used across the country (and the world) as an alternative to high-priced textbooks from traditional publishers. In many ways, OER offer new ways to engage students, and modify the course content to their needs. However, because OER rely primarily on digital platforms, issues of student privacy must also be considered.

“Flashlight” by Hans Christian Haaland is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For example, many OER courses make it possible for students to post their reflections on a blog section of the site, or even collectively annotate a text online. But, what are the ethics of making student work publicly available for all to see? This concern is especially relevant when work being posted may reflect their learning process, and in the case of a blog post, writing that has not undergone an editing process or peer-review.
Another question about privacy and OER pertains to names and identity online. Robin DeRosa, OER educator, reflects about the issues that “working in public” create: “They may (will) face vicious harassment, racism, sexism, homophobia… depending on the kind of work they do or the kind of digital profiles they put forward.” DeRosa also acknowledges that the quality of their work may “come back to haunt [students] when they look for a job,” given the increasingly comprehensive screenings by HR firms. Writing for Forbes, Barbara Kurshan similarly speculates that the “elephant in the room” with EdTech is student privacy, spanning the use of advertising-driven technologies as well as the sale of individual data.
One alternative would be to offer students the option of using a pseudonym throughout the duration of the course, for their online or public-facing coursework. Another option is to take the opportunity to explore digital risks and safety concerns, as a part of the course itself. In an increasingly digital world, the potential of OER and other online teaching platforms is weighted by the same issues that affect and mediate online activity in other fields, and should be considered as a fundamental aspect of “teaching in the open,” or open pedagogy.

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