Ethical Approaches to Ed Tech

Digital learning technologies and internet based educational tools have the ability to open up our pedagogical practices and expand how learning can happen. It is crucial that as educators, when we decide to incorporate these tools, we are aware of the ethical implications of using digital tools.When deciding which tools to use and how it is important to think through the ethics of these technologies. For the purpose of this workshop ethics can encompass accessibility, security, and feasibility. Are the tools accessible (cost, user-friendliness, available on mobile devices), secure (what data is shared, can users determine what data to share, who is data shared with), and feasible (is the technology easy, easy to learn, is it a technology learners are already familiar with)?

When thinking through the ethics of educational technology tools, you many want to investigate who developed the tool, and explore how the tool frames user data privacy, intellectual property, and integration with third parties. Before beginning your exploration it is important to know the difference between a proprietary tool and an open source tool. A proprietary tool is a platform that was developed by a company and sold to users or offered as a software as a service (SaaS); Blackboard is a popular example. CUNY pays for Blackboard each year, allowing professors to use it for their courses. Blackboard facilitates many third party integrations, allowing another proprietary tool to be used within the Blackboard platform. Tools like TurnItIn and publisher textbook integrations often have different user data and privacy rules than the Blackboard platform itself. These tools can often collect de-identified student data for profit, for example TurnItIn was sold to a media conglomerate for over a billion dollars; the main product was the student writing that was collected through the TurnItIn technology.

On the other hand, with “free and open source software” (FOSS) tools, any person is able to use, copy, study, and change the software in any way. The source code is openly available so that people can make a copy for themselves, use it any way they want, and users are encouraged to improve and build upon the software. This means that the tool is free – it costs no money- and it is its libre – it can be used and changed by the users at will. Generally, these tools are not built to collect user data and, since users can create their own versions of the tool, the open source tools are not usually associated with large corporations that collect user data for profit. is a popular example of open source software. WordPress is a web framework that runs over 30% of all websites on the open web. CUNY has several home-grown WordPress platforms, meaning CUNY staff and faculty took the WordPress source code and created customized WordPress networks for CUNY. Platforms like Blogs@Baurch, City Tech OpenLab, and the CUNY Academic Commons, are all WordPress platforms created for CUNY by CUNY folks. The work created and submitted on these platforms is owned by the user (professor, student, etc.), and these platforms do not collect user data. Other examples of open source tools for teaching include:, Jitsi, and Etherpad.

The distinction between proprietary and open source is one starting point for thinking critically about the technologies we use in our teaching. The readings and handout below will provide further guidance on thinking through the ethical issues related to ed tech, and the repository provides a space for you to track your exploration and analysis of ed tech tools and to be in conversation with other folks exploring these tools. Please also use our #ethicaledtech slack channel to ask questions and get support as you explore these tools. We want to hear from you! So please feel free to drop into the slack with any reflections, questions, comments, etc.

Participants can explore introductory readings and a handout featuring guiding questions that will help them contribute to the Educational Technology Repository. The Ed Tech repository is a shared document where participants will take notes and share insights about tech tools they have explored for use in their teaching. A guide to ethical issues and questions will assist participants in identifying entry points for asking critical questions of educational technologies. Participants will then review common teaching technologies and document the tools’ approach to ethical issues in a shared repository. Participants will interact in the shared doc to collaboratively construct knowledge of our ed tech tools, or discuss and raise questions in a shared slack channel “Ethical Ed Tech”.

This workshop was developed by Laurie Hurson and Talisa Feliciano as part of the Teach@CUNY 2020 Summer Institute.

Workshop Materials


Exploration Guidance Handout


[1] Review Workshop materials (above)

  • Share questions and reflections in the #ethicaledtech Slack

[2] Review the Ed Tech Repository doc

  • Choose 2-3+ tools to explore. You can choose a tool in the tables, fill in blanks, and share notes and discoveries. You can also explore a tool not already included by adding it in the bottom of the doc (in the table or not, whatever is easier for you).
  • Post questions, reflections, in our slack the workshop slack channel “Ethical Ed Tech”

[3] Optional office/discussion hours.

  • After contributing to the Ed Tech repository and connecting with workshop developers in the #ethicaledtech slack, participants will have the option to hop on a Zoom call to further discuss and ask questions about how to incorporate digital tools into their teaching.


  • Understanding of ethical issues related to educational and digital technologies
  • To incorporate more digital learning technologies on syllabi