Coded Bias: Education Panelist Perspective

The film Coded Bias makes an excellent contribution to a dialogue that is far too limited in education. My comments and perspectives are based on my career as a K-12 teacher and now working in teacher education in post-secondary with an interest in transforming teaching and learning. I would like to thank Shalini Kantayya and everyone involved in the film making for provoking this much needed dialogue to help guide the way forward as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) continue to evolve and impact all aspects of society. The film reminds us that societal biases can be encoded in algorithms unknowingly or unintentionally and can lead to algorithmic bias, a problem that may not be easily detected. The use of algorithms can lead to important decisions that affect people’s lives. As shown in the film, it’s possible for an algorithm to provide an invalid assessment of an exemplary teacher that can impact employment, retention or tenure. Similarly, invalid assessments of students can impact admissions, program advancement, assessments and decisions related to their academic conduct. What are the imperatives for education? For educators, for schools, for curricula? I would like to discuss three imperatives (I’m sure there are many more):

First, biases need to be critically examined. I often refer to the double-edged sword of innovation. With AI for example, there can be extraordinary opportunities for improvement, such as increased efficiency but there can also be significant consequences, such as the invasive surveillance shown in the film. Technology can be helpful and at the same time technology can also cause undue harm. AI can be developed for seemingly good purposes and with intent to be harmless not harmful. However, there can be insufficient attention to the biases in designs. In teaching we refer to teachers as designers of learning and recognize that each teacher has bias, each curriculum designer has bias, each curriculum has bias. The film demonstrates why it is important for designers in any field to analyze bias in their designs. Bias in designs need to be critically analyzed and questioned from multiple perspectives; bias needs to be discovered and uncovered at the very early stages in the design process. Too often designers move from prototype to testing or from draft curricula in education to pilot phases without critically examining and limiting the biases.

A second imperative is to raise the expectations and standards for ethics in designs.

In education we need transparency and accountability for algorithms that are used that have potential to impact overall advancement of individuals. There needs to be full disclosure of the algorithms and there needs to be regulations for their use. We need to question the ethics and raise the standards when using AI as the first step and first stop in making important decisions that have human impact. False positives can have a significant negative human impact.

A third imperative is to take responsibility and assume a role in protecting integrity. We all have a role and responsibility to protect the integrity of a meaningful world. In my role as an educator and scholar in education, and an academic coordinator for a graduate program called Leading and Learning in a Digital Age, I aim to design courses and conduct research and continually interrogate and critically examine implications of innovations in education. We need to advocate for, look for and consider plausible consequences when designing learning or when faced with testing or piloting any new inventions and innovation. As a society, how might we take action? How might we advance high standards of the technologies we use with learners, the technologies we develop for learning, the learning designs and the curricula used?

There were three key imperatives that resonated with me from an educational perspective as I viewed the film: there is a need to critically examine the biases; there is a need to raise the expectations and standards for ethics in designs; and there is need for all of us to take responsibility and assume a role in protecting the integrity of a meaningful world.

You may find the following related links interesting ( shared by Dr. Lisa Silver,  Faculty of Law, University of Calgary):

Federal Digital Charter: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/062.nsf/eng/h_00108.html

Law Commission of Ontario, The Rise and Fall of AI and Algorithms In American Criminal Justice: Lessons for Canada, (Toronto: October 2020)

Lisa Silver and Gideon Christian, “Harnessing the Power of AI Technology; A Commentary on the Law Commission of Ontario Report on AI and the Criminal Justice System” (November 18, 2020), online: ABlawg, http://ablawg.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Blog_LS_GC_LCO_Report.pdf (commenting on the LCO Report)

Recent privacy review of Clearview AI: Joint investigation of Clearview AI, Inc. by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec, the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, and the Information Privacy Commissioner of Alberta:

https://canlii.ca/t/jd55x

Ewert v. Canada, 2018 SCC 30 (CanLII), [2018] 2 SCR 165: https://canlii.ca/t/hshjz (bias in risk assessment tools)

Multiple Reports on the issue from AI NOW Institute: https://ainowinstitute.org/reports.html.

LAWNOW Magazine – Special report on Privacy: https://canlii.ca/t/sjpm

An accessible perspective: McSweeney’s Issue 54: The End of Trust (2018)

Analysis of digital literacies in the Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum

 

By Barbara Brown & Michele Jacobsen

Over the past couple of weeks, Alberta educators, curriculum experts and researchers have offered a variety of responses to the March 2021 Draft Alberta K-6 Curriculum [start here, here, here, and here]. One journalist gave the draft top marks, but most experts, after detailed and critical review, assign a failing grade. Dr. Carla Peck, Professor of Social Studies Education, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta, completed a detailed analysis of the draft K-6 Social Studies Curriculum and calls for a complete re-write. In a future post, we will address the clear disconnect between professional practice expectations of teachers (TQS), school leaders (LQS), and superintendents (SLQS) and the draft K-6 curriculum. The professional practice standards include competencies for applying foundational knowledge of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and culture in educational professionals’ work with children, and these ideas and concepts are only superficially addressed in the draft curriculum.

 

An explosion of social media activity includes diverse commentary and sharp critiques that run counter the positive and defensive narrative from the ministry. We appreciate the detailed analysis of plagiarism in the curriculum documents provided by our colleague, Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton, from the University of Calgary. The two of us (Drs. Brown and Jacobsen) have decided to weigh in on the relative lack of any meaningful role for learning technology and digital media in the draft K-6 Curriculum documents. Our initial analysis contributes a review of digital literacies and competencies, technology, coding and ethics from an educational technology perspective. The two of us hold teaching expertise and our doctorates in educational technology, conduct research in online and blended K-12 and post-secondary contexts, and have been involved in development of the Information and Communication Technology Curriculum (2000) and the Technology Policy Framework (2013) . We have both served as members of the School Technology Advisory Committee in Alberta. Alberta Education has been a world leader in the integration of technology for learning across the curriculum. The timeline of learning and technology in Alberta from 1975 to 2009 also includes various initiatives and research projects that we have both been part of and provides a foundation for our research in Alberta schools.

 

We are also involved in designing and continually updating contemporary university programs for educators, such as the Leading and Learning in a Digital Age graduate certificate that invites critical inquiry on leading learning and teaching with technology across the curriculum.

 

The following themes emerged in our analysis of close to 273 pages of draft curriculum documents including the competency progressions, literacy progressions, numeracy progressions, subject introductions and draft curriculum for ELA, Fine Arts, Mathematics, Physical Education and Wellness, Science, Social Studies, and Visual Arts. Our review does not include the French Immersion or French Language curriculum, Dance, Music or Drama. We suggest further analysis of learning technologies and digital literacy should include all of the draft curriculum documents.

 

Our initial analysis includes five key areas of concern related to digital literacies in the draft K-6 curriculum. First, we note that digital literacies and digital competencies are not part of the literacy progressions. We note that digital texts are referenced 5 times, as are vague notions of modes and media. We argue that specific reference to digital literacies and digital competencies must be included in the literacy progressions in a modern curriculum, especially if Alberta children are to learn how to navigate, evaluate and create knowledge in this post-truth era in which disinformation, appeals to emotion and fake news proliferates.

 

Second, the outcomes that include the terms technology, technologies or digital are limited in frequency throughout the curriculum, include few expectations for the early grades and are unclear with a possibility for different interpretations:

  • Words with technology appeared in 20 instances in the English Language Arts, Math and Science documents, and the term “technologies” also appeared in 20 instances but only in the Science documents.
  • In the English Language Arts K-6 draft, the first of three instances of technology appeared in grade 4. Based on our research, we are concerned about this omission in K-3 in the English Language Arts curriculum and discuss findings from one of our studies with early learners using technology here. The way the term technology and technologies are used in the draft curriculum are ambiguous. For example, in the Language arts curriculum in grade 6 – “Vocabulary is contextual and influenced by emerging or changing conditions, including technology” is vague and can be interpreted as optional.
  • In Math, the single instance of technology appeared in grade 5: “Create various representations of data, including with technology, to interpret frequency.”
  • In the Science curriculum, the term technology appeared in the introduction and started to appear minimally in grade 2. The term technologies appeared starting in grade 3. However, the terms technology and technologies appeared most frequently in the grade 5-6 outcomes. Even in the science curriculum, we noted the ambiguous use. For example, in Science Grade 6, the term technology is used as part of a list (e.g., computers, coding and technology).
  • Even though the term digital appears in over 130 instances throughout the documents, the term is mostly preceded by the term OR and can be interpreted as optional. For example, “use non-digital OR digital sources/texts” is commonly used in the English Language Arts curriculum. In contrast, a conceptual framework for emergent digital literacy from Australia used more precise language, “As we progress in the 21st century, children learn to become proficient readers and writers of both digital and non-digital texts” (Neumann, Finger & Neumann, 2017, p. 471). The Australian authors clearly emphasize the use of both digital and non-digital unlike the ambiguous wording currently used in the draft Alberta curriculum.

 

Third, we are concerned that the use of coding in the curriculum suggests that computer programming skills are sufficiently integrated in the draft K-6 curriculum. While computer science is listed in the practical skills section, coding is simplified in the learning outcomes as a mechanical process that can be done with paper/pencil. When we searched the 273 pages, the word coding only appeared in 17 learning outcomes and all of these instances were found in the Science curriculum grade 5, 6. The integration of coding is limited to learning in one disciplinary area and is absent for younger learners. Where are the “algorithms, technology and engineering to design solutions to problems” evident in the learning outcomes? These omissions in the draft curriculum stand in direct contrast to contemporary research on the importance of coding and computational thinking for all learners worldwide.  Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director (March 22, 2019), asked “Should schools teach coding?”, and presents important questions about coding and computational thinking that need to be better considered in the Alberta K-6 draft curriculum: “How can we focus learning on the “essence” of a subject rather than the ‘mechanics of the moment’? It is fair to question how working code on paper in a modern age offers any value beyond rote mechanics.

 

Fourth, we argue the curriculum should include explicit focus on ethics and technology at every age. The word ethics only appears in 3 instances and all of these were in the Science curriculum, grade 5. Here’s one of our recent books regarding the importance of ethical use of technology in digital learning environments to support our argument for increasing the curricular focus in this area. As they engage deeply in accessing and contributing knowledge a digital world, Alberta students and teachers need to be engaged in conversations and inquiry into contemporary issues such as personal privacy, access rights, copyright, surveillance, and security.

 

Fifth, there is limited and superficial reference to technology and digital competencies in this draft curriculum. We would have expected a new curriculum to build on or further develop the concepts and ideas in the Learning and Technology Policy Framework (LTPF) from 2013. The LTPF, Policy Direction 1 described the direction for technology use with students: “to support student-centred, personalized, authentic learning for all students” (p. 5) and this could have been a great starting point for developing a contemporary curriculum for Alberta’s children. Instead, this draft curriculum takes us back decades in failing to adequately consider learning technologies, digital literacy and digital competencies for Alberta children.

 

We recognize this is an initial versus comprehensive critique of the relative absence of meaningful consideration of educational technology in the draft. We anticipate and welcome more commentaries and critique to emerge over the coming days and weeks. Based on our initial analysis, we argue the ministry needs to go back to the drawing board to design a contemporary curriculum that prepares learners for their digital futures and digital economies, instead of our pasts. We also encourage everyone to get involved in the public engagement and provide feedback on the draft K-6 curriculum presented in March 2021.

 

Schleicher (2019), OECD, leaves us with this call to action: “To determine what tomorrow’s students should learn, we must assemble the best minds in a given country – leading experts in the field, but also those who understand how students learn, as well as those who have a good understanding of how knowledge and skills are used in the real world. Such knowledge sharing will allow us to more precisely determine and regularly re-examine which topics should be taught and in what sequence – without succumbing to the temptations of the moment” (P 9).

 

Some of the best minds and leading experts in their fields across Alberta, and school, classroom and university experts who understand how children learn, are analyzing, questioning and critiquing elements of this draft curriculum; will the Minister of Education listen? Or, will she continue to succumb to the ideological and political temptations of the moment?

Note: This post is also available on Dr. Michele Jacobsen’s blog

Feel free to connect with us: babrown@ucalgary.ca and dmjacobs@ucalgary.ca  OR Twitter handles: @barbbrown @dmichelej

 

Ethical use of technology in digital learning environments

Brown, B., Roberts, V., Jacobsen, M., Hurrell, C. (Eds.). (2020). Ethical use of technology in digital learning environments: Graduate student perspectives. University of Calgary. https://doi.org/10.11575/ant1-kb38

This open access book is the result of a co-design project in a class in the Masters of Education program at the University of Calgary, Leading and Learning in a Digital Age – https://werklund.ucalgary.ca/graduate-programs/leading-learning-in-digital-age

The course, and the resulting book, focus primarily on the safe and ethical use of technology in digital learning environments. The course was organized according to four topics based on Farrow’s (2016) Framework for the Ethics of Open Education. Students were invited to contribute a chapter and co-design the chapter with their instructor and peers. Behind the scenes, there was a team of editors and research assistants who worked to create the book and publish in the open access format. As a result, there are ten chapters in the book, including nine chapters written by students in the program and an introductory chapter written by the team of editors. It took one full year to complete the book from start to finish. The chapters were drafted during the early part of 2020 and the team of editors carefully reviewed each chapter and continued to work with the chapter authors throughout the year to make revisions and refine each chapter. Finally, the chapters were reviewed by a professional copyeditor prior to publishing the book. It was impressive to see the high level of student engagement and level of commitment demonstrated by the students even after they completed their course work and the program.

If you are interested in learning more about the MEd program in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, consider Leading and Learning in a Digital Age – https://werklund.ucalgary.ca/graduate-programs/leading-learning-in-digital-age

Applications for programs starting in July 2021 are now open and close on March 1, 2021.