The Social, Ethical, and Legal Aspects of Online Education by Holly Curtis

Since the Internet was created it has provided plenty of information and opportunities for one to excel. Over the years the use of the Internet has been an essential tool in higher education. For many years, the Internet has been a substitute for libraries all across the nation.  The Internet provides an abundance of information with endless results. The Internet also plays a major role in transforming and connecting America with other parts of the world.

Although, the growth of online education has grown, in the old days most online opportunities were for higher learning but in recent studies that has changed. Since that change, now almost every student from grades K-12 has used the Internet for some type of research.  Research has shown that in the “last 9 years, enrollments online elementary schools have nearly tripled.” This can provide many benefits in the educational landscape as well as improve performances. The classroom dynamic is changing drastically; a recent study has shown teachers have traded in their chalk and chalkboards for digital technologies. In fact these new digital technologies have become a central tool in teaching.

According to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project “92 percent of teachers say the internet has a “major impact” on their ability to access content, resources, and materials for their teaching”. For most educators the impact of the Internet and digital technologies play a huge roll in their classrooms. This transformation in teaching has changed the way students learn, interact, and excel in the classroom. Most online educational program allows students to work at their own pace, teachers to alter lesson plans, and increase interaction between students, teachers, and parents.  A system like this would only be effective if each school district and homes in the district has access to the Internet and computers.  Although, we are in the 21-century there is still a digital divide between district, community, and households. There are a number of factors for these divides, one does a house have access to a computer, how far is the education level within a household, and can the household afford Internet access.

Is this ethical to offer an online education system in districts that cannot afford digital technologies? The answer is no, because most broadband technologies are funded by private sectors and are based on subscribers.  Subscribers can also divide the digital gap because “studies suggest that the rate of broadband deployment in urban/suburban and high income areas is outpacing deployment in rural and low-income areas.”  Those who earn higher incomes are most likely to have a computer and access to high speed Internet. Studies show 97 percent of households making over $100,000 a year have access to high speed Internet. That’s a huge gap because 30 percent of households earning less than $20,000 do not have access to Internet or any other digital advancements.  With such digital divisions, institutions must take into consideration the ethical factors, economic differences and learning demands.

When dealing with the ethical factors of online education companies must determined what is acceptable and not acceptable.  There are many policies set in place for professors in an institutional setting in terms of ethics but in terms of online education, teaching knows no boundaries. The Internet is a huge contributor of providing an endless amount of information but what rules are set in place for online educators?

Most education online institutions have their own rules and regulation many of these rules deal with privacy, copyright, and licensing to stop unethical issues.  Every online institutions has one thing in common and that is what’s acceptable usage, how will institutions prevent illegal activities while respecting users privacy?  The truth is they really can’t, people have the right to privacy.

According to PEW Internet “works governed by copyright laws worldwide include traditional works of authorship such as books, photographs, video, and music,” each online instructor must aware of these laws. Each digital learning program must have copyrights to use any material that does not belong to them. Licensing agreements also plays a major part in online teaching, before any institution provides any software to students or staff the must have a licensing agreement.  This will allow student and staff to use any resources available to them without any problems.  Many online institutions have all ready put these rules and regulation to use because online learning is growing and it will continue to grow. The solution is not to avoid the change but embrace it and prepare for it.


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