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Amy Ogan is the Thomas and Lydia Moran
Assistant Professor of Learning Science in
the Human-Computer Interaction Institute
at Carnegie Mellon University. She is an
educational technologist making learning
experiences more engaging, effective, and
enjoyable. She has conducted field research
on the deployment of educational technology
across many international sites.
capture the outcomes of their research
into what works in their classroom could
let us move the science of learning
forward much faster and for a broader
set of contexts than academics would
ever be able to do on their own.
ETHICS AND FAIRNESS
Of course, with these exciting possibilities we still have not sidestepped
the serious questions about ethics
and fairness that should be examined
closely—as with all new technologies.
As researchers, our next steps should
interrogate who has access to this data,
what they might do with it when they
have it, and who could possibly benefit
from its use.
For instance, if students had greater
access to their own data, they might
reflect on what actually engages them in
class and find productive ways to
transform activities they don’t find as
interesting—or they might instead
deflect blame for their own lack of
understanding onto a “boring” lecture.
If parents access classroom data, they
might use such data to better understand the progress of their child or to
find ways to help them develop their
confidence. Or they might use it to raise
concerns about a teacher whose approach they do not like.
Alternatively, our own investigations
have revealed teachers’ deep fear that
school administrations might access and
use such data to evaluate their teachers.
But on the other hand, they may use it
to distribute support more equitably to
various classrooms, or to reward
teachers who show regular improvement.
Whether or not concerns over
teacher and student privacy and data
control are resolved, the future of
sensors in the classroom may be
happening organically without the input
of security experts. The Amazon Echo,
which collects voice data and sends it to
the cloud for analysis, has been making
an appearance in classrooms. As shown
at the 2019 International Society for
Technology in Education conference,
the Echo has been trained to do things
like announce teacher absences for the
day, indicate whether any classrooms
need a substitute teacher, and deliver
notifications about any urgent forms to
sign. The Echo can be used for adminis-
trators by providing a daily report of
critical information, or could enable
teachers to report an illness from home
and whether they are able to make it to
school that day. As EdSurge recently
reported, “These demos come just one
year after an Amazon representative
said—at the same conference—that
Alexa should not be used in the class-
room due to privacy and compliance
issues. But that warning hasn’t stopped
some educators…who presented at ISTE
about how [they have] helped teachers in
[their] district bring Alexa into their
classrooms” [ 14].
In the meantime, while we create frame-
works to help us make sense of this new
world, I propose some guidelines to follow
for more ethical use of classroom sensing:
• Redefine classroom sensing as the
use of cameras, microphones, and other
sensors to collect data about partici-
pants in the learning ecosystem, not just
• Ensure that the person whose data is
being collected is in control of what
happens with that data; always anonymize
and/or aggregate other participants’ data
if they are not in control.
• Data should be used for formative
understanding aimed toward improvement, rather than in an evaluative
• Participants should always have the
choice to reflect on the particular data
captured and use it or not use it.
Like all powerful technologies,
classroom sensing can be used in ways
that empower stakeholders or oppress
them. Before putting this technology in
the hands of for-profit companies, this is a
call to arms for the teaching and HCI
researcher and practitioner communities
to work together as stewards of the
future, providing frameworks for how
classroom sensing can be applied
ethically and effectively.
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in Computing Systems. ACM, New York,
DOI: 10.1145/3358902 COPYRIGHT HELD BY AUTHOR. PUBLICATION RIGHTS LICENSED TO ACM. $15.00