Rights protection proposed for digital learners

January 31, 2013

A group of academics in North America have drafted a “bill of rights” for online students over fears that their interests are being undermined by developments in digital education.

The “Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age” outlines fundamental rights that students should be able to demand from universities, colleges and companies that offer online courses. They include a right to privacy, to own one’s own intellectual property and to financial transparency.

The bill emerged from a summit convened by Sebastien Thrun, co-founder of the massive open online course (Mooc) provider Udacity, and his wife Petra Dierkes-Thrun, a lecturer in comparative literature at Stanford University. It is signed by 10 other people who are well known in the field of online learning.

“The internet has made it possible for anyone on the planet to be a student, a teacher, and a creative collaborator at virtually no cost,” the bill states. “Novel technologies that can catalyze learning are bubbling up in less time than it takes to read this sentence.”

The document recognises that the proliferation of online courses, and particularly Moocs, gives students an “awe-inspiring opportunity” to learn.

However, as the technology develops, there is a risk that the voice of the students will “get muffled”.

“For that reason, we feel compelled to articulate the opportunities for students in this brave electronic world, to assert their needs and - we dare say - rights,” it says. “Our broad goal is to inspire an open, learner-centered dialogue around the rights.”

Bonnie Stewart, a PhD candidate and sessional lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada, and one of the architects of the bill, said: “Over the next year or so, with Moocs and fiscal pressures driving the uptake of online courses, many people at many institutions will be called to design hybrid or online learning experiences.

“Some will have extensive expertise in digital pedagogies; some won’t. We wanted to try to open this conversation in the hope of promoting and provoking ideas among those who won’t.”

chris.parr@tsleducation.com.

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