By:Kristen Eshleman and Bill Fitzgerald  

Image Credit: Matthew Henry

For this week’s digital citizenship conversation, we are looking at the interactions that occur when people are working in systems designed and supported by institutions. You can see what guides higher ed IT strategy over time in the annual EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues – a survey of concerns and priorities from the IT community, coupled with technology and education trends. We want to look at two parts of the 2017 Top 10 issues from the lens of digital citizenship and IT policy. We will do this by looking more closely at the issues that bookend the list – Digital Transformation of Learning (#10) and Information Security (#1).

Digital Transformation of Learning | Bill Fitzgerald
‘Digital Transformation’ as practiced at the institutional level typically involves multiple layers of standardization: a learning management system, curricular choices that fit into the particular learning management system, other approved software and hardware, the academic databases, broadband access, and content filtering and monitoring within institutional networks. Standards are not necessarily bad, but we don’t often acknowledge that “transformation” requires us to make decisions about what is or isn’t included.

Recently, the concept of inclusion has been running through my thoughts in large part because of three excellent posts on hidden immigrants, kith, and hospitality.

When we look at how people interact within the systems we have built, within the places where we congregate, we should also think about the obligations we have when we require that interaction occur in a specific place, using specific technologies, and specific modes of communication.

This week, as we look at the interplay between policies, personal agency, and digital citizenship, we want to ask how we can break these down to understand whether or not a policy:

  • supports belonging;
  • support learner agency;
  • expands (or limits) access.

In short, how do we determine who a policy works for, and why? Who gets to decide what deserves protection, and what requires oversight and moderation? Who gets to decide what level of protection is adequate?

These are essential questions because when our data systems fail, and the information is exposed, the people who are most affected are often not the ones who built them. When we invite students into an environment predicated on a ‘digital transformation of learning’, we require that they trust us with a broad array of information as a precondition of entry.

In information security and data security, we often talk about threat modeling. In digital citizenship, we commonly talk about risks versus harms. In some cases, we can benefit from an expanded framework – asking the questions that can be helpful to people who are required to work in closed systems where we might not have full access to the data collected about us. For example:

  • What do we want to protect/know/interact with?
  • How public/private do we want this interaction to be?
  • What are the costs to not engaging in an activity?
  • What are the consequences if our interactions are less than successful (assuming we know what “successful” looks like)?
  • What are the costs of having our privacy/security compromised as part of an individual activity?

And, these questions are grounded in additional matters that help shape our contexts:

  • What are the areas where I interact online and offline that are most important/least important?
  • What are the areas where I interact online and offline that carry the most risk?
  • What do I consider a risk?

The questions are not particularly profound, nor do they have a right or wrong answer. As we look ahead at the week and beyond, these are some of the concepts we’d like to explore together.

Information Security | Kristen Eshleman
The #1 IT issue on the EDUCAUSE Top 10 list – infosec – is also a key concept of digital citizenship. But when you read the description from this list, it’s pretty clear that our membership views information security policy not in the service of the individual digital citizen, but in the service of institutional IT systems. Although securing data is critically necessary for all IT operations, traditional designs do not contribute directly to our ‘business value’ (per ITIL standards). Colleges are not, for example, in the business of securing data. And, we don’t recognize the greatest and most forward-thinking Higher Ed IT departments as the ‘most secure’ IT departments.

To be clear, security breaches are a serious and potentially costly concern for institutions. But, we may be able to address the needs of institutions and individuals more effectively if we reframe the conversation from the lens of digital citizenship. Limiting the lens of infosec to ‘reducing institutional exposure’ overlooks other approaches that may in fact lead to a more secure environment. An educated and empowered community of learners that understands how to manage their own data is arguably a more secure design. More importantly, it is a design that aligns to the core values of teaching, learning and research.

As part of this conversation, we want to brainstorm whether an EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues list could align better with digital citizenship and drive strategy more effectively by asking different questions. But, what are the right questions? How do we put the concepts of digital citizenship at the center of IT strategy? How do our IT policies and designs address the questions raised by Bill?

Do we shift the question from “What are the top 10 issues facing higher ed IT?’ to something like: ‘What are the top 10 educational issues that IT organizations are best positioned to address’? We would likely still end up with infosec as a critical issue, but in the service of digital citizenship and digital transformation, our policies and designs might look very different.

Colleges and universities are beginning to grapple seriously with that it means to become a digital campus. Presidents and provosts increasingly look to IT to drive this transformation. It is a clear signal that the technologies we implement have a greater potential to move beyond a support role and shape the educational experience within institutions – for better or worse. Shaping this in a responsible, ethical way requires a shift in our understanding of technology’s impact, toward a deeper critical lens to the systems we design.

We are looking forward to speaking with you about these ideas. Join us on Tuesday, June 20 at 3pm ET for a live video call!

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