Ethical obligations of instructors in free courses? #rhizo14 #rhizo15

What is the responsibility of an academic blogger when referencing public sources? I made a post to a public Facebook group with the goal of starting a discussion, and then my post was inadequately summarized in a public blog post without attribution.  My question is publicly available, but in the blog post it was pseudo-anonymized.  I feel my motives for asking were called into question in a way which made it difficult for me to respond.   Anyone can go to Facebook and search for that post and find out exactly who wrote it, and view it through the lens of the summary, but my words were not allowed to stand on their own.

Here is what I posted to the rhizo Facebook group: “Having just read http://www.openpraxis.org/index.p…/OpenPraxis/…/view/173/140, I wonder, what are the ethical obligations of the facilitator/teacher? Especially in a situation where the person is offering the ‘course’ as an individual volunteer – not associated with any University. There is no branding or quality assurance standard associated with an individual offering, like there might be if it was “officially” associated with a University … so then what, if any, are those ethical requirements? And how do we manage them in a way that doesn’t stifle pedagogical innovation (and frankly, a free service for the people)?” (link)

Here is what Frances Bell says on her blog: “The second was introduced by a comment raising doubts about the extent of ethical obligation of the leader of a voluntary extra-institutional cMOOC like Rhizo14, and ran on to include some other concerns about the paper.” (link).

My concern is in part the ethics itself of summarizing what someone says in a public forum without giving them attribution for what they said. It is OK not to call out someone who shares a private message, but in my view it isn’t appropriate when the original full conversation can be easily found by a Google/Facebook search. The problem is, that person is not anonymous. They cannot be. My awareness of this issue and approaches to handling it have been guided by Kozinets, R. (2010). Netnography: Doing ethnographic research online. London, UK: Sage Publications.

I also feel like the summary attributed the entire discussion to me.  I don’t see how I “ran on to include some other concerns about the paper”. As frequently happens in the Rhizo14 Facebook group, the conversation followed many paths, few of which align with the original question asked. This is why I like the Rhizo14 group so much, discussions bring in many different perspectives and ideas. There is value in that.

I chose not to engage in the comments section of Frances’ blog as I was at one point invited to do in the thread. I did this because the comments section of a blog has a high power imbalance. Unlike the public Facebook group, there is a clear owner for the blog. The author of the blog is given the dominant voice in any conversation that occurs.  As an example of what can occur due to this power imbalance, see http://blog.jonudell.net/2015/01/28/another-internet-miracle/.  I didn’t feel comfortable posting in that context, so I chose to post here – on my blog – where I can clearly take ownership of my words. I’m happy to engage in discussion either here, on the Rhizo Facebook group, or on Twitter (just tag me @rjhogue).

Unfortunately, with the various threads of conversation, my actual question never got answered to my satisfaction. No one really addressed the more generic question about what are the expected ethical requirements for someone offering a free course on the Internet? Part of the reason I asked, was because, starting March 1st, I’m offering a free course. The article by Mackness and Bell (2015) made me concerned about what I’m doing. I’m facilitating a course about illness blogging over at http://shouldiblog.org. Due to the nature of the content (primarily focused on blogging about cancer), it has a huge potential to cause participant discomfort. Reading about cancer is inherently uncomfortable, and especially so if you are in the newly diagnosed or acute treatment phases. There is a real chance that my course may have unintended consequences.

So, I ask you all, what are the ethical requirements of a person who is facilitating a free course on the Internet? Especially when that person is doing so without the affiliation of an organization such as a university?

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this Rebecca. I only came across it because someone directed me to it, but I am glad that I did as I would like to do my best to address your grievance and make good any bad outcomes if possible. I assume that we both have good intentions so hopefully that will be possible. First let me explain why I did not attribute your post on my blog. Although anyone logged into Facebook can access the permalink you have posted, the rest of the world cannot and so I do not regard the Facebook group as a completely public forum. I understand that you see it differently and that is an example of how two different knowledgeable and well-intentioned people will arrive at different approaches whilst trying to be ethical.
    I will attribute the FB post to you and link to this post for your background to it. When I responded to your FB post, I was completely unaware that you were referring to yourself and your proposed blogging course,as I knew nothing of it. I interpreted your question as referring to Dave Cormier’s Rhizo14 course, hence the content of the first half of the sentence you quoted. The second half of the sentence was just sloppily written and I apologise for that. I would very much appreciate your suggestions for rewording and will conduct that conversation via whatever means is convenient for you.
    I will not presume to answer your question here unless you wish me to do so. I wish you well with your blogging course – it’s a very worthwhile and valuable endeavour. My best friend was very recently diagnosed with cancer, and I have shared with her Kate Bowles’ blog https://musicfordeckchairs.wordpress.com/cancer-and-what-turns-up/. I also gave her, on Kate’s recommendation, the Atul Gawande book – Being Mortal- and a subscription to the London Review of Books that gives her access to all of Jenny Diski’s blog posts on her cancer eg http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n17/jenny-diski/a-diagnosis .
    Please let me know about the rewording – I will have stab in the mean time.

    • Hi Frances,
      Thanks for the quick reply. I appreciate your perspective with regard to Facebook and public access. It is an interesting challenge, and one that I have had to think much on – as my course will use Facebook but not everyone is comfortable with it.
      The discussions around your article have been very valuable, as they have allowed me to see things through a lens that I had not considered – and that, in turn, is allowing me to build a better course.
      Feel free to share my other blog with your friend – http://bcbecky.com – I have some resources there to help specifically with dealing with new diagnosis and chemotherapy.
      Cheers, Rebecca

      • Thanks for that link Rebecca. I will pass it on to my friend. Although she was a GP for nearly forty years and still works pro bono in a hospice she would be the first to acknowledge how much she has learned from being a patient. I will reword that part of my blog post later on making clear that it is an edit -please do let me know if there are still problems.

  2. Hey Rebecca, i have always admired how u reacted to cancer and ur blog is already educational; doing a MOOC is one more act of generosity :)

    I was wondering if it is helpful to do the following:
    A. Let participants know of ur concerns for them
    B. Let them know you are there if they need you, and how they can reach you
    C. Let participants know they are sort of asked to support each other if they can (like an online support group – do they have codes of ethics?)
    D. MaYbe ask participants to have someone in their f2f context they can talk to about the MOOC?

    Just some prelim thoughts. I know u care, so i think the key is to transfer that feeling to others online (an upcoming post of mine)

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