E-learning in Lusíada Universities – An Ethical and Cultural Inquiry

AUTHOR
Nuno Sotero Alves da Silva, Simon Rogerson and Bernd Stahl

ABSTRACT

Through the analysis of mankind history we conclude that technology and society can be waved in a feedback model, as Toffler (1980) describes. Afterword, ICT revolution introduces a new complex world of distributed, interactive and collaborative systems engaging organizations. In that sense, the educational environment is an example not only because, it promotes technological innovation as itself, but also as a user of that innovation.

Regarding the case of e-learning, through literature acknowledge it is possible to underpin several definitions. Typically it is related with creation, delivery, and management of learning using Internet tools and technology as posted by Martin and Webb (1999) or; “nothing more than the use of electronic tools and technologies to assist us in our teaching and learning” (Stahl, 2005).

Through out the analysis of such literature we may state that high quality e-learning material engages (Turban, 2006):

  • high levels of interactivity;
  • vivid simulations;
  • video and/or audio;
  • community based: with access to tutors or fellow e-learners;
  • eliminating barriers of time, distance, and socioeconomic status.

However, assuming that such technological perspective of future educational process is enough, is condemned such technology to a failure. In fact, ethical and cultural issues bias may incorporate the answer to unsuccessful e-learning realities. In that sense, the aim of this paper is to report the lessons engaged by the empirical enquiry regarding Lusíada Universities organizational setting, and its e-learning project.

To obtain plausible results regarding the quoted research, we are induced by the following research questions:

  • what is e-learning implementation at a University setting?
  • what is the impact of culture on the implementation of e-universities?
  • what is the impact of Ethics on the implementation of e-universities?
  • what is the link of cultural, ethical and e-learning issues at e-University setting?

Given the research questions, the next and natural step is to underline the concept of culture and ethics. Culture embraces national and organizational perspectives. We may state that “national” culture is what distinguishes the character of a society. In that sense, it is important to note that the cultural boundaries between nations became increasingly interesting, and there may be significant cultural differences within countries (Hofstede, 1986), which is relevant interest in the case of Lusíada Universities in Portugal and Angola.

On the other hand, ethics has to be seen in a social context. Such perspective induces us to make an individual choice about which principles to follow as a requirement of fairness or justice. Ethical principles can be conceptualized here as general guidelines, ideals, or expectations that need to be taken into account, along with other relevant conditions and circumstances, in the design and analysis of electronic university in the proposed specific contexts. Therefore, ethics need a unifying principal, according to Moor (1999, p66) in “just consequentialism”, that would protect rights through an impartiality test, and then increase benefits to promote human flourishing. This consequentialism often has Aristotelic fundamental conceptions, and justifies how different conceptions of education may impact the Good Life.

To conclude, we may affirm that the ethical and cultural impacts can emerge trough the development and implementation process of an e-learning technology (Rogerson, 2004) and computer ethics (Moor, 1985) arise. Computer ethics might be understood very narrowly as the efforts of professional philosophers to apply traditional ethical theories like utilitarianism, Kantianism, or virtue ethics to issues regarding the use of computer technology. Regarding specifically the use of ICT on education, Stahl (2002) identified some moral problems (power, privacy, monitoring, surveillance, access, opportunity cost, and awareness) that should be considered to allow the identification of relevant issues in particular contexts of this paper, in three levels:

  • macro level: what is the purpose of education?;
  • meso-level: what is the purpose of organisation? (Kant vs Cultural Relativism!);
  • micro-level: do I agree with the organisation’s definitions?.

Afterwards it is explored what can be common between culture, ethics and e-Learning, in fact, a few existing literature can help on this meaning. Computer ethics requires us to think about the new nature of computer technology and our values. The term “e-Values of learning” will be suggested, promoting them we can expect the needs of e-learning, but what are e-Values?. Must be values associated to the electronic technology, regarding the role of university in society (Brey, 2004).

An initial proposed methodology based on a qualitative approach was tested. Such methodology implied empirical work done on pilot case studies, which embraced data collection through interviews, field notes, documents, participant observations and some historical stories. To agglutinate this research, action research and case studies configure the best practice, policy development and theory creation in order to help solving practical problems. The empirical result that emerged from the interpretative analysis of the data collected, in accordance to Walsham (1995), is a consequence of the iterative process between field data and theoretical model evolved over time, which will be stated in the final version of the paper.

Such paper will also distinguish three technical phases for the analysis of project implementation (Technological Infrastructures and Services, Knowledge/Content Management, and Computer Mediated Communication), and one top phase linking strategic issues. Each phase could represent the progress of project and could be analysed in accordance to the following figure:
ethicomp2008_silva_rogerson_fig
As a final remark, we should state that the e-learning project in Lusíada Universities is under revaluation. Such revaluation will engage a new plan that will be submitted to Top Management (Administrative Council), and stakeholders (including the commercial suppliers). Regarding the status quo and future needs to highlight a new strategy, namely including ethical and cultural issues, will be frame worked in this paper.

However, an interesting finding is that e-learning emerged as a key reference on Lusíada Universities; however despite this revealed strategic interest, the practical implementation is still under development, and with diverse intermediate results. For that, we will present a comparative analysis for each case study and comments regarding each case study, as well as, the chosen methodology will be welcome.

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