Saturday, November 26, 2011

Risks for Students with e-Learning

Rodney Gedda reported in "Monash Uni moves e-learning to Moodle" (Techworld Australia, 10 May 2011):
... Monash’s decision to go with the Moodle 2.0 (released last November) learning management system (LMS) should provide greater autonomy to both educators and students, according to Moodle services provider NetSpot. ...
Netspot is the same company ANU uses for their Moodle support. But I am not sure Moodle, or any Learning Management System (LMS), necessarily provides greater autonomy for educators or students. You can use the LMS as a Panopticon, limiting choices and observing every action by staff and students. This is something ANU has wisely avoided the temptation to do.

Moodle is very flexible, but the educational design will have more effect on the student than the particular LMS used. At the moment I am studying a unit at USQ, as part of the ANU teaching certificate. USQ's Moodle implementation looks so different to ANU that the average student would not notice the same software was being used.

Monash University are also providing students with a web based suite of applications. This makes is easy to maintain and gives the students reasonable set of tools. A student would then just need a low cost laptop or tablet computer. Even a $80 digital TV set top box would do, as some of these now have a web browser built in. I will be demonstrating the use of eBooks and Moodle for and an ANU course at the the Australian Human-Computer Interaction Conference (OzCHI) at ANU 12:30 Thursday.

But cloud based applications have privacy implications: all the staff and student's work may be stored on overseas servers and thus subject to the laws of another country, without the protection of Australian privacy legislation. International students are particularity vulnerable to this. A student might express political views at an Australian university, thinking their discussions are private. But all the student's university email, assignments and tutorial discussions could be readable remotely and used as evidence of political or religious crimes.

My suggestion is to use web based applications, but ensure the data is stored on the university's computer system, on a service in Australia, or in a country with similar laws. This would exclude the USA, as it does not subscribe to the same privacy principles as Australia. That precludes the use of Google Apps and the Microsoft equivalent by Australian universities.

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