Staying Legal and Ethical in Global E-Learning Course and Training Developments: An Exploration

Staying Legal and Ethical in Global E-Learning Course and Training Developments: An Exploration

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-906-0.ch058
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In global e-learning, a mix of laws, policies, and professional practices informs the work environment. While legal issues may be addressed at the institutional level through the important work of legal counsel (university lawyers) and administrators, line-level faculty and staff have responsibilities to uphold and adhere to a variety of laws, ethical principles, policies, and “best practices” for staying legal.
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Re-using a Stylebook? A course designer is working under a federal grant to develop an online course that will be used around the country. During the work, a stylebook is originated that may have wide applicability to a variety of projects. Should that course designer be able to re-use the generic outlines of the stylebook for other projects? Should other online contents be re-usable in other training contexts? Why or why not?

Versioning a Curriculum for Cultural Palatability: Trainings being developed for a conservative country involve the stipulation that no males or females be depicted as interacting with each other. This means re-shooting video with only males making the decisions and doing the work. Any imagery of women should follow strict guidelines for what may be shown. What should the course designer(s) do? What should course designers do when the messages in courses and trainings go against broader ethics or values or political sensibilities? How far should realities be re-depicted for cultural palatability?

Embedded “Social Justice” Messages: The research on the “affordances” of socio-technical spaces suggests that every training experience has some cultural meanings—some intentionally embedded, and some accidentally created. A simulation designer has been asked to embed social justice messages in the immersive space and design. How transparent should these messages be? Should learners be made aware that such messages have been embedded? Why or why not? What if some messages involve the projection of a country’s “soft power”?

Commercial Interests in Educational Trainings: Various multinational companies would like to capitalize on product placement in immersive online learning spaces. They want their products to receive attention from a global marketplace. They ask the course designers if they may embed their products or methodologies into various online trainings. What should the course designers do? Why?

Trade Secrets: A global course involves high-end creative design. Some of the work will involve blueprints for different projects or designs or looks-and-feels. Others will involve full business plans. Students own the rights to their own works. However, the course is one that other students, graduate teaching assistants, and faculty members all have access to. Subject matter experts (SMEs) and experts in the field may also have access, for student learning. The instructor wants students to be as creative as possible, but he / she also wants students to have their own intellectual property protected. Their work is not at the level of professional research and development (R&D), but there are still valuable creative insights, some of them actionable. What should the instructor do to warn students of potential loss of IP? What policies should be put into place at the course level to protect the work? In cases of e-portolios, gallery shows, and graduation presentations, how may intellectual property be protected?

The five above cases tap into some ethical and legal issues that may arise in the development of global e-learning. Developing courses for a global e-learning environment involves a range of local, national, and international legal concerns. These involve issues of social justice, human identity and dignity, accessibility, the ownership of intellectual property, and actual learning.



The rationales for pursuing “clean” course or training developments are manifold. First, a legally clean build means less retrofitting of the original course or training contents. Second, it means professional work and a pristine hand-off when the work has been completed. Third, a legally sound curricular build often aligns with ethical and moral principles. Fourth, adherence to legal standards may ultimately mean avoidance of litigation, or preparedness for litigation, if that becomes unavoidable. Figure 1: “Why ‘Legal’ Global E-Learning Builds” addresses these rationales.

Figure 1.

Why “Legal” Global E-Learning Builds


Key Terms in this Chapter

Defamation: Injury to the reputation of another (through slander or libel).

Universal Design: Principles of design principles to create environments, products, communications, and experiences that are the most broadly accessible, with built-in accommodations (These standards have been described as the following: equitable use; flexibility in use; simple and intuitive; perceptible information; tolerance for error; low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use, according to the Center for Universal Design.)

Disclaimer: A legal clause that disavows legal responsibility.

Assistive Technology: Devices and equipment that give support to those with disabilities.

Text Equivalent: The informational value of an image, audio, or video, described in written textual form to enhance the accessibility of the object.

Media Release: A form that is given to those who may participate in a recorded event giving rights to the use of their image and voice for the media capture (as a release of some privacy rights).

Authentication: The verifying of identity or information.

Patent: A legal exclusive right granted to an inventor (by the government) to make, use or sell an original invention (or process) for a set period of time.

Jurisdiction: The authority and responsibility to administer justice; power; an area of responsibility.

Ethics: Values or right or wrong, moral principles.

Impersonation: The fraudulent taking on the identity of another person.

Libel: Defamation of another person or entity through written or printed words or pictures.

Liability: An obligation for which one is liable.

Disability: A physical or mental handicap.

Slander: Defamation of another person or entity through spoken words or gestures.

Alternate Input Device: Technologies that support human interaction with computers, such as types of keyboards, mice, speech recognition / voice controlled systems, head-controlled pointing systems, eye-tracking devices, and others.

Alt Text: Alternative text, text that accompanies an image to describe its informational contents.

Provenance: The trackability of an object to a source; the derivation of a particular object.

Intellectual Property: Tangible property created from original creative thoughts and which may be protected through copyright, patenting, trademarks, and other registrations (based on a commercial property-based system)

Text Reader: A software program that enables a website’s contents to be read aloud through a computer interface.

R&D (Research and Development): The work of originating the ideas and strategies for research into topics that may result in new or improved commercial products.

Accessibility: Meeting legal requirements for usability by those with disabilities in the senses such as sight, hearing, mobility, and others.

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