Copy of Ring discusssion around developing a Code of Ethics

[Note from Maggie]

This discussion was a result of initial postings to the DEOS list at Penn State, then followed up in the Board meeting by Arun Tripathi, then moved to the RING. Ipresent some of the introductory material from the Board here first then the following discussion is from the RING. This is to help those in VIEWS who wish to discuss this topic to read some of the previous discussion for context.

> > Arun-Kumar Tripathi wrote:
> > >
> > > Dear Board of Directors,

I think, we can also discuss few perspectives regarding "DE Code of Ethics" in the Special Board Members' Meeting. My suggestion: It will be good to have an "International Advsiory Board" for "DE Code of Ethics." Members of an International Advisory Board -are the experts from the field of Ethics, Distance Education, and Computer Mediated Education.

Proposals of the names for the Advisory Board:

Dr. Steve Eskow
Arun Tripathi
Professor Steve McCarty
Dr. Boris Sedunov
Dr. John Afele
Dr. Begum Ibrahim
Dr. Ramesh Sharma
and other scholars..

OR, the item "DE Code of Ethics" can be discussed in the during the Annual Members' Meeting 2003?

> > > Best regards,
> > > Arun


> On Thu, 19 Jun 2003, Steve McCarty wrote to the Board:
Good idea, Arun. We can go ahead and suggest this to the Ring. Because Maggie suggested it as one of three possible goals to set for the organization at the AMM, I had planned to bring it up at the earliest in our present meeting the Agenda Item #6: Agenda for the 2003 Annual Members' Meeting. It could also be considered under Agenda Item #10: Other Issues for Discussion.

Today I was invited to write an article for eLearning Magazine and I thought of the "DE Code of Ethics" as a possible theme, but first I'm writing a book review of Dr. Afele's _Digital Bridges_.

In other areas of WAOE like the OEDC working on the online course, not just the final result but the whole process of developing the course could be recorded in a paper for a publication. Whoever actually contributes substantially becomes a co-author, and in order of who contributes the most.

Any kind of discussion we have should reach the largest relevant audience, so a DE or Online Education Code of Ethics developed by WAOE should be discussed on Views, especially during the AMM.

Yes, I fully with agree with this and it should be discussed publicly.

The projects we bring up at the AMM and in other public networks can also serve to get more people to join WAOE, or to get more members active in WAOE.

Yes, and I think "Code of Ethics" can motivate few members. I would like to see and welcome any members from Australia and Africa, to work on this issue. "Code of Ethics" _can be_ a project.?

Best regards,
Arun Tripathi

What do other Ring members think?

Thank you,
Steve McCarty

-----Original Message-----
> From:
> [] On Behalf Of Arun-Kumar Tripathi
> Sent: Friday, June 20, 2003 6:49 AM
> To:
> Subject: Re: New Agenda: DE Code of Ethics
> Dear Prof. McCarty-ji and other officers,
Thanks very much. In the latest issue of Ethics and Information Technology journal, 4 (3): 195-203, 2002, which is published by Kluwer Academic Publishers in Netherlands -we have few interesting and relevant articles on "Ethical issues of online communication research."

Yes, we should concentrate to write Code of Ethics for our humble organization, in "Online Education" -but we have to include (if it is OK with other officers) and incorporate the following issues:

Intercultural Literacy
Moral Imperatives
More Specific Professional Responsibilities for Online Educators
Compliance with the Code
Online Communication
Multiculturalism and Multilingualism

Is there any more issues??

It would be very good, to review certain Online Materials on the Code of Ethics, before we begin to write down our Code of Ethics in Distance Education for WAOE. Therefore here two important sites: "ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct" available at <> and IEEE Code of Ethics available at <>

>Steve Eskow wrote:

> Steve, Arun, and all
> I want to echo a note of caution on the matter of broadening the "code of ethics."

How do we avoid finding ourselves involved in what Samuel Huntington has called "the clash of civilizations"?

He, and others, now talk of "The West and the Rest," suggesting that the West's commitment to "free markets," pluralism, and so on, are not universally accepted.

Benjamin Barber sharpens the issue by calling his book JIHAD VERSUS MCWORLD.

Can we, should we, get into the areas of ethics and culture that generate some of these tensions between the West and the rest?

If we do, will we find ourselves endorsing what might considered "Eurocentrism": the positions of the West?

Will this be good for WAOE?

For examples:

Do all of our member countries believe in "multiculturalism"? Or "intercultural literacy"?

There seems to be a profound difference between including in a code statements about the need for teachers to be responsive to their students and the need for courses to be "multicultural," since some of our members belong to institutions that teach a particular tradition and a particular culture and perhaps a particular theology, and would not take well to a code that suggests that they should shift to embrace all faiths or all social and cultural structures.

Is there any agreement that this is a most sensitive area?

Steve Eskow

From: Steve McCarty (
Date: Fri Jun 20 2003 - 19:43:59 PDT

Ethics is such a big subject that I'm not sure if I can answer everyone's concerns, but let me start as follows. You may recall that I earlier said that a code of ethics could express what we are for, not just what we are against. On the deos-l list I also wrote that to be concerned with quality online courses for the benefit
of students is a sort of ethic that the distance education (DE) field should explicitly adopt.

Ethics in the plural sense are values, to be sure, and we should like ours to be as universally human as possible, not to clash with many cultures or, more importantly, to be ethnocentric.

WAOE officers include Moslems, Jews, Hindus and many others working together in harmony. But online education is what brought us together. The fact of hardly any cultural conflicts is a sign that our values are fairly universal. But don't take my word for it: WAOE officers, by all means let us know if you think any of the values we propose for a code of ethics are not universal enough.

In the case of multilingualism and multiculturalism, I think we are not so concerned with them as -isms but rather for the equal access to online education that they help provide, and for the intercultural tolerance that they represent. We would have to be against intolerance, monolingualism and the imposition of monoculturalism, even if it offends some institutions. There has always been a struggle between tolerance and intolerance, the ethical and the unethical, without enough clarification of universal criteria. There is a need for universal values in order to realize positive forms of globalization in this era when people are interacting globally for the first time.

Does anyone have the URL for the United Nations statement on education? UNESCO is another source for widely agreed-upon values for education. We just have to narrow it to DE or online education. When we drafted the 22 Objectives and Purposes of WAOE for the Bylaws, we treated a number of ethical issues. Has the URL for the Bylaws, etc. changed? I'll have to quote from:

STRATEGIES FOR WEB BASED INSTRUCTION IN DISTANCE EDUCATION, by K. Narayanan, Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia,
New Delhi, India, presented at the International Conference on Learning and Teaching Online, held in January 2001 at the South China Normal University, Guangzhou.

Various patterns of collaboration can be envisaged. They range from individuals voluntarily sharing resources to institutionalized collaboration in course and credit sharing.

In a paper by Nick Bowskill, Steve McCarty and others titled "Cultural Sensitivity in Voluntary Virtual Professional Development Communities" published in Sept 2000 issue of IJOL, reference is made to the World Association for Online Education ( WAOE):

The WAOE is a voluntary mutually supportive virtual organisation that seeks to promote and develop a cross-cultural view of learning within virtual environments. Respect and sensitivity to difference is at the heart of the activities of WAOE in recognition of the highly distributed and optional nature of the membership [which] spans five continents without being dominated by any geographical region. The WAOE is mostly a virtual association serving the needs of academics and educators concerned with turning on line education into a professional discipline. The WAOE focuses on combining dedication to online learning with social and cultural exchange.
[Narayanan continues:]
The objectives and purposes of the WAOE explicitly promote humanistic ethics and global collaboration in online education specifically [from WAOE's Bylaws:]
i) To maintain a global perspective as a world organisation, supporting multilingualism and multiculturalism in online education, preserving human rights to diversity and
mutual respect despite differences, and encouraging intercultural sensitivity and world reconciliation through intercultural communication among global citizens.
ii) To be as inclusive as possible in scope serving the aspirations of all members and working for equitable access to online education and membership.
[Narayanan continues:]
The reference to WAOE has been made to highlight voluntary collaboration for offering professional development courses online, with a concern for multilingualism and multiculturalism in online education. The success of the WAOE as a voluntary organisation would suggest that similar organisations with like objectives be multiplied for deeper collaboration amongst educationists for offering online courses of study, training or professional development.
[end quote]

So you can see that maintaining a strong ethical orientation from the start has been essential to WAOE. And dealing with unethical characters and trends in DE
has been the most difficult issue that we have faced.

It would help if officers who would like to work on the code of ethics, or an article about it, would keep a file of the various contributions on this issue. Let us know
your views on these matters.

Steve McCarty


Date: Sat Jun 21 2003 - 19:00:51 PDT

I have been following all of the excellent discussion around this topic. I have a few observations:

1. I would very much like this to be an important discussion during the annual members meeting beginning later this week. With your permission, I would like to copy what has been discussed thus far in the ring on this topic to the VIEWS list when that meeting begins. I believe it will give all of the members some context for the issues.

2. I do believe that WAOE needs to develop a code ethics. Yes, it will be difficult and perhaps there are specific issues that we cannot address -- or we may couch those issues in terms of WAOE projects for change as opposed to a universal online education code of ethics. However, I do believe that there are some ethics that all (or the vast majority) of our members may find consensus (such as those about student learning, interactivity, bribery). In any case, I believe we must at least see if this important issue is one that the membership wishes to explore and to see what we develop. We are probably the only online education organization that spans so many countries and cultures -- thus making us the best chance to develop such a code that is not prejudiced with "western" thought.



Maggie, if you need it, here is my permission to use any part of what I've written.

It seems to me at this point in the evolution of a code of ethics the preamble to such a statement is perhaps as critical, or more critical, than the principles and practices themselves.

In such a preamble we might make it clear that we know we are dealing with civilizations, with nations, with political systems, with religions that are not yet agreed on some of the critical issues that impinge on ethics, and that we believe we ought not to take stands on those issues of ethics that now divide us. However, we believe that there is a large body of commonalities, of ethical principles and practices that we do indeed share, and that these commonalities provide the basis for the
beginning of a global ethic for online education.

This enterprise, then, we present as the beginning of a journey, and not a destination.

Further, we recognize that our members are always limited in their zones of freedom to choose the principles the will follow. The larger culture, the structure of subcultures, the traditions of a community create pressures on the online educator that limit his or her freedoms. There are regulatory bodies--Ministries of Education, Boards of Education, Regents, accrediting agencies--whose mandates must be respected. And, of course, many of the institutions that employ our members have their own ways of working, their own codes and constraints, and those ways too limit the zones of freedom of our members.

So: the ethical standards we propose try to recognize these pressures and limitations. And we present them as goals to be achieved if possible, not as mandates.

And so on!

Does the notion of this kind of preamble seem important to others?

Steve Eskow

From: Steve McCarty (
Date: Sun Jun 22 2003 - 00:03:16 PDT

Maggie, you must be tired after an intense week, so thank you more than usual for your participation. A discussion like this one on ethics is on behalf of the members, so it can shared with the Views list if no one objects. We must be careful not to forward our confidential discussions, so it's a good practice to ask other officers first.

Maggie, it was good to see UNESCO's basic stance on education. I was thinking of something like a UN universal declaration on education. Maybe I have the URL for it somewhere. It looks like Steve Eskow is writing its preamble :-}

Yes, a preamble would be good to express all the caveats, qualifications and limitations of the scope.

Since the password-protected archives of this list provide a convenient reference for us, I'd like to encourage other Ring members to express any ideas or suggest links without being concerned about completeness yet.

Like Maggie said, Western concepts alone aren't universal enough.

Thank you,
Steve McCarty


Date: Sun Jun 22 2003 - 10:28:15 PDT

This indeed seems like an excellent preamble to me. As always your words are well-written and very clear. I particularly like the inclusion of statements
about "our members are always limited in their zones of freedom to choose the principles the will follow." This is so true with the differing political and cultural structures around the world.



From: Geoffrey Cain (
Date: Sun Jun 22 2003 - 10:47:24 PDT

Maggie and Steve,

I like the preamble as well. It is important to state what the purpose of a code of ethics. It was unclear to me if Steve was looking for a mission statement or a code of ethics. If we are clear on what problems it is meant to address and what it is to be used for, then creating the statement will be easier. It is interesting to compare this process with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; everyone signed it but no one follows it. Why is that? Cultural relativism can make it easier for people to make excuses for bad choices. That is why I think that our statement should include specific stances on problems that are happening in distance learning right now.

I look forward to the meeting.