An Ethics App?

Difficult ethical decision? There’s an app for that

I was taken by this interesting development in applying academic research to real world issues. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on a new mobile app intended to help with decision support on those difficult ethical issues:

The disclaimer on Santa Clara University’s new mobile app strikes an ominous tone:

“In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage arising out of, or in connection with, the use of this website/app.”

Then again the Ethical Decision Making app, developed by the university’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, aims for more-consequential uses than, say, Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds. The Santa Clara ethicists hope that people who make decisions that will change lives—business leaders, hospital administrators, and school officials, for instance—will use the app as a guide.

Alternative ethical decision making aids are available

Alternative ethical decision making aids are available

The Ethical Decision Making app is an attempt to bring applied ethics into 21st century. It is not so much a Magic 8-Ball as a pocket Socrates, which is to say the app asks more questions than it answers. The idea is that someone facing a decision can use it to evaluate each possible option.

Once the user gets past the disclaimer, the app asks him or her to list all the stakeholders in the decision. The app then asks the user to consider the implications of the option at hand according to five categories of “good”: utility (“Does this action produce the most good and do the least harm for all who are affected?”), rights (“Does my action best respect the rights of all who have a stake?”), justice (“Does this action treat people equally or proportionally?”), virtue (“Does this option lead me to act as the sort of person I want to be?”), and the common good (“Does this action best serve the community as a whole, not just some members?”).

For each of the five categories, the user rates where the option would fall on a scale of “more good” to “more harm,” and so on. The app also asks the user to assign a weight to each of the five categories that reflects how important it is.

Then the app spits out a number. The number supposedly represents how ethical the option would be on a scale of 1 to 100, according to the values supplied by the user.

Convinced of the value of this? I’m not sure. If you need an app to help you with your ethical positioning you are possibly not ideally placed to reach any kind of decision on an issue.

I was almost tempted to download the app and test it out on some ethical dilemmas. Then I thought I could pretend I had done so (which would be a lot quicker) and make up some absurd results. But then I tossed a coin and it told me to ditch the whole project. Ethics eh?

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An engaging app for students?

Possibly. But it’s a tough sell.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on a new app which claims to offer faster outreach to students. But will it catch on?

 

enguage

 

The app, Student Engauge, is part of a larger trend toward mobile outreach, as colleges seek ways to engage with students who often don’t respond to e-mails or online pestering, says Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The app follows in the path of mobile warning messages that many colleges have adopted to alert students of campus emergencies.

Once downloaded on a mobile device, Student Engauge syncs to a student directory, allowing students to authorize their accounts using their existing credentials. The college can then send out questions or alerts based on those data—for example, asking a student whether he or she liked a professor, or asking a specific group of students if they found a counseling session to be helpful.

More details can be found on the website.

The promo video offers a little more of a taster of what the app might offer

Does it offer enough to ensure widespread adoption? It’s not at all clear. And it could really do with a better name.

Helicopter parent? There’s an app for that

Helpful support for students or an expensive way to interfere?

Inside Higher Ed reports on a new app which updates parents on their student’s progress. But is it a helpful addition to student support or just a license for interfering parents? It’s not cheap either:

When families sign up for the program and pay the monthly $29.95 subscription fee, the student gets access to a series of Mentoring Interactive Programs, or MIPs, which can be accessed online or from a mobile phone. Each MIP consists of a short video on a topic such as “Coping With Homesickness” or “How to Ask for Help in College.” At the end of each MIP, students are asked a series of multiple-choice questions about their health, social adjustment, academic behavior and academic goals.

After the student completes the week’s 10 multiple-choice questions, the data are analyzed by the csMentor technology and a report is generated for the student and the parents. The report doesn’t list the students’ answers, but instead provides a summary of how the student is doing in the four key areas, each of which is coded green, yellow or red.

“We see the service as a way of enhancing communication between parent and students,” said Steve Wattenmaker, CEO of csMentor. “We think it will enrich the conversations. It can go beyond the typical, ‘How’s everything this week?’ ”

Interesting. It seems to entail a much greater degree of involvement than would perhaps normally be the case. Surely this can’t be a good thing?

Wattenmaker and the rest of the csMentor team, which is made up of educational psychologists, counselors and university administrators, hope the program will help students and parents spot potential problems earlier, so they can deal with them before they escalate.

But Marjorie Savage, parent program director at the University of Minnesota and author of the book You’re on Your Own (But I’m Here If You Need Me), wonders if parents should be involved so early in the problem-solving process.

“It feels to me like it’s going further than what a typical college student should need,” Savage said.

I think Savage perhaps understates the point here. It really isn’t good for the student to have parental involvement in this way. Particularly when universities have their own teams of student services professionals whose job is to offer this kind of support. Moreover, most students are adults and independent and should be treated as such. Really this just looks like a very expensive

Career Advice by ‘Virtual Inkblot Test’

A new approach to careers advice

The Chronicle has a short piece on a new approach to delivering careers advice. Essentially it is a contemporary take on the traditional inkblot test which has been updated to a set of images in an app:

Researchers at the company, Woofound Inc., have built an application for students that uses their reactions to a series of images to predict their personalities and to suggest careers tailored to their preferences. The creators also plan to have the application suggest what degrees they should pursue and what extracurricular activities they should join.

The project is part of a wave of technology applications that colleges are testing to help track students into fields that fit their interests.

While using the Woofound Career Module, students sift through 84 slides of images with words associated, such as a picture of a tent along with the word “camping,” or a picture of a man painting along with the phrase “creative expression.” Students click either “Me” or “Not Me” in response to each image.

There is, rightly, some scepticism about the approach. Whilst it is, of course, possible to distinguish broad preferences in this way surely this is one area in which students need a bit more than just an app in order to develop their career intentions? And there aren’t huge numbers of jobs for visionaries these days.

iPhones and iPads on Campus

The search for killer apps goes on

Follow up to an earlier post on Abilene Christian University providing iPhones to all students and a follow up on implementation a year later. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a conference looking at the use being made of smartphones and tablets in different parts of university business, again drawing on Abilene’s experiment:

At Abilene Christian, one of the most popular uses of iPhones has been to turn the devices into so-called “clickers,” using an app that lets students use their phones during classes to buzz in answers to quiz questions or discussion prompts. But even fans of that approach acknowledge that turning classes into something like a game show is not appropriate for every subject, and that a clicker app makes more sense in large lecture classes than in small seminars.

The simple answer is that no one “killer app” has emerged that fits every professor’s teaching style, every research discipline, or every administrative office on campus, according to several people who attended the meeting. (And of course, many professors have no interest in the smartphone craze—at Abilene Christian some professors turned down free iPhones.)

Instead, college professors around the country are finding unique ways to use smartphones, as well as highly portable tablet computers like the iPad, that work well in certain situations but do not represent a revolution in educational practice. At least not yet.

So, no killer app but does there need to be? As the remainder of the article notes, there are many ways this technology can be used to enhance the student experience, to help with classroom delivery and to support university professional services. There is a vast range of possibilities and it is this, rather than any single app, which is perhaps the most exciting thing.

New University League Table iPhone App

New League Table iPhone App

QS, compilers of world university league tables, have produced an iPhone app so rankings are never out of reach. My life is now complete.