The publication "Digital Ethics in Times of Crisis: COVID-19 and Access to Education and Learning Spaces" examines the ethical, human rights, and societal aspects of digital transformation with an emphasis on education and learning at a moment of unprecedented crisis when both young and adult learners around the globe are severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report is a collaborative contribution by the participants in the 'Fall 2020 Research Sprint', an initiative hosted by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. The Sprint brings together a global cohort of approximately 40 research student participants from 21 different countries spread over five continents, under a project led by the Global Network of Internet and Society Research Centers (NoC) on the Ethics of Digitalization.

The main focus of the Research Sprint was access to education - both in terms of educational resources and learning spaces, such as schools, campuses, museums, studios, clubhouses, afterschool settings, and makerspaces. In this context, this publication - the final product of the Sprint - examines unforeseen economic, social, and political challenges and consequences around COVID-19 and learning as well as explores opportunities for flourishing and well-being by considering the ethical implications of digital technologies. It also brings out some emerging key questions:

1. Given youth's concerns around what the rise of digital technologies may mean for how they socialize with their peers, how can we create more meaningful and engaging social experiences within digital environments or in hybrid online/offline spaces?

2. How can teachers and policy-makers create a safe digital space that supports students' mental health and well-being when they are learning online?

3. How can we address ethical concerns in countries with low levels of education, where additional barriers may exist (e.g., inequities in access to basic needs, such as food), but where access to digital educational content is critical?

4. How is digital surveillance in educational environments the same or different from offline supervision, i.e., control and monitoring in a purely analog educational environment?

5. How can digital technologies work as an opportunity to integrate and connect members of Indigenous communities?

6. As education has increasingly become a shared responsibility where families, parents/caregivers, and the community have a crucial role to play, how can educational policies best support these various entities?

7. How has accelerated digitization in the context of COVID-19 changed where and with whom individuals learn (e.g., via social media, educational gaming platforms, with peers and mentors)?

8. How can we develop models that expand learning beyond school to connected networks that bring different learning opportunities together through an integrated experience, while taking into account the risks that may come with such an experience?

The report is divided into six main sections, each containing a spotlight. The first section (Spotlight-1) focuses on what we know and what we don't know in terms of the pandemic's disruptive impact on access to education and learning spaces. The COVID-19 pandemic is amplifying existing inequalities across many dimensions, including access, skills, and infrastructure. There are also growing privacy and safety concerns around the ways students' data is collected, stored, and used by educational technology platforms. Section-2 (Spotlight-2) presents an overview of key ethical issues. At a moment where education and learning increasingly rely on digital platforms and tools, students, educators, parents and caregivers, and decision-makers are facing both persistent and emerging ethical questions with heightened importance during the pandemic COVID-19. How can we embrace the opportunities and mitigate the risks associated with the widespread adoption of digital technologies? How do these issues play out for different demographics and in different environments? Research Sprint participants point out how the shift to online education has exacerbated inequalities in access to education, which might have a long-lasting impact, especially for underrepresented communities.

The third section (Spotlight-3) explores how surveillance is understood in education and the moments where it may shift from beneficial ("education needs supervision") to harmful. One of the key issues surrounding the increased use of digital technologies in educational and learning spaces is the risk of enhanced surveillance. There are increasing concerns around AI-based educational technologies in the context of privacy, discrimination, and student choice. Section-4 (Spotlight-4) of the report examines the ethical questions of inclusion sparked from the perspective of Indigenous scholars and students and draws upon Indigenous-centered research as a means of identifying ethical challenges from groups that are often underrepresented and marginalized in formal educational spaces. Many Research Sprint participants are of the opinion that Indigenous Peoples, as both stakeholders and rights holders, should be prioritized in policymaking, particularly in countries and regions where COVID-19 has revealed a dramatic dis-proportionate impact on Indigenous community health and well-being.

The fifth section (Spotlight-5) draws our attention towards two stakeholder groups - governments and technology providers - who have a tremendous impact on students' learning experiences. There is an urgent need to examine how governments' policy decisions impact regional school curriculum and teaching approaches, both before and during COVID, and how the mechanics of the educational technology ecosystem influence teaching and learning, data governance, and data privacy, particularly in K-12 environments. Digital technologies have opened countless windows for learning. However, there are many resource- and data-related challenges service providers and governments face as platforms increase the scope and scale of data collected about learning. A few Research Sprint participants from Asia express that when private companies are involved, concerns arise around the potential uses and commodification of data gathered from students. Hence, governments need to formulate policies that ensure realistic data governance and preserve data privacy, while acknowledging that one size may not fit all. The last section (Spotlight-6) of the report explores less traditional learning spaces - such as museums, maker spaces, social media, and educational gaming platforms - and how informal learning experiences might serve as an inspiration for the future of alternative educational environments or might be translated to the formal educational setting. This section also highlights digital skills, including the breadth of skills young people need to meaningfully engage online and how COVID-19 may have impacted such skills or their relevance. Learning, actually, happens in diverse spaces, and technology plays an important role in connecting different learning experiences, platforms, and tools. Many Research Sprint participants rightly point out that a connected learning ecosystem can promote a sustainable model of learning.

The writer is an independent researcher. E-mail:

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