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Education Technology Summit keynote speaker interview: Jo-An Kamp

Jo-An Kamp is a lecturer, researcher and coordinator at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. She coaches ICT students in the fields of UX, research, (interactive) media, communication, (interaction) design, ethics and innovation.

She does research on the impact of technology on humans and society. Jo-An is co-creator of a toolkit designed to make people think and make better decisions about (the implementation of) technology and is a member of the Moral Design Strategy research group.

The subject of her keynote presentation at the Education Technology Summit is techno-ethics.

How did you become interested in technology impact?

I have been teaching ICT for nine years now and worked in the industry for 10 years before that. In my teaching role I see that students love to make things from scratch. They enjoy the creativity of building new tools. I used to think that was wonderful, but I started to ask myself if it is a good idea that we just let them make things without considering ethics.

‘Tech regret’ is a big issue these days. Innovators may have good intentions but they don’t always realise the societal impact of the tools they create. To give you an example: the inventor of the Twitter retweet button [Chris Wetherell] later said, “We might have just handed a four-year-old a loaded weapon”.

Technology is not as neutral as we think. We need to think about it as we design it, so that we don’t have tech regrets in the future.

What kind of students are you working with?

Typical ICT students. The students I teach are 88% male and in the 20-28 year age bracket, so hardly representative of society as a whole.

I know from observing my own students that they mainly focus on internal values, such as “Does my tool work? Does this button do the right thing?” This focus means they tend to ignore external values such as inclusivity, gender balance, sustainability and other societal impacts whereas functionality and impact are, in reality, two sides of the same coin.

I can’t blame them, but they tend to find it hard to think from the perspectives of women, elderly people or people with low digital skills. At Fontys University we have built ethics into the course because we want our students to design for everybody, including the people they don’t normally see around them.

Are you confident your work is leading to better design?

Yes, I think so. Some students are cynical at the start but in the end most of them do see the value.

Some of our students go on to found their own start-ups but most will start working for other companies. In those situations, there is a big question about where moral authority lies. They will probably have a boss who is responsible for their outputs but, very often, that person won’t really understand the technology and the development process and vice versa. So, in reality, I think ethics are everyone’s responsibility.

I’ve been coordinating partnerships with industry for over five years and I see the same movement there: some were cynical in the beginning, but I am now finding that more and more companies are wanting to know more because they see the ethical perspective has business value. They know that if their competitors tackle the issues and they don’t, they will lose out.

Do you think the industry as a whole is moving in the right direction?

I’m not sure. The European Union is certainly doing good work in regulating the industry. We have a strong vision of where we want to be as a continent and how innovation supports that vision, but technology always moves faster than regulation and that sometimes frightens me.

The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is moving incredibly fast and the potential of AV tools to spread misinformation, for example by ‘deep fakes’, is huge.

Facebook has launched the Meta Quest, to help the user capture and share their own experiences in a seamless and immersive way. They have tried to address some of the privacy issues that resulted in the failure of earlier products (such as a light to show when the glasses are recording) but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The glasses are also measuring your pupil size so capturing and analysing your reaction to everything you see. This biological data gathering is not obvious in the publicity.

What can we expect from your session at the Education Technology Summit?

I hope to raise awareness about the importance of these issues and to make people think.

I’m not somebody who wants to halt innovation but I think we really need to guide technology development in a good and practical sense. Not everything that is possible should be launched. I’m not a technical pessimist but I’m not a total optimist either. Technology can be part of the problem but also part of the solution.

The session will be an interactive one, I will be introducing delegates to a free toolkit that they can use with students or indeed other colleagues. We are introducing a new edtech section to the toolkit and ISE participants will be amongst the first to try it out. We will be addressing serious topics and I hope we will have some interesting discussions and a bit of fun.


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