fairytales, fables and ethics in learning technology

Stuart and I will be presenting at ALT conference in Manchester next month if you want to come see us tell stories:

Rapid adoption of learning technologies as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed shortcomings in our vision and understanding of ethical learning technology practices, with the potential for long term negative impact on students’ experiences of educational opportunities. It is critical that educational institutions consider technology decisions within the overall ethical responsibility for care and well-being of their students. Emerging frameworks and models of practice for learning technology ethics need further research and reflection in order to help practitioners navigate increasingly complex and widening ethico-political decision-making. In this session we will use storytelling as a means of exploring areas of light and darkness to investigate how practitioners balance different moral modes of thinking when presented with ethical challenges.

We will think about how stories are used as a means of management and control, to tame complexity and “suppress certain conflicts and mask multiple interpretations” (Leonardi & Jackson 2004, p 615). Even our own “capacity for imagining something new or different … is greatly influenced by prior imaginations” (Markham 2021, p 385). We draw analogies with fables and fairy tales as mechanisms for enabling or constraining different ethical ways of thinking. Fables “wear their moral messages on their sleeves, shut down possibilities for independent ethical development, and allow no freedom for the individual imagination”, whereas fairy tales, “open-textured from the perspectives of teller and of hearer … allow fantasy to flex our ethical and meaning-making muscles” (McKinnell 2019, p 197). In these stories we might recognise the different modes of ethical practice that address justice or care.

In this session we exemplify these approaches through storytelling, unpicking where we might want to tame or free ethical complexity in practice. It is through stories that we help inform the cradled practices of learning technology ethics based on professional frameworks emerging.


Leonardi, P.M. & Jackson, M.H. (2004) Technological determinism and discursive closure in organizational mergers. Journal of Organizational Change Management. 17 (6), 615–631.

Markham, A. (2021) The limits of the imaginary: Challenges to intervening in future speculations of memory, data, and algorithms. New Media and Society. 23 (2), 382–405.

McKinnell, L. (2019) The ethics of enchantment: The role of folk tales and fairy tales in the ethical imagination. Philosophy and Literature. 43 (1), 192–209.

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