#ethicalCS: bring ethics, identity, and impact to Computer Science education

As #CSforAll grows educators need to engage students on issues of ethics, identity, and impact in Computer Science classes. Join a growing movement to engage in conversation, share resources, build lessons for a ethically-minded Computer Science education. Find us on the web, Twitter, and in-person. We got this!

Saber Khan
Sep 27, 2017 · 6 min read

(in collaboration with Jeannie Crowley, Kara Chesal, Aankit Patel, & Kaitie O’Bryan)

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Let’s build bridges instead of walls

i. silicon valley

Most professional fields, law, medicine, science, etc. have a guild, a clear course of study taught at colleges and universities and lessons and courses in ethics for students and professionals. K12 educators can borrow and adapt that curricula into their classroom. But for technology that tasks is more difficult. The age of the industry, rapid changes of the industry, the secrecy it maintain have all made it hard to build ethical lessons about tech. This is happening while the industry consolidates into near monopolies, grows it domination of our lives, our attention, and how our world works.

The rise of the #CSforAll is a result of the rise of the tech industry and Silicon Valley as an economic engine. The industry wants teachers help in creating more workers for its companies and startups. Beyond that the industry wants teachers help in diversifying its white and male workforce by “fixing the pipeline” of talent coming to Silicon Valley. It lends its financial and political support for the #CSforAll mission. It does this while it seeks to retain its full independence in its relationship with its users, teachers, regulators, and the government.

ii. signposts

As Computer Science education become a part of K-12 schools, teachers and leaders are rushing to implement new curricula into their classrooms and schools. While there are some curricular options for educators most lack an ethical or social focus. This is not surprising since the tech industry sets the agenda of technology education via funding and dominance of our political space. But there are some hopeful sign that point to a more holistic technology education. The K12 Computer Science Framework lays a broad vision with an emphasis on “Impacts of Computing”. The new Advanced Placement CS Principles course and exam also identifies the impact of computing as a “practice” and “concept” to study.

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Part of the concepts in K12 CS framework

Here in New York, the city has made a large commitment to bring Computer Science education to all schools and all students, a vision captured in the #CS4AllNYC hashtag and a part of Mayor’s and Chancellor’s Equity and Excellence goals. The NYC Department of Education also places an emphasis on practices, especially impact of computing on society.

But these frameworks and vision statements do not explain how to study the impact of computing in class or how to engage with the industry of technology, which often shapes our lives in hidden ways. This essential task has been started by an engaged collection of educators who are creating new lesson plans, units, and classes. We hope to gather these ideas via edchat using #ethicalCS hashtag.

ii. edchats

The NYC DOE CS4All team was inspired to launch a twitter chat after training teachers for the AP CSP exam and leading conversations with industry leaders like Anil Dash. They asked me to be the moderator. This past summer we held weekly Twitter edchat, an online conversation where people, in this case teachers, answer questions to share ideas. We completed a series of five of these edchats over the summer covering the main practices of computing identified by the CS4All team, abstraction, algorithms, programming, data, and networks. I will post a summary of those chats soon. You can find some of the highlights in these Twitter Moments.

Now that the summer is over and we have exhausted a concise list of CS concepts we are going to branch out to a broader set of topics and move to a monthly edchat. #EthicalCS will be on the last Wednesday of each month at 8 pm EST. We are back next Wednesday, September 27, with Dan Shiffman, NYU professor, and Saron Yitbarek, developer and podcaster. Both of them are tireless in welcoming new and non-traditional coders into the field. Dan with his Coding Train Youtube channel is introducing a large audience to the beauty and joy of creative coding. Saron with #codingnewbie hashtag, chat, podcast and event encourages, supports, and mentors a community of coders. I am excited to hear what we can learn from their experience and wisdom.

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iv. ethicalcs.org

Jeannie Crowley has been organizing the articles, research, lessons, and professional development opportunities that have come in the #ethicalCS hashtag into a website, ethicalcs.org. We hope while Twitter provides an on-going conversation, the website can be a long-term and more accessible repository that will be useful to a wide array of educators. But the challenge remains, to build meaningful ethically-minded CS education many educators will have to take risks in the classroom and share results. We want to help with that process. We have go beyond reading articles, a good start, that talk about the impact of tech to building interactive and engaging lessons that teach the tech and highlight the challenges. I am not sure how to do that. We need some help with this.

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Front page of ethicalCS.org

v. lessons

High-quality lessons that are progressive and student-centered and help them both understand and apply the technology in question while engaging in the ethical and social implications are needed in K-12 CS education. To me this a three-part challenge that has to be engaged with simultaneously, learning the tech, teaching the tech, and exploring the social impact.

For example, we have built a data and privacy game that lets students engage in how identity effects feelings about privacy. It helps students see this via an engaging and interactive paper-based activity. We need more lessons and activities like this. To do this over the long-term we will have to make diversity and equity work an important and essential part of the training of Computer Science educators.

vi. join us

While some view ethics as an objective set of “best practices” to shared and learned by all, I find that an ethical and moral perspective requires navigating as a complex mix of historical and social contexts along with a clear understanding of power and the mechanisms that guide the tech’s application. Instead of passive set of “Do Not”, a clear ethical perspective should be an active “one should” statements. Here are a few:

  1. Join the monthly #ethicalCS on the last Wednesday of each month at 8 pm EST. Let me know if there are guest experts you would like to hear from us
  2. Take a look at ethicalCS.org, checkout the links, use the resources in your classroom, remix them and make them better. Let us know how it goes and we can help share it with the community.
  3. If you are up for it you should take on challenging ethical questions in your classroom. Design and experiment with high-quality lessons that engage the students in deep thinking about ethics, identity and impact. You can submit the lessons and units to the NYC CS Blueprint.

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