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CSforALL Stories

The implications and importance of ethics, identity, and creativity to #CSforALL

A guest post by Saber Khan, project lead for #ethicalCS and veteran K12 educator.

Credit: Carol VanHook (Flickr)

It seems like every week the news contains reports about the ethical failures of the technology industry. The past few years have seen worrying stories about Silicon Valley’s failure in their responsibility to protect user data, build safe and inclusive workplaces, and build tools that support a common good. From Facebook being used as a platform to encourage violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka to Google’s search algorithm being used to highlight false news and hate groups to the culture of sexual harassment at Uber, the tech industry seems either unable or disinterested in applying an ethical perspective to its work. Those of us engaged in K-12 Computer Science education, have an opportunity and responsibility to provide our students with ways to engage with these problems and develop their own ethical framework. Not just so that they can react to news, but so they can engage as citizens in a political system that seeks accountability and equity.

But it is unclear how to do so in meaningful and powerful ways that work for the students. Finding a solution will require an organic and collaborative effort from a diverse group of educators testing lessons in their classroom and sharing with the community of practice. While we can share news articles with our students and facilitate debates, we should seek to develop lessons and units that involve an interdisciplinary approach that considers history, sociology, and economics when thinking about the ethical implications of technology.

Ideally, Computer Science and coding itself can be used as a tool to interrogate the world around us so that students can develop an ethical worldview with technology.

Toward this end, a group of CS educators have been working together to create a space where we can share, collaborate, hear from experts, and build momentum for ethically-minded Computer Science education. 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. Last summer, right after CSTA conference, we started the #ethicalCS Twitter edchat. These Twitter chats bring together experts and educators on a monthly basis to talk about different aspects of ethics and computing, for example, algorithmic bias and abstraction. So far I have organized twelve of these chats and hosted experts like Anil Dash, Ingrid Burrington, Safiya Noble, and others. You can read some of the tweets in these Twitter Moments and a summary of the main ideas, questions, and resources on Medium.

The Next #ethicalCS chat to take place on April 25, 2018

Beyond that, Jeannie Crowley has built an ethicalCS website to create a more permanent home of this project. The community has started to contribute and share lessons and projects.

  • Kaitie O’Bryan, a Math and CS teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota, shared a three-part lesson on helping her students understand the complex Facebook/Cambridge Analytica situation.
  • Evan Peck, a CS professor at Bucknell University, shared a fascinating CS 101 lesson on the critical examination of the ethical implications of hiring based on coding algorithms.
  • Creative Coding Fest, a coding festival for students and teachers in NYC and LA, has begun to incorporate #ethicalCS lessons into its offering of sessions. On May 5 at the CC Fest at NYU MAGNET, Dan Shiffman, an arts professor at NYU Tisch, will present a lesson on the ethical implications of data collection.

From these discussions between experts and educators, we have learned that special consideration must be given marginalized groups. Asking the right questions in a thoughtful design process can help mitigate some mistakes that lead to harm. And ultimately, technology is about people, and only better understanding and increased care for the concerns of different types of people, can make tech better and ethical.

While we have made some progress and started to build a community, much work remains to be done. I am hopeful that we can continue this work in an inclusive and collaborative space. In the near future I hope that we can:

  • Support the voices of under-represented groups in #ethicalCS and #CSforAll discussions, including women and people of color, and consider all aspects of identity such as gender, race, sexual orientation, class, ability, language, etc. when engaging in ethical thinking.
  • Create and share lessons that work in multiple environments and in multiple modalities, so that they can be accessible to many groups of students and teachers. This will require us to be creative and experimental and to implement rigorous testing of lessons. It also requires a willingness to listen to feedback that will create opportunities for adaptation and extension.
  • Build spaces and opportunities for the community that go beyond Twitter and the digital realm, toward direct human contact with challenging ethical situations. As Bryan Stevenson has laid out, we have to be proximal to a problem if we hope to have a meaningful impact. To me, this means directly engaging in the code and science of the technology we study, and listening to people impacted most by unethical uses of technology.

The need for #ethicalCS comes from a desire to build K-12 CS education with a vision for a common good, where technology and innovation is a part of a society that seeks a just and equitable world for all. I hope you will join us in this work. Your practice and your students’ education will benefit from deep engagement with ethically-minded Computer Science education. And the community will benefit from your insights and experimentation.

  • Join the monthly #ethicalCS Twitter chats held the last Wednesday of each month. The next one is coming up 4/25 at 8PM ET.
  • Take a look at ethicalCS.org for classroom activities and professional development opportunities and for ideas to try in your classroom.
  • Join our community of practice by bringing ethical thinking into your CS classroom and sharing your ideas and questions via Twitter or the ethicalCS.org website.

Saber Khan is a veteran K12 educator with fifteen years of teaching experience in public, private, and charter schools. He organizes the Creative Coding Festival CC Fest, a free and inclusive creative coding event for K12 students and teachers. He leads the #ethicalCS project, a collaborative project to build ethically-minded Computer Science educational resources. He is also a Processing Fellow with the Processing Foundation. You can see Saber’s previous writings on Medium and reach out to him on Twitter.

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