Published July 19, 2021
UB is among 22 colleges and universities to create a guide on how schools can update curricula to place more emphasis on ethics when designing technology products.
The Teaching Responsible Computing Playbook collected contributions from more than 30 authors from a range of institutions — liberal arts, private and public, community college, Ivy League, Jesuit, Quaker and more.
Each institution created undergraduate computing curricula that address the social impact of computing. Ultimately, the goal is to help higher education institutions integrate responsibility and ethics into their computing curricula and drive a cultural shift in the tech industry to help build a healthier internet.
“My main feeling about the playbook is a sense of wonder about what we as a group were able to achieve,” says Playbook co-editor Atri Rudra, professor in UB’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE).
“Earlier this year I was talking with a new colleague who is interested in responsible computing in education, and they listed five or six things that they thought were important to consider,” he adds. “I realized we had a section for each of those topics. Until then, I’d been immersed in the logistical weeds of the Playbook. But that moment made me realize that we have created something that could potentially be great.”
Computer scientist Kathy Pham, a Mozilla Fellow and co-editor of the Playbook, explains the Playbook has tremendous potential to reach computer science and engineering students.
“The code they write may be used by billions of people, influencing everything from which news stories we read, to what kind of personal data companies collect, to who qualifies for parole, insurance or housing loans — and who does not,” Pham says. “In other words, these students have the power to shape society. When that power isn’t coupled with responsibility, the results can have unintended consequences, negatively impacting users’ autonomy, privacy, security or well-being, as well as causing harm to society as a whole.”
Each section contains an overview, key questions for educators, step-by-step checklists, case studies of how participating institutions have integrated those checklists into their programs and links to additional resources.
Matthew Hertz, associate professor of teaching in CSE, co-authored the section “Accreditation and Ethics” (along with Rudra). Kenneth Joseph, assistant professor, and Jennifer Winikus, assistant professor of teaching, both in CSE, also contributed, as this list of authors and contributors shows. Rudra also wrote two other sections on “Choosing Computing Courses” and “Access to Technology.”
Mozilla and the schools are encouraging faculty from additional institutions, especially those outside the United States, to add to the work though the Playbook submission form.
The Playbook is a collection of learnings and best practices gleaned from the first two years of a three-year Responsible Computer Science Challenge initiative led by the Mozilla Foundation, Omidyar Network, Schmidt Futures and Craig Newmark Philanthropies. The initiative provided $3.5 million in grants to 19 colleges and universities to conceptualize, develop and pilot curricula that integrate ethics with undergraduate computer science training.