Georgia Tech Study Seeks to Bring More Diverse Voices into Computing Ethics Education

Posted August 26, 2021

Georgia Tech Study Seeks to Bring More Diverse Voices into Computing Ethics Education

Jason Borenstein of the School of Public Policy, Ellen Zegura of the School of Computer Science, and Charles Isbell, dean of the College of Computing, will lead a three-year, National Science Foundation-funded study seeking to “better understand and amplify the diverse range of voices that may have been absent during the development of a traditional computing ethics curriculum.”

Borenstein is the project’s principal investigator. “The main goal of this grant is to enable groups historically underrepresented in computing to have more of a direct say in what’s offered in the computing ethics curriculum,” said Borenstein, who teaches ethics in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts and is the director of graduate research ethics programs for Georgia Tech.

Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous individuals represent just over 15% of bachelor’s degrees awarded in computer science in the United States and fewer than 4% of doctoral degrees, according to the most recent CRA Taulbee study.

“As computing expands to touch everyone’s lives, it becomes more and more important to have people from a diverse set of backgrounds doing that work,” said Isbell, a co-principal investigator on the study. “What we do in the classroom and in our careers must be responsible to all of the different groups affected by our work. I am looking forward to this project and eager to see what impact we can make.”

By learning more about how changes to the curriculum might change students’ perceptions of ethics in computing, the hope is the team will be able to develop recommendations for changes instructors could implement to make the curriculum more diverse, inclusive, and attentive to thorny ethical issues that many students may never personally experience, Zegura said. Such efforts are foundational to Georgia Tech’s mission to educate leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition.

“We’re educating many future software developers. We have a chance through these students to do more to make computing responsible to all parts of society. An important piece is educating future developers to think broadly and carefully about the software they are building,”  said Zegura, also co-PI on the study.

Borenstein, Zegura, and Isbell hope to survey minority faculty at a number of U.S. universities about what they are teaching and what they think should be taught as part of the computing ethics curriculum. They are working with senior advisors from the faculties of Georgia State University, Morehouse College, and Florida International University and an advisory board.

A key step will be to create sample course syllabuses incorporating the views of surveyed faculty and measure to see if the proposed additions would change students’ perceptions of the computing fields and the classes they might take.

“Our hope is that it might help with retention rates,” Borenstein said. “If, for instance, you talk about issues more directly related to social justice in your computing courses, is that going to resonate with different student populations and potentially make them more interested in staying in computing?”

The project is funded by a $398,288 NSF grant through its Ethical and Responsible Research (ER2) program.

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Michael Pearson