Georgia Tech Faculty Hold Workshop to Improve Integration of Ethics into Courses

As computer science becomes more ingrained into various areas of study and, indeed, our daily lives, an eye on the implications of innovation is needed, experts at Georgia Tech say.

To help students begin thinking about ethics with regards to research, faculty at Georgia Tech – in conjunction with Mozilla – held the first workshop on integrating ethics and responsible computing into courses this summer.

The workshop was a collaboration between faculty researchers at Georgia Tech in both the Ethics, Technology, and Human Interaction Center (ETHICx) and Computing and Society, as well as Mozilla. The workshop received a strong response, which organizers say indicates a growing desire for ethics at the center of computer science courses.

Members of the College of Computing’s Division of Computing Instruction, the Schools of Interactive Computing, Computational Science and Engineering, Computer Science, and Electrical and Computer Engineering, along with attendees from Georgia State all participated in the online workshop.

“It’s really gratifying to have broad representation because it demonstrates the desire for people from so many different areas to think more deeply about the role of ethics in our education,” said Ellen Zegura, professor in the School of Computer Science and Fleming Chair in Telecommunications.

The goal of the workshop was to help instructors consider ways in which to implement ethics as a central piece in courses not just later in a student’s study, but from the very beginning. There’s an issue of urgency, Zegura said, that needed to be considered.

“Computing has reached a point where it is being used for critical decision making that really affects people’s lives,” she said. “The need to use computing responsibly has moved up incredibly. And if we don’t talk about ethics early in the curriculum, we’re sending a message that it’s not important. If you only hear about it in one course and it’s later in your career, then what does that say about the importance? Students see that.”

While official plans aren’t currently in place to continue the program, Zegura said the idea is to continue this as a series of activities that are responsive to what people’s needs are, specifically those who want to do a better job of embedding ethics into their computer science curriculum.

Georgia Tech graduate Kathy Pham (CS ’07, MS CS ’09), now at Mozilla, has been instrumental in engaging the computer science community from 15-20 universities on focusing on ethics, Zegura said.

Portions of the workshop can be viewed on YouTube here.

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