Understanding the broader social context of technology is becoming more and more important as advances in computing show no signs of slowing down. As students code, experiment and build systems, being able to ask questions and understand difficult problems involving social and ethical responsibility is as important as the technology they are studying and developing.
To train students to practice responsible technology development and to provide opportunities for these conversations in a classroom setting, members of the computing, data science, humanities, arts and social sciences are collaborating to create original educational materials that can be integrated with existing classes can be included. at MIT.
All content created through the Social and Ethical Responsibility of Computing (SERC), a cross-cutting initiative of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, is now freely available through MIT OpenCourseware (OCW). The collection includes original active learning projects, homework assignments, in-class demonstrations, and other resources and tools that have been found useful in education at MIT.
“We are pleased to partner with OCW to make these materials widely available. In doing so, we aim to enable instructors to incorporate them into their courses so that students can practice and receive training at SERC,” Julie Shah, associate dean of the SERC and professor of aeronautics and space sciences.
For the past two years, SERC has been bringing together cross-disciplinary teams of faculty, researchers and students to generate original content. Much of the material featured on OCW was produced by participants in SERC’s semester-long Action Group on Active Learning Projects in which the Faculties of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences are combined with the Faculty in Computing and Data Sciences to create new projects for each. to be able to cooperate. their current curriculum. Throughout the semester, Action Group worked with the SERC on content development and pilot testing of new material before the results were published.
Affiliated instructors creating course materials featured on the new resource site include Leslie Cabling (Introduction to Machine Learning) for Class 6.036, Daniel Jackson and Arvind Satyanarayana (Software Studio) for Class 6.170, Jacob Andreas and Catherine D’Ignazio for Class 6.864 (Natural Language Processing), Dwai Banerjee for STS.012 (Science in Action: Technologies and Contradictions in Everyday Life), and Will Derringer for STS.047 (Quantifying People: A History of Social Science). SERC also enlisted a number of graduate students and postdocs to help instructors develop materials.
Andreas, D’Ignazio, and PhD student Harini Suresh reflected on their effort together in a recent episode of Chalk Radio, the OCW podcast about inspired learning at MIT. Andreas observed that students at MIT and elsewhere take classes in advanced computing techniques such as machine learning, but still often “see the way we are training these people and the way these tools are being deployed in practice”. There is a difference between “The thing that surprised me the most,” he continued, “was the number of students who said, ‘I’ve never had an assignment like this in my entire undergraduate or graduate training.'”
In a second SERC podcast episode released on February 23, computer science professor Jackson and graduate student Serena Booth discuss ethics, software design, and the impact it has on everyday people.
Organized by subject areas, including privacy and surveillance; inequality, justice and human rights; artificial intelligence and algorithms; social and environmental impact; Autonomous systems and robotics; ethical computing and practice; and Law and Policy, the site also spotlights material from MIT Case Studies in the Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing, an ongoing series that examines the social, ethical and policy challenges of current efforts in computing. Specifically commissioned and peer-reviewed case studies are concise and intended to be effective for graduate education in many classes and areas of study. Like the new material on MIT OpenCourseWare, the SERC case study series is made available free of charge through an open-access publication.
A number of issues have been published since the series began in February 2020. The latest issue, the third in a series that was released last month, includes five original case studies that explore a range of topics including whether the rise of automation is a threat to the American workforce, to the role of algorithms in electoral redistribution. Written by faculty and researchers from MIT as well as Vanderbilt University and George Washington University, all cases are based on original research from the authors.
Along with many more pipelines, new content will be published twice a year on OCW to keep the site updated with SERC-related content.
“With computing being one of OCW’s most popular topics, this spotlight on social and ethical responsibility will reach millions of learners,” says OCW Director Kurt Newton. “And by sharing how MIT faculty and students use content, we are paving the way for educators around the world to customize content for maximum relevance to their students.”