I’m sure you’ve seen them. New headlines related to ethics and computer science seem to appear daily.
- Teaching Computer Science Is Great, But It’s Not Enough (Education Week 20 June 2017)
- This Is The A-Bomb Moment For Computer Science (Buzzfeed 22 Mar 2018)
- Computer science faces an ethics crisis. The Cambridge Analytica scandal proves it. (Boston Globe 22 Mar 2018)
- The everyday ethical challenges of self-driving cars (The Conversation 27 Mar 2018)
- Card Data Stolen From 5 Million Saks and Lord & Taylor Customers (New York Times 1 Apr 2018)
What does all this have to do with teaching computer science to 5-14 year-olds? Ethics should be integral to teaching computer science, regardless of the age of students.
“With great power comes great responsibility”
Our students are creating with computer science which gives them great power. We need to make sure that they also understand the great responsibility of that power. How can we do this? My first resource when I ask myself this question is the CSTA K–12 Computer Science Standards.
Yes, even our youngest students need to be aware of the ethics of computing. At this level, the focus is on ownership. Just as our students learn to protect their possessions and respect the property of others off-line, they need to learn to do this online, as well.
- 1A-NI-04 Explain what passwords are and why we use them, and use strong passwords to protect devices and information from unauthorized access.
- 1A-AP-13 Give attribution when using the ideas and creations of others while developing programs.
- 1A-IC-18 Keep login information private, and log off of devices appropriately.
As students mature, they are able to recognize and consider others’ viewpoints which provides opportunities to explore the ethics of computing more deeply. We can use current events, like some of those mentioned above, to bring ethical discussions into the classroom. Students create and often share computational artifacts at this level. They should think about the users who will use what they create and the impact it can have on those users.
- 1B-NI-05 Discuss real-world cybersecurity problems and how personal information can be protected.
- 1B-AP-14 Observe intellectual property rights and give appropriate attribution when creating or remixing programs.
- 1B-IC-19 Brainstorm ways to improve the accessibility and usability of technology products for the diverse needs and wants of users.
- 1B-IC-20 Seek diverse perspectives for the purpose of improving computational artifacts.
- 1B-IC-21 Use public domain or creative commons media, and refrain from copying or using material created by others without permission.
Students at this level can explore bigger ethical questions because they can better understand the perspective of others as well as the perspective of society. This lets them grapple with ethical questions like: Who is collecting data on them and what are they doing with it? What should the students do with data they are collecting through programs they have created? Are the technologies they are creating accessible by all?
- 2-IC-20 Compare tradeoffs associated with computing technologies that affect people’s everyday activities and career options.
- 2-IC-21 Discuss issues of bias and accessibility in the design of existing technologies.
- 2-IC-23 Describe tradeoffs between allowing information to be public and keeping information private and secure.
Interested in continuing discussions on teaching ethics in the computer science classroom? Join us on Twitter for #csk8 chat where ethics often enters into the discussion and check out #ethicalCS.