Why the Responsible Computer Science Challenge Matters to You

A few weeks ago, a group of organizations (Omidyar Network, Mozilla, Schmidt Futures, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies) announced the winners of the “Responsible Computer Science Challenge.”   What is this challenge? It’s an initiative to integrate content about ethics and responsibility into undergraduate computer science curricula and pedagogy in U.S. colleges and universities – clearly a timely and important topic.

But in most cases, you as a reader of this CSTA blog are involved with K-12, not university, computer science education.   So why should the Responsible Computer Science Challenge matter to you? Three reasons:

  1. The materials produced will be designed for incorporation into technical computer science courses, including at the introductory level.   As the topic of ethics and social responsibility in computing has become more prevalent in university computer science education, initially much of that has been in standalone courses.   There’s nothing wrong with that – I sure hope not, I’m introducing such a course at my university next semester! But ethics will become far more fundamental to the mindset of computer scientists if it is an integral part of core, technical computer science classes, and this is exactly the approach that the Responsible Computer Science Challenge takes.   Many of the successful proposals address introductory classes. As such, they should produce materials and approaches that are relevant and helpful in K-12 computer science education as well.
  1. The outputs from the funded projects will be openly available.   A fundamental feature of the Responsible Computer Science Challenge has been the production of openly available materials, such as syllabi or class activities.   This will be done either by making these materials available online without restrictions, or where a license is involved, through use of a Creative Commons license.  Thus, a rich library of materials for K-12 and university educators to consider will be produced within the next 1-2 years.
  1. The quality is likely to be very high.   The competition in this challenge was stiff and the 17 award winners are a broad set with very high-quality experience and plans.   The breadth cuts across many dimensions: types of universities (community college, undergraduate colleges, research universities, public and private, small and large); types of curricular and classroom approaches (e.g. ethics exercises and assignments, role playing games, case studies); and the courses to be targeted (including introductory programming, algorithm design, AI, data science, cybersecurity and more).   

For more information on the Responsible Computer Science Challenge and the 17 award winners, see https://foundation.mozilla.org/en/initiatives/responsible-cs/challenge/ and https://blog.mozilla.org/blog/2019/04/30/2-4-million-in-prizes-for-schools-teaching-ethics-alongside-computer-science/.  

By Bobby Schnabel, Partner Representative