Dispatches from recent conferences and community gatherings
It’s been a busy several months for the Responsible Computing Challenge (RCC), including welcoming the latest RCC fellows (Dr. Chao Mbogho leading our work in Kenya and Jibu Elias leading our work in India), opening applications in Kenya and the United States, and changing our name to better reflect the breadth of the challenge. This is all made possible by the support and collaboration with the Mellon Foundation, USAID Omidyar Network, Schmidt Futures, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and Mozilla.
Over the past few months specifically, the RCC team has been active at a range of conferences, swapping ideas, sharing wins, and troubleshooting challenges. These convenings are vital to RCC’s work: A crucial way to contribute to the movement by rallying different communities of students, educators, technologists, and beyond.
Below, find dispatches from our recent travels, and what they mean for RCC:
The Mozilla Festival has been a crucial gathering place for the responsible computing community for years. It’s an opportunity to share progress with existing community members, and also recruit new ones.
Countless bright ideas and novel projects bubbled up at MozFest, giving even more momentum to RCC and the broader global community of people who want to make computing education accessible and responsible.
For example, we encountered: AI for Everyone, an initiative that introduces AI basics to youth in India; KamiLimu, a mentorship program for tech students in Kenya that combines tech, education, creativity, innovation, and social entrepreneurship. Similarly, CITE (Computational Thinking Teacher Education) responds to NYC and NY State’s imperative to bring accessible and culturally-relevant computing to all K-12 students.
The festival’s Funder Track panel also proved incredibly productive. Shachee Doshi - Emerging Technologies Advisor at the United States Agency for International Development - called on other tech conferences to integrate ethics stages, panels, and themes into their programming. She also stressed the need for RCC to train not just technologists, but also organizers, human rights defenders, and journalists. And she mused about the possibility of responsible tech being built into the collective agreements struck by tech unions.
Craig Newmark - Founder and CSR of Craig Newmark Philanthropies - pulled from his experience as founder of Craigslist and his work as a philanthropist to speak about ethics in computing being more important than ever, as technologies grow even more sophisticated — like large language models — and become entwined with billions of people’s safety and wellbeing.
Meanwhile, on the Dialogues & Debates stage, Angela Davis and Christian Smalls discussed how a movement is not just about attending events, but also educating those about the movement and larger power dynamics. This aligns with RCC’s position of educating the next generation of responsible computing activists.
From March 15-18th, Dr. Chao Mbogho (RCC Fellow in Kenya) traveled to Toronto with Dr. Crystal Lee (RCC Senior Fellow) attending virtually for the flagship SIGCSE (Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education) conference. Past RCC alumni, Stacy Doore, Atri Rudra, and Trystan Goetze, also joined Crystal Lee in presenting a virtual session entitled, Teaching Responsible Computing in Context: Models, Practices, and Tools. Many of the overarching themes dovetailed with RCC’s mission — like the importance of non-technical skills in technical fields, and the importance of inclusivity and mentorship in the computing industry.
We encountered a range of bright ideas that can further fuel the RCC project. For example, one graduate student is teaching a five-week responsible computing intersession at California Polytechnic State University. Which made us think: Can RCC support short-term summer programs in addition to semester-long programs? We spoke with community college professors about integration into two-year institutions. Which made us think: Can RCC also expand to vocational schools?
We also had productive conversations with students and educators outside the United States about how to meaningfully expand our curricula and playbook into international contexts — because concepts like social justice and equity always have cultural and geographical nuances. And we spoke with an I.T. professional about potential industry collaborations with RCC.
We also fielded questions and concerns, like: Is the RCC playbook licensed under Creative Commons? (Yes.) Is there a training program for professors who want to teach this curriculum, but don’t yet feel prepared? (Interesting idea!) And, will an RCC background help contribute to students’ employment after university? (We think so.)
One component that stood out addressed Teachers and Capacity: Two papers were presented on the teaching of computing education across various environments, like Uganda, Botswana, Nigeria, and Kenya. This work generated vital discussion about the importance of inclusivity in data from the global south, and how it could inform more diverse perspectives at SIGCSE. Further, there was discussion on how the SIGCSE community could work to ensure more papers from the global south are presented in the conference.
In all, it was encouraging to see multidisciplinary work highlighted at SIGCSE — there were papers on music and computing and art and computing. Unfortunately, researchers and keynote speakers from the global south were still scarcely represented at the conference. And papers on responsible computing were scarce, and should take on more space in future conferences.
On March 7th, members of the Responsible Computing Challenge attended the Embedded Ethics Summit hosted by Stanford University. It was an immensely proud moment for RCC — a showcase of how our community has grown and has had an outsized impact at the intersection of ethics and computing.
The summit was reminiscent of the Embedded Ethics Workshop hosted at Harvard University five years prior, in 2018. In the spirit of movement building, the 2018 workshop fueled some of the ideas and energy present in 2023.
RCC community members participated in each panel at the event. Barbara Grosz kicked off the summit with a keynote about the history and lessons from the Harvard Embedded EthiCS program that she co-founded with Alison Simmons, Professor of Philosophy at Harvard. She stressed the importance of the work and the importance of collaboration: “I saw that our students were taught to write efficient code, but they were not taught to think about ethics… No one school can develop a subprogram on its own. We need to help each other.”
Irina Raicu and Vance Ricks also participated in a panel, discussing their approaches to embedding ethics in their curricula at Santa Clara University and Northeastern University. Irina reminded us that ethics need to be woven throughout the entire curriculum; Vance stressed approaches that use value-sensitive design. Stacy Doore then joined the conversation to discuss “What do we have so far?” Stacy’s work has spanned Colby and Bowdoin colleges, where she and her team released the Computing Ethics Narratives. Diana Acosta-Navas also discussed “The Implementation of Embedded Ethics,” drawing on her experiences at both Stanford and Harvard. Kathi Fisler, Atri Rudra, and Alison Simmons discussed how to generate buy-in from students and faculty, drawing on their experiences at Brown University, University at Buffalo, and Harvard University.
Meanwhile, Casey Fiesler and Evan Peck led “Embracing Many Approaches to Embedded Ethics,” with compelling examples like Black Mirror exercises, evaluations of worldwide syllabi, and ethical reflections in computer science classes.
Wrapping up the day, William Cochran, Trystan Goetze, and David Grant shared teaching demonstrations to highlight how embedding ethics looks in a classroom setting.
Mozilla is proud to have participated alongside this community of RCC awardees, community members, and allies. And we’re excited to keep building a movement to embed ethics in computing.