Teaching Computing During the COVID-19 Crisis

By Contributors | April 29, 2020 | Fellowships & Awards

Editors and Contributors: Jenn Beard, Margo Boenig-Liptsin, Oliver Bonham-Carter, Ron Cytron, Irina Raicu, Augustin Chaintreau, Elizabeth Edenberg, Casey Fiesler, Kathy Pham, Atri Rudra, Jennifer Winikus, Marty J Wolf, Ellen Zegura

Note: We'll be updating this post frequently. You can also suggest further resources in this open document.


Since Fall 2019, the Responsible Computer Science Awardees have been making changes to curricula in creative ways to integrate ethics and responsibility in computing. These have included Black Mirror writer rooms, autonomous vehicle role-playing scenarios, creating ethical companions to current computing textbook, and more. A few of those changes were highlighted during two Lesson Showcases at MozFest in London and SIGCSE in Portland which included.

When COVID-19 hit the United States, and citizens were asked to go home and stay at home, technology became a key part of everyday life. The benefits of technology were highlighted, as well as the harms and unintended consequences of technology. It is now even more critical to discuss the ethics and responsibility of technology and computing with our students, to help understand the responsibility of technology during times of crisis to uphold infrastructure, to scale, to not cause harm, to protect privacy and security, and more.

We are inspired by #teachthevirus and the crowdsourced #coronavirussyllabus.

Below are some resources our Responsible Computer Science group have added to our classroom content.

Video Conferencing

Surveillance

  • Georgetown Assignment: Assignment on the basis of the current articles about location data and monitoring COVID, based on what countries around the world are doing or proposing. This assignment prompts students to seek out the perspective of other people about the proposed technologies, and reflect on differences between discussants in addition to their own self-reflection. The homework assignment set up a class discussion about ethical considerations in data management and privacy to accompany the unit in the Advanced Programming course at Georgetown.
  • UC Berkeley, Social Order and Technology: In the "Human Contexts and Ethics of Data" class at UC Berkeley students are taught about the co-constitutive relationship between social order and technology. Comparing different nations' uses of data and creation of data-driven tools to respond to COVID-19 offers a good example of this dynamic. The comparative approach allows students to see how different imaginaries of the public health crisis (e.g. as a security issue, as a containment issue, as a prediction issue) and visions of the role of technology in addressing it, different social power structures, different attitudes to information and who should be its trusted curator, and different expert cultures help to influence the kinds of data technologies that are developed in response. Here is a 20 min video segment on COVID-19 responses extracted from a lecture on "Data, Algorithms, and the Law."
  • Playing with Fire: Using location data to track the Corona Virus, Omidyar Network. Discuss privacy, location tracking, policies that are put in place during a pandemic that may have long lasting impact.
  • The Technology 202: We asked more than 100 tech experts if U.S. should use location data to track coronavirus. They were split, Washington Post. Discuss privacy, surveillance, mobile data monitoring, accessibility of mobile data, government involvement, location tracking, policies that are put in place during a pandemic that may have long lasting impact. The data is dynamic during a pandemic. Compare different countries.
  • The Markup. Relevant, updated reporting on technology and society. Some relevant articles to discuss the power of big tech companies during this time of crisis
  • In India, college students created an app and offered it to the government, but they hadn’t consulted public health people, privacy people. How do we get college students who have certain skills who are well intentioned to solve something complicated, and to do it well?

Trust and Privacy

Expertise

The role of data scientists and computing experts in helping public health officials, politicians, and the public understand and develop responses to the current pandemic stands out as being paramount and unprecedented. With this opportunity to influence how people around the world live through the crisis, come critical questions of what does it mean to be a responsible data or computer science expert?

Pandemic, well-being, community

In our academic environments, it is critical to have conversations beyond just class, computing, and technology. We must also talk about our lives, our society, and our futures.

Teaching

  • The formal definition of disability on campus is related to law. We need to discuss a new form of disability and accessibility, such as environmental disability that prevents moving to a world online, heightening equality and access issues.
  • Environmental accommodation policy proposal from Wash University’s Department of Computer science.
  • Some colleges, universities, and schools negotiated internet costs for students at home, sent students home with laptops, set up internet access points close to a parking lot on campus. These include Miami Dade and Buffalo, and many others.
  • Accessible teaching in the time of COVID-19
  • Please do a bad job of putting your courses online, Rebcca Barret-Fox, provides a very useful perspective on the whole move to online courses. The main point is that our courses might not be of high priority to some of our students. This can be a useful reminder to some of us as we obsess over how to make the transition to online delivery as great as possible.
  • At Georgia Tech, Ethics-based role play in asynchronous online class formats:
  • With the goal of increasing the scalability of our ethics and autonomous vehicle role play activity, we are currently integrating the activity into online courses. This exploratory branch of our study is running in tandem with our efforts to develop role play activities for in-person courses. While it is purely coincidental that we are testing an online role play activity during the COVID-19 crisis, the current circumstances underscore the value of exploring synchronous and asynchronous online learning experiences.
  • We designed a role play activity for asynchronous online course formats that asks students, role-playing various stakeholders at a committee meeting, to decide whether to introduce autonomous buses into a community. We are currently in the process of piloting the activity with approximately 130 students in Georgia Tech's online CS master's program. The pilot consists of twelve student groups using either Piazza or Slack as a discussion platform, and we are using a pre- and post-activity survey strategy to assess student experiences and refine the activity design.

Misinformation

Intellectual property

Net neutrality

Accessibility

One of the issues that COVID-19 has put into stark relief is uneven access to high speed Internet at students’ homes. Specifically in western NY, a lot of the rural areas do not have (great) access to high speed Internet. During normal times, this might not have been that much of an issue for students at University at Buffalo (UB) from these rural areas since they spend most of their time on campus where they have access to high speed Internet. However, now that many of them are back at home, lack of access to high speed Internet is a problem.

  • Use lack of high speed Internet in western New York as a running example to consider societal issues in University of Buffalo’s undergraduate algorithms course. See these Incorporating Societal Context in Undergraduate Algorithm courses slides from a presentation at the Mozilla RCS pre-symposium at SIGCSE 2020 for an overview. In particular, a coding project in the course asks the students to design algorithms that directly dictates who gets access to high-speed Internet and who does not. COVID-19 will make the disparity in high speed Internet access more personal for our students in the future offerings of the algorithms course.
  • Access to remote learning
  • Consider the trade-offs of asynchronous vs. synchronous learning for the student body
  • Use live transcription services

Neurodiversity

We must consider different remote learning styles. It is not sufficient to set up a camera, give a talk, and end lecture. ASEE and IEEE have much neurodiversity research.

During MozFest, Sean Gilroy and Leena Haque at the BBC did some neurodiversity work. A summary of the parts related to online learning:

  • Online training/learning can be difficult from an auditory processing perspective – information can be lost or be difficult to keep up with, so any visuals or supporting documents could be used to reinforce information or allow people to consolidate in their own time. Perhaps supporting documents could be made available in advance of an online session, so people can familiarise themselves with content, language, structure, etc and be more prepared.
  • Distraction might be an issue when online, so try considering auditory with visuals and not too much text heavy presentations. Try also segmenting sessions into sections below 30mins (maybe 20mins a time, then a short 10min break perhaps?).
  • Make sure accessibility is considered, so learning online is available with optional live subtitling for example.
  • Large virtual classrooms with many people might prove distracting if everyone is visible on screen, so closing individual’s screen video might help.
  • Maybe increase availability of 1-2-1 follow up with the lecturer, so individuals have the opportunity to ask questions they have been uncomfortable to ask otherwise. Live anonymous chat options on webinars also enable people to interject with questions or queries.
  • Lastly, as we started – ask students/participants what would work for them and what doesn’t work and be prepared to accommodate many different suggestions, some of which might even appear contradictory, but Neurodiversity is a spectrum of cognitive realities and someone’s Zero is someone else's One.