Teaching Responsible Computing Playbook

Teaching Responsible Computing Playbook

Hiring, Promotion, and Tenure

Authors: Ellen Zegura

Faculty careers are punctuated by significant career events that include hiring, promotion, and (for many positions) tenure. While faculty members have considerable autonomy to manage aspects of their careers, these milestones all include a relatively comprehensive evaluation of accomplishments, with attention to research, teaching/education, and service at differing levels of emphasis, depending on the position and institution. For example, at hiring time for junior faculty for a research-intensive tenure-track position in an R1 university, research will typically receive the largest emphasis, and service often very little. It is natural to ask how an emphasis on teaching responsible computing can fit or enhance a faculty member’s academic record. In the context of hiring, promotion, and/or tenure this means asking how peers or colleagues involved in an evaluation will view ethics and/or responsible computing work. 

This section is targeted at faculty members who are in a full-time position at their institution. We acknowledge that this leaves out adjunct instructors and/or instructors who are hired on a contract basis, as their hiring and advancement follows a very different trajectory. We separate considerations for faculty in teaching-intensive positions and those in research-intensive positions. 

Faculty members in teaching-intensive positions have a heavy teaching workload often with an emphasis on foundational coursework. In schools with a large computing major cohort, this translates into large classes, with multiple hundreds of students. This typically means that introducing new responsible computing material requires time and resources that the faculty member might not have. Further, large classes make it harder to have a nuanced discussion on the topics of responsible computing. On the flip side, faculty with primary teaching responsibilities are generally interested in including new pedagogical effort to improve upon their teaching and thus are primary candidates for including responsible computing in their courses. Further, promotion for teaching faculty typically includes consideration of the development of pedagogical tools; publications and grant activity in computing education: all of these can be aided by including responsible computing into courses.

For faculty members who are in a research-intensive position, teaching (in general, let alone responsible computing topics) factors less into the hiring, promotion, and/or tenure process, though all higher education institutions have a commitment to their students and should value quality teaching. Given the relative lack of weight to teaching in the promotion and/or tenure cases, there may be little incentive for such faculty members to include responsible computing material in their teaching, especially if it requires a lot of preparatory effort on their part. On the flip side (as we discuss under the Key Questions section), there are opportunities in the responsible computing space that could potentially help with the research agenda and goals of the faculty member, thus creating important synergy between research and teaching.


Key Questions:

  • Does the responsible computing teaching fit easily into courses that the faculty member is already expected to teach? One advantage of an integrated approach to teaching responsible computing is that existing teaching responsibilities can be enhanced with ethics content, rather than requiring that the faculty member take on new teaching assignments.
  • Is there a connection between responsible computing teaching and (the faculty member’s) research? One of the best strategies for managing the myriad demands of a faculty job is to get as much synergy as possible between different activities. If the faculty member is in a research-intensive position, connecting responsible computing teaching to a thread of their research could be interesting and useful on both sides. If the faculty member is in a teaching-focused position but their department still values research from the teaching faculty, then research into teaching responsible computing can count towards their promotion.
  • Is there an opportunity for the faculty member to publish work about their responsible computing teaching? At research-intensive universities, publishing based on teaching activities may elevate the contribution in the minds of evaluators who are focused on publications. Because the teaching of ethics and responsible computing is getting lots of traction and attention (both in traditional computing education venues as well as separate education tracks in more non-education research focussed conferences: see the resources section for more examples), sharing what works and doesn’t through a research lens is timely. 
  • Does the responsible computing activity create new opportunities for grant funding or make the faculty member more competitive in existing funding opportunities? As agencies like NSF develop funding programs that place greater emphasis on ethics and responsible computing issues such as the FEAT (fairness, equity, accountability, transparency) criteria, work in this area may position the faculty member to compete for a new set of funding sources. Responsible computing activities can also strengthen the “Broader Impact” or “Broadening Participation in Computing” sections in an NSF proposal. Foundations such as Mozilla and Ford/New America (under the Public Interest Technology banner) have recently funded this type of work. 
  • Does the faculty member have the resources to incorporate responsible computing in their teaching? If adding responsible computing to a faculty member’s teaching needs substantial preparatory work, is (i) the amount of work needed compatible with meeting other expectations of their evaluation (e.g. research and service) and (ii) does the faculty member have the required support (reduced teaching load, extra TA help, access to a teaching innovation center, an active DEI office) from their department to do it.
  • Can the faculty member connect their responsible computing teaching and interests to the strategic interests of their university or department? Reminding colleagues of a connection between a faculty member’s work and documented strategic commitments can be a way to encourage them to value the faculty member’s work. Working on responsible computing can be very helpful with the accreditation of degree programs in a department (see the related section accreditation and ethics for more on this),
  • Can the faculty member connect to an (existing) network by incorporating responsible computing into their teaching? There is a growing group of teachers and researchers who are interested in responsible computing. While incorporating responsible computing in their teaching, a faculty member could join or create a network cutting across other universities, etc. Note that this network may produce new contacts who could be good letter writers (e.g. for the faculty member’s tenure and promotion case)!


Checklist

☐ Effort dovetails with existing teaching commitments

☐ Effort dovetails with  research agenda

☐ Identify venue for publication of work on teaching responsible computing

☐ Identify ways to bolster opportunities for new or existing grant proposals with responsible computing material

☐ Time commitment is compatible with meeting expectations for other aspects of evaluation (research, service)

☐ Department and/or university values this type of work and can provide extra resources

☐ If effort is more substantial, there is a path to increasing the visibility and impact of the work through new funding, publication(s), and/or connecting with a new network


Examples

Georgia Institute of Technology

At Georgia Tech, we created a new class: Technology and Sustainable Community Development.

As part of the accreditation of the university, Georgia Tech embarked in 2016 on an institute-wide effort around sustainability and community engagement. That effort provided funding for the creation of a new junior-level course developed as a collaboration between public policy, computing, and design that received the ethics designation from the university undergraduate curriculum committee. This designation allows the course to satisfy the ethics requirement for multiple majors, including the very large CS major. 

Checklist walkthrough. Even though the teaching of the above course did not factor into hiring/promotion/tenure of faculty or instructors, it still was relevant to:

  • Department and/or university values this type of work and can provide extra resources. Because of the strategic importance of the course, the university allowed it to be team-taught with instructors receiving full teaching credit for it. The syllabus for the course can be found here.


Resources


Related Pages


Authors and Contributors

Ellen Zegura

Ellen Zegura (author)

Matthew Hertz

Matthew Hertz

Jenn Winikus

Jenn Winikus