Teaching Responsible Computing Playbook

Teaching Responsible Computing Playbook

User Guide

The playbook has a lot of information. This page will help you navigate this resource. Specifically consider reviewing the following parts:

  • A list of all topics in the playbook.
  • A description of how each section is structured.
  • If you are not sure where to start or which sections to look at, look through some suggested walk-throughs.


Each section/topic in the playbook has the following structure:

DESCRIPTION: Why should the topic be considered in teaching responsible computing?

KEY QUESTIONS: Questions for teaching team to consider when teaching responsible computing.

CHECKLIST: A list to consider when encountering the topic area.

EXAMPLES: Shared experiences of teaching responsible computing in a real setting.

RESOURCES: Links to relevant resources not covered in the Playbook.

RELATED SECTION: Other sections in the Playbook that are closely related to the current one. 


Below are some suggestions on some ways to navigate through the playbook based on your role and needs. Please note that these are suggestions-- your mileage may vary. However, we do hope that these are more useful than just staring at the entire list of topics. Here are our four walk-throughs:

Where do I begin?

If this is the first time you are thinking about incorporating responsible computing and ethical thinking in your own computing course, the following sequence might be useful:

Choosing Computing Courses

This section talks about what kinds of courses can be targeted for including responsible computing and what that entails.

Discussing Justice and Equity

Justice and equity are at the forefront of responsible computing. This section talks about how to incorporate discussions on justice and equity into computing courses.

Talking About Unanticipated Consequences

Talking about unanticipated consequences (as opposed to unintended consequences) can enrich conversations around responsible computing. Talking about unanticipated consequences can broaden a computing student’s worldview on how computing (or more accurately computing systems that students themselves build) can affect society.

Working Across Disciplines

If you are in a computing department and have had a traditional computing training, then you will soon realize that you probably do not have (all) the background needed to create a responsible computing activity in your course. Talking with your colleagues in humanistic studies can really help you plug the holes in your background.

Learning Outcomes and Assessments

Finally assessing responsible computing activities present a different challenge than doing the same for traditional computing topics (e.g. because there is not always a “right answer”). This section talks about how to create assessment (and as a precursor: how to define learning outcomes for the responsible computing activity) for responsible computing activities.

This is not my first responsible computing teaching experience.

If you have already incorporated responsible computing activities in your courses and you now want to take the next step: perhaps creating a large project in your course or perhaps creating a dedicated course on computing and society in general, then read on. (Note: We’re assuming you have at least glanced through the sections in the first walk-through.)

Difficult Conversations

Effective discussion about responsible computing means dealing with nuances as well as having conversations about difficult topics (which generally computing students as well as departments try to avoid). This section gives some suggestions on how to create a classroom environment where students thrive in difficult conversations. This section is focussed on a discussion based course.

Structured Ways of Thinking About Computing and Society

As mentioned above other disciplines have thought about interaction of society and computing for decades (if not centuries). In particular, there exists structured ways to think about society and computing. This section talks about how these can be used to enrich responsible computing in your courses.

Student Team Dynamics

If you decide to add a group project that deals with responsible computing in your course, this section talks about how to help student groups in your course go about their project. The section also talks about how to effectively utilize students to create the material for your course.

Service Learning

This section talks about how to effectively use community engagement and experiential learning in responsible computing activities in your course. Direct engagement with the community is a powerful way to engage students in responsible computing thinking.

Access to Technology

Inequities to technology have been brought to sharp relief by the COVID-19 pandemic. This section talks about how access to technology can be used as a medium to introduce students to responsible computing.

Working Across Institutions

If you find collaborators on incorporating responsible computing who are not in your institution, what should you do? This section talks about the benefits and challenges of working across institutions.

How do I spread and scale teaching responsible computing?

Now that you have incorporated responsible computing in your courses and see its benefit, you perhaps want to spread the word around to your colleagues? Read on for some suggestions on how to go about doing that.

Effective Talking Points Across Audiences

This section talks about some common push-backs on incorporating responsible computing and ethics in computing courses and how to handle such situations with both faculty and students

Managing Resistance

Sometimes instead of apathy towards incorporating responsible computing into curricula, you might encounter active resistance to such an effort. This section talks about some ways to overcome such resistance.

Hiring, Promotion and Tenure

One reason your colleagues might not want to incorporate responsible computing into their courses is that doing so might not align with expectations of hiring, promotion and tenure. This section talks about some ways in which such activities can help hiring, promotion and tenure.

We now have a group of faculty on-board. What’s next?

Say you have convinced your colleagues that your department should incorporate responsible computing into your curricula. Or perhaps you are a department chair or the person responsible for UG curriculum in your computing department who is interested in incorporating responsible computing in your UG curricula. Now that you have a group of faculty members onboard, what can the group accomplish?

Making Lessons Stick

While incorporating responsible computing into individual courses does have its benefits, much greater benefit can be achieved with a coordinated response at a departmental level. This section talks about how to “plant seeds” at various points in a student’s stay at your institutions so that they can carry the lessons when they move on to their next position.

Accreditation and Ethics

If your department is accredited or is planning on getting accredited, one prominent requirement is to demonstrate that students in your department are getting exposed to ethical thinking. This section lays out how responsible computing activities can really help.

Broadening Participation and Responsible Computing

As the section makes the case, broadening participation is part of doing responsible computing. The section also lays out a case for why incorporating responsible computing in your curricula can help with your department’s general goal of broadening participation.

Conversations about Responsible Computing and Employment Choices

A common refrain from students about responsible computing is that while talking about these issues in the classroom is all nice and good, what should they do if they encounter an unethical situation in their workplace once they graduate? This section talks about how you can get your students to think through these tricky questions on responsible computing activities.