students and faculty
September 21, 2021

Why I Keep Showing Up

A Tang fellow gets a glimpse into why students crave (and need) ethical inquiry in their technical work
by Nicholas Zufelt

As we begin a school year that many thought would be post-pandemic, I’m noticing that I, my colleagues, and the teachers I interact with around the globe are tired. At a time of year when we in the education world are usually proclaiming, “Happy new year!” the contrast feels stark. Many teachers are asking themselves, Why do I keep showing up? My answer is rooted in what my students are taking away from their classroom experience.

Last spring, at the end of an app development class in which the students worked through curriculum that actively weaves together ethical and technical thinking, I asked for their anonymous response to the question, “What do you think the ethical elements of our work add (or not) to our classroom?” The responses blew me away. They spoke volumes about the power of, and the need for, work that challenges students to simultaneously think computationally and responsibly.

Below, I share a small sample of these responses. First of all, students agreed with the approach:

I think the learning and application of ethics AS we code is really important. Personally, it's really easy to talk about the addictive features [of an app] as bad, but to code something different and still helpful and successful adds another layer of complexity and challenge, while also ingraining into us the importance of thinking about ethics in coding. The coding world is still so free rein and lessons in tech ethics will make me a more responsible and creative coder.

They appreciated the additional challenge because of the relevancy and impact it adds to their code:

I like this aspect of our class because it goes beyond what they teach in other compsci courses. A lot of it was stuff that I had never thought about, like the biases we can accidentally code into technology or how we might accidentally be making our apps non-inclusive.

Students felt that adding in ethical inquiry made them feel safer as a classroom community (which reminds me of the work we did in the 2020 ethi{CS} summer project):

They add a sense of inclusivity and security to the classroom, creating a safe environment for all of us.

And since every teacher’s dream is transfer of learning:

I enjoy the ethical element to our class, and I've used it in every aspect of my life since joining this class.

So, thank you, students, for helping me to remember why I show up to this work.

Dr. Nicholas Zufelt is an instructor in mathematics, statistics, and computer science at Phillips Academy and a Tang Institute fellow with the ethi{CS} project and The Workshop.

Categories: Fellows, Featured

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