Tag Archives: literacy

A Different Kind of Computer Science Literacy: Reading, Writing, Debate

I want my AP Computer Science course to be more than a programming class. I want my students to read, think, write, and debate issues at the intersection of technology, society, and ethics. I suppose this aligns with the AP Computer Science course goal of “understand the ethical and social implications of computer use,” and “Computing in Context” topics (“An awareness of the ethical and social implications of computing systems is necessary for the study of computer science. These topics need not be covered in detail, but should be considered throughout the course.”). I’ve never seen a question related to these topics on the AP Exam, and I wonder how much these topics are addressed in classes throughout the world. Regardless, students should explore these topics. In addition, practicing reading, writing, analyzing, and debating these topics incorporates various Common Core literacy standards.

The first standard for my course is: “Standard 1 – Analyze, evaluate, and debate examples combining technology, society, and ethics.” Last year, students completed five discussion assignments associated with this standard; three the first semester and two the second. In preparation for next year, I revised these assignments. I kept the ones that resulted in the most engagement and discussion relatively unchanged. I combined a couple into a richer collection of articles in hopes of generating a stronger discussion. I created a couple of new assignments to expose students to topics I felt were important. Next year, I plan to have students complete three discussion assignments in the fall semester and three in the spring.

In hopes that other computer science educators will find these assignments useful in their classrooms, I’ve copied the six from Canvas into this blog post.

What is Computer Science? Who should learn it? When should they start?

In the past couple of years, there have been efforts to promote computer science to the public and primary and secondary students in particular. Last December, Code.org hosted the Hour of Code. On January 1, 2012, Codeacedemy declared that 2012 would be “Code Year.” Audrey Waters wrote an article about “Code Year,” the press it generated, and if it is a good idea. The controversy erupted when Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Overflow, published his response: “Please Don’t Learn to Code.” In the Association of Computing Machinery journal, Esther Shein wrote an excellent article on the subject. In February, National Public Radio did a piece on these efforts. What complicates all of these efforts is the general lack of agreement about what is computer science. Jonah Kagan raises this point in his article “Computer science isn’t a science and it isn’t about computers“.

Requirements:

  • Read all five articles (Waters, Atwood, Shein, NPR, Kagan) and any others related to the topic that you find interesting.
  • Post a response to these articles. Your response must:
    • Provide a brief overview of each of the four articles.
    • Answer multiple prompts (potential, not exclusive, prompts are enumerated below) in detail.
    • Cite specifics from each of the four articles to support your response and demonstrate that you carefully read and analyzed each article.
    • Connect the articles to your personal experience (past, present, or future).
  • Comment in a civil and respectful manner on other’s responses or comments. (You must post before you can see others’ responses or comments.)

Some potential (but not exclusive) prompts:

  • Do you strongly agree with one side or the other in the everyone should learn to code debate? Why?
  • Does your decision to take AP Computer Science support or refute any of these claims?
  • What is the most important thing to learn in AP Computer Science? Java? Writing programs? What?
  • How is Kagan’s description of computer science consistent or inconsistent with your understanding of computer science?
  • How does this Kagan’s essay support (or doesn’t support) your expectations for this computer science course?
  • Do you agree that society in general and even technically sophisticated people are unsure exactly what computer science is? Does this matter?
  • Is this class a math class, a business class, a science class, an engineering class, or something else? Why?

Net Neutrality

Vi Hart’s video Net Neutrality in the US: Now What? is the best explanation of what Net Neutrality is and the history of the issue. In Forbes, Joshua Steimle, wrote a piece about his opposition to Net Neutrality: Am I The Only Techie Against Net Neutrality?.

Requirements:

  • Watch Vi Hart’s video, read Steimle’s article, and watch or read at least two other videos or articles linked in the description of the video.
  • Post a response to these videos and articles. Your response must:
    • Provide a brief overview of each of the four videos/articles (clearly state which other two videos or articles you watched or read).
    • Answer multiple prompts (potential, not exclusive, prompts are enumerated below) in detail.
    • Cite specifics from each of the four articles to support your response and demonstrate that you carefully read and analyzed each article.
    • Connect the articles to your personal experience (past, present, or future).
  • Comment in a civil and respectful manner on other’s responses or comments. (You must post before you can see others’ responses or comments.)

Some potential (but not exclusive) prompts:

  • Do you support Net Neutrality? Why or why not? Defend your position with evidence.
  • Will the FCC ruling on this topic actually affect you in any significant way?
  • What, if anything, do you plan to do after analyzing this issue as a result of this assignment?

Diversity in Computer Science

As a group, Computer Science students are one of the least diverse. What needs to be done to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities? In this interview, Dr. Maria Klawe, president of of Harvey Mudd College in California, addresses this question on PBS Newshour. In her article, Want More Women in Tech? Fix Misperceptions of Computer Science, Shuchi Grover focuses on the image problem of computer science. The last two sections of Tasneem Raja’s recent article Is Coding the New Literacy? summarizes the challenges and various efforts underway. Philip Guo writes about his Silent Technical Privilege as an Asian male.

Requirements:

  • Read or watch all four pieces (Klawe, Grover, Raja, Guo) and any others related to the topic that you find interesting.
  • Post a response to these articles. Your response must:
    • Provide a brief overview of each of the four articles.
    • Answer multiple prompts (potential, not exclusive, prompts are enumerated below) in detail.
    • Cite specifics from each of the four articles to support your response and demonstrate that you carefully read and analyzed each article.
    • Connect the articles to your personal experience (past, present, or future).
  • Comment in a civil and respectful manner on other’s responses or comments. (You must post before you can see others’ responses or comments.)

Some potential (but not exclusive) prompts:

  • Is it feasible to address the gender and underrepresented minority gap in computer science in high school?
  • Do you agree that the lack of diversity is due to a misperception of computer science?
  • What can high school students do to address this gender gap? What about teachers (computer science and others)? What about the school as a whole? What about parents? What about society?
  • Do you have a personal experience that either encouraged or discouraged you to take this or previous computer science courses?

Stuxnet

“Three years after it was discovered, Stuxnet, the first publicly disclosed cyberweapon, continues to baffle military strategists, computer security experts, political decision-makers, and the general public. A comfortable narrative has formed around the weapon: how it attacked the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz, how it was designed to be undiscoverable, how it escaped from Natanz against its creators’ wishes. Major elements of that story are either incorrect or incomplete.”

Requirements:

  • Read this article about Stuxnet and the cyberattack on Iran’s centrifuges. Also browse this detailed report for more information.
  • Post a response to these articles. Your response must:
    • Provide a brief overview of the two variants of the virus. Compare and contrast them to each other .
    • Answer multiple prompts (potential, not exclusive, prompts are enumerated below) in detail.
    • Cite specifics from the article and report to support your response and demonstrate that you carefully read and analyzed the article and report.
    • Connect the articles to your personal experience (past, present, or future).
  • Comment in a civil and respectful manner on other’s responses or comments. (You must post before you can see others’ responses or comments.)

Some potential (but not exclusive) prompts:

  • What security vulnerabilities were exposed?
  • Did the attack work as designed?
  • What does this attack on Iran’s centrifuges mean for the security of critical technologies within the United States?
  • What types of defenses would be effective? What types of defenses are not?

Data, Privacy, and the Future of Ed-Tech

Requirements:

  • Read the following excerpt. Choose two or more of the questions presented to explore further, either by following the links or doing additional research.
  • Post a response to these articles. Your response must:
    • Provide a brief overview of the articles related to the two questions that you chose to explore.
    • Cite specifics from each of the articles related to the two questions that you chose to explore to support your response and demonstrate that you carefully read and analyzed each article.
    • Connect the articles to your personal experience (past, present, or future). For example:
      • How do the issues of data and privacy affect you personally?
      • What personal behaviors are influenced by your understanding of data and privacy?
      • Will you change your behavior after researching this topic?
  • Comment in a civil and respectful manner on other’s responses or comments. (You must post before you can see others’ responses or comments.)

Data, Privacy, and the Future of Ed-Tech

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously declared privacy “dead” back in 2010. This year, incidentally, he bought the four houses adjacent to his after hearing that a developer had plans to market a neighboring property as being “next door to Mark Zuckerberg.”

Nevertheless, you hear it a lot in technology circles – “privacy is dead” – often uttered by those with a stake in our handing over increasing amounts of personal data without question.

To see privacy as something will inevitably “die,” to view it as a monolithic notion is quite ahistorical. To do so ignores the varied cultural and social expectations we have about privacy today. It ignores how power relations have always shaped who has rights and access to autonomy, self-determination, solitude. It ignores the ongoing resistance (by teens, for example, by activists, and by librarians) to surveillance.

Nonetheless, as the adoption of ed-tech continues (and with it, the increasing amount of data created – intentionally or unintentionally, as content or as “exhaust“), there are incredibly important discussions to be had about data and privacy:

  • What role will predictive modeling and predictive policing have in education? Who will be marked as “deviant”? Why? Against whom will data discriminate?
  • What role does privacy play – or phrase differently: what role does a respite from surveillance play – in a child’s development?
  • How can we foster agency and experimentation in a world of algorithms?
  • What assumptions go into our algorithms and models? Who builds them? Are they transparent? (After all, data is not objective.)
  • What can we really learn from big data in education? Bill Gates says big data will “save American schools.” Really? Save from what? For whom? Or is all this data hype just bullshit?
  • Who owns education data?
  • What happens to our democracy if we give up our privacy and surrender our data to tech companies and to the federal government? What role will education play in resisting or acquiescing to these institutions’ demands?

The above is a portion of the article Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: Data vs Privacy by Audrey Waters who blogs at Hack Education.

Aaron Swartz

From Wikipedia: Aaron Swartz (November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013) was an American computer programmer, writer, political organizer and Internet Hacktivist.

Swartz was involved in the development of the web feed format RSS,[3] the organization Creative Commons,[4] the website framework web.py[5] and the social news site, Reddit, in which he became a partner after its merger with his company, Infogami.[[i]][410]

Swartz’s work also focused on sociology, civic awareness and activism.[6][7] He helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee in 2009 to learn more about effective online activism. In 2010 he became a research fellow at Harvard University‘s Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption, directed by Lawrence Lessig.[8][9] He founded the online group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act.

On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested by MIT police on state breaking-and-entering charges, after systematically downloading academic journal articles from JSTOR.[10][11]Federal prosecutors later charged him with two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,[12] carrying a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution and supervised release.[13]

Swartz declined a plea bargain under which he would serve six months in federal prison. Two days after the prosecution rejected a counter-offer by Swartz, he was found dead in his Brooklyn, New York apartment, where he had hanged himself.[14][15]

In June 2013, Swartz was posthumously inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.[16][17]

Boston Magazine published an article titled, “Losing Aaron, Bob Swartz on MIT’s Role in His Son’s Death“.

In January 2013, Aaron’s Law was authored in Congress. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been leading efforts to reform CFAA and pass Aaron’s Law and similar initiatives.

Lawrence Lessig used the occasion of his Chair Lecture at Harvard to speak about Aaron Swartz: “Aaron’s Laws: Law and Justice in a Digital Age“.

Requirements:

  • Read the articles from Boston Magazine, WIRED, and EFF. (Watch Lessig’s video, if interested; it is excellent.)
  • Post a response to these articles. Your response must:
    • Provide a brief overview of Aaron Swartz, CFAA, and Aaron’s Law.
    • Answer multiple prompts (potential, not exclusive, prompts are enumerated below) in detail.
    • Cite specifics from each of the three articles to support your response and demonstrate that you carefully read and analyzed each article.
    • Connect the articles to your personal experience (past, present, or future).
  • Comment in a civil and respectful manner on other’s responses or comments. (You must post before you can see others’ responses or comments.)

Some potential (but not exclusive) prompts:

  • Is it accurate to compare Aaron’s actions to that of civil disobedience?
  • Did Aaron’s downloading of JSTOR archive cause harm?
  • What role and responsibility does MIT have in this case?
  • What reforms, if any, are needed? Does Aaron’s Law go far enough?
  • What can you do? What should you do?