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It's About Power

By Sepehr Vakil, Jennifer Higgs

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 62 No. 3, Pages 31-33

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This column aims to build on and extend the field's understandings of the nature of ethics and equity in computing. Specifically, we argue that issues related to systems of power, which are often absent from conversations around ethics in computing, must be brought to the foreground in K-16 computing education. To this end, we argue for a justice-centered pedagogy5 that centers power by explicitly acknowledging the ethical and political dimensions of computation and builds learning conditions so that everyone—including, but not limited to, students on computer science (CS) or engineering pathways—can understand, analyze, critique, and reimagine the technologies that shape everyday lives.

A power-conscious approach to ethics in computing highlights the socio-political and sociocultural contexts in which technologies are developed and deployed. To respond to the highly complex sociotechnical problems of the 21st century and beyond, future computer scientists and engineers need educational opportunities that prepare them to understand and care about the far-reaching ethical and sociopolitical implications of new technologies. Yet, we must also fundamentally rethink who computing education is for. Serious efforts should be made at the K-12 and undergraduate levels to make the knowledge, skills, and tools to critically examine the relationships between power, ethics, and technology available to all. Given rapidly evolving innovations and contexts of computing, we argue for two changes in our approach to ethics and equity in K-16 computing education:


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