Why you should embed ethics into your STEM practice
Why is it important to teach ethics with coding?
Coding is a tool, and it’s a very powerful one in today’s world. Like any tool, it can be used for the betterment of society, such as by creating an app that helps you track forest fire sightings, or it can be used to the detriment of society, such as by creating a video game that mocks, or makes fun of a classmate. If we only teach students about a tool, but not about the responsibility they have to use it wisely, they’ll be missing out on a crucial 21st century skill of responsibility, communication in a diverse environment, and leadership and initiative.
Implementing it properly
There’s no right or wrong way to implement ethics into your STEM, STEAM, or iSTEAM practice. What’s important is that it comes from a place of authenticity, provides your students with critical thinking skills, and doesn’t stifle their creativity. For example, if you’re teaching a course on video game creation, you could have students reflect on different video games to see if they have a net positive or a net negative for society.
Whenever I do this, I always explain to the students that this doesn’t mean that a video game has to be educational, you could be doing a net positive for society by providing an experience that people find entertaining. We then brainstorm some things that you could include in your video game that would make them bad for society, such as games that make fun of people, or those that steal a player’s money, and we also brainstorm things that you could include in your video game that are good for society, such as customizable avatars that reflect your skin color, hair style, and more. You may choose to take it up in a different way within your practice, and that’s perfectly okay.
Why we can’t ignore it
The skills we teach our students are powerful tools that will help them in their future careers. However, we’ve seen many times the harm that can come when they’re misused. There’s an ever constant news feed of hacks, doxes, and malicious malware affecting people around the world. By ignoring the fact that these skills have the potential to harm, we’re doing disservice and preventing our students from starting to think critically about their moral compass, and coming up with a set of ethics on their own.
This is a thorny issue and that may be why many educators don’t choose to take it up in their practice. However, as educators, we have a responsibility to start the conversation with our students so that they can begin to think critically about the responsibility they have to use their skills for the betterment of society. This will increase critical thinking skills in our students and ultimately make them better coders.