Social Implications and Responsibilities of Computing, Academic Degrees working groups present ideas for College of Computing

Discussion includes ethical considerations and inclusiveness of interdisciplinary majors

The co-chairs of the Social Implications and Responsibilities of Computing and Academic Degrees working groups of the College of Computing held a joint forum Wednesday morning. These forums are part of the working groups’ mission to develop ideas and options for the college with the aim of producing a report in May. They discussed ethical considerations in engineering, an inclusive approach to teaching computation, and the effectiveness of interdisciplinary majors.

Co-chairs Julie Shah ’04, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, and Melissa Nobles, dean of humanities, arts, and social sciences, represented the Social Implications and Responsibilities working group. Co-chair Srini Devadas, EECS professor, represented the Academic Degrees working group.

Nobles said that the goal of the Social Implications and Responsibilities working group is to examine ways to integrate scholarship on the social implications and responsibilities of computing into the fabric of the college. She continued by saying that this integration of ethical, social, and policy analyses would require sustained vision and investment.

Nobles identified the stakeholders interested in the integration of ethics into the new college. Employers would be interested to see students that have a more robust language to evaluate societal consequences. Students would be excited about committing to ethics, but possibly concerned about the trade-offs it might introduce.

The Academic Degrees working group is gathering information on finding the right mixture of breadth and depth of curriculum requirements, the effectiveness of interdisciplinary majors, and accessible digital learning.

Devadas spoke about the goals of the group, emphasizing a “broad funnel” approach that focused on teaching computation with an inclusive approach to cater to students from a variety of computer science backgrounds. The group also aims to promote the synthesis of computation with different modes of thought, forming a foundation for new fields of study that will transcend disciplines, departments, and schools.

Daniel Hastings PhD ’80, the department head of aeronautics and astronautics, encouraged Devadas to “be bold” in moving forward with introducing computation as a General Institute Requirement, saying that it would be a statement of MIT’s priorities.

Devadas responded by saying the “broad funnel” notion is bigger than implementing a GIR, since a GIR only fixes part of the problem in terms of variation in student preparation. Nobles added that while the possibility of a computation GIR has been discussed in the past, no consensus was reached.

Mahi Elango ’20 asked how the working groups could guarantee that the MIT community was a part of the decision-making process in regards to the new college.

Shah responded, “This is not the end of input from the community, but the beginning.” With subsequent forums and a comment period after the report is published, the working groups hope to incorporate community opinion into their processes. The public can offer their input to the working groups on the online Idea Bank.