As Mark Zuckerberg and five other big tech executives face the US Senate over social media’s harmful—and, arguably, deadly—impact on America’s youth, Fordham GSS Associate Professor is attempting to build ethical and responsible public interest technology curricula that could be adopted nationwide.
Goldkind, who received a $178,000 grant from the ethical tech organization PIT-UN in November, brought a team of academic and industry minds together last month to begin forging the path toward a solution to the question: how can we educate future generations to consider the ethical implications of their technological innovations genuinely? The group claims that this area of study, known as Public Interest Technology (PIT), will be vital to sustainable and ethical future technological implementation.
“The in-person kickoff exceeded my expectations,” Goldkind said. “I am so excited to work with this group of professionals interested in enhancing the responsible tech ecosystem.”
The two-day event consisted of workshops on inclusive design, competency-based learning, and brainstorming sessions focused on what PIT education would look like in universities — what schools would house it, what materials would look like, and how to avoid the academic silos that can emerge between programs within institutions.
How to Make Design More Inclusive
Day one began with a workshop on inclusive design, facilitated by Adriana Valdez Young, an inclusive designer and the chair of the MFA in Interactive Design at the School of Visual Arts (SVA); and Pinar Guvenc, partner at design studio SOUR and lecturer at the Parsons School of Design.
The discussion began by highlighting the importance of collaboration when designing a product to ensure its inclusivity. This collaboration must be not only between designers, but also between designers and the community the product is trying to serve.
“We [designers]don’t design anything for someone or about them. We work with them,” Young said. “We need to know who we are designing for, so we can design and research with them.”
So, collaboration is key to inclusion. But what else makes up inclusive design? Young and Guvnec said it would be easier to begin with what inclusive design is not.
Inclusive design is not, they said:
- Accessible design – this targets baseline accessibility, and is not concerned about the experience users have
- Universal design – inclusive design says one size fits one. Universal says one size fits all. This can be an aspiration for inclusive design, but it’s very hard to reach.
- Equitable design – to be equitable, you have to be inclusive, but just because you’re inclusive doesn’t mean you’re equitable.
Young and Guvnec argue that inclusive design is helping to “rehumanize” the relationship between designers and people. This will result in a better product experience for a broader spectrum of users. However, most tech teams and company stakeholders don’t see it this way—yet.
“Projects get canceled because when a design team presents to stakeholders, the stakeholders want to scale it instead of serving niche clients,” Guvnec said. “We need to be not just practicing but advocating for this.”
This is why it’s important to establish a culture of instinctual inclusive design, Young added. Once this focus is built into teams’ processes, it becomes another part of who they are as an organization.
“[At this point in time], your manager isn’t going to ask you to bring an inclusive design lens to your work,” Young said. “We can build a culture so people automatically bring this to their projects.”
Guvnec added that those struggling to persuade stakeholders should pitch inclusive design as risk mitigation. Not doing inclusive design, she said, is asking for problems later on down the road.
“I don’t want to put something out there that will have problems and not stick,” she said. “The more you co-create with your users, the better chance you have against future issues.”
Once you have stakeholder buy-in for inclusive design, how do you ensure the processes remain top-of-mind and adaptable? This is where roadmaps can be helpful, Guvnec said.
“Inclusive design projects should start with a roadmap: how are you going to continually check how it’s performing for different communities?” she said, adding, “Inclusive storytelling to different audiences can help with the design adoption.”
A Story of Skills and Competencies
Fordham GSS Associate Professor Jemel Aguilar, Ph.D., also presented in his own iPIT workshop focused on skills training and competency development.
“My background is that I’m a therapist, so I like to tell stories,” he said. “So I’m going to use a story to tell you about competencies.”
Aguilar explained his personal plunge into data science during the COVID-19 pandemic. While in lockdown, he scoured YouTube and took courses on things like Python programming to enhance his skills. Through this exploration, he found that there were skills he’d obtained from his social work training that could help him succeed as a data scientist.
“Competencies start off as skills,” Aguilar said. “If you break down the knowledge and skills into smaller pieces, you can build toward competencies.”
The pathway to competencies is a vital component of the iPIT project. The group aims to emerge from the grant work with the competencies necessary for students to learn throughout a PIT program.
The distinction between skills and competencies is an important one, Aguilar said. Although they are separate, one follows the other.
“Skills are separate from competencies, but when you combine skills together, they become a competency,” he said. “I combined Python and problem-solving skills to become a competent programmer, but combined those with social work skills and competencies to become a data scientist.”
This is the focus of PIT training in a nutshell: what do students need to learn—both from a computer science lens and a humanities lens—to get the competencies and confidence they need to walk confidently into a tech interview?
Aguilar presented the difference between skills and competencies as follows:
- Cumulative (across competencies)
- Links to job descriptions (evolving)
- Formative (how are they doing throughout the process) and summative (at the end, can they get the project done) measures
- The culmination of skills, knowledge, and attitudes
- Behavioral in nature (at the end, I have to be able to work on a program and show it to you and it fits your guidelines)
- Summative assessment
- Progressive – can they build on the general/basic skills they’ve learned? Students must show change over the course of the whole project
- Includes professional culture – the students’ attitudes; they must do more than just collaborate, but collaborate effectively in a way that brings the project forward
Public Interest Technology is gaining ground in a world consumed by innovation and industry growth. This gathering was one of many that will take place over the next 14 months while the group of academics and industry experts collaborate on the future of ethical technology.
“We left the kickoff with three working groups: values in public interest tech, responsible AI, and market research,” Goldkind said. “Those groups will work over the next six months on gathering information and generating ideas, so that when we come back together in July, we will have the skeleton of competencies that can be adapted across disciplines.”
PIT’s biggest buy-in, the group agreed, will need to come from the educators who design curricula. It’s not enough that students understand the concept and have a desire to learn; the instructors have to contain the desire to teach the material and its importance.
“Departments adopt ideas, but once you’re in the classroom, there’s a lot of flexibility,” Goldkind said to the group. “Our target consumer is the instructor, because they’re disseminating the information.”
And what could the group do to result in that buy-in? That will be the charge moving forward now that they have established a base — getting creative with the execution.