Monday, November 26, 2012

What is Your Opinion About Sustainability in the Computing Curriculum?

I'm making final edits to my blurb on Sustainability for a panel presentation description about social and professional issues in the computer science curriculum*. More precisely, I'm thinking about conflict. There isn't much time when you are on a panel. What to focus on, what to focus many choices and I'm conflicted. And oh boy, so will be some of my audience. Conflicted. Perhaps many of them, if past performance is any predictor of future performance. Which market analysts remind us all the time is not the case.

Yet, enlightened educators and psychologists tell us about the beneficial opportunities for managed conflict. Not the kind where you duke it out and slug your neighbor, but the kind where something provocative lands in your lap and you wrestle with it in a civilized manner as a group.

Sustainability in the computing curriculum is my little piece of the panel presentation**. When I wrote my original blurb I ended it with "Lisa will discuss the sometimes controversial sustainability knowledge unit in the social and professional practice knowledge area".

One of the anonymous reviewers asked: what is controversial? I wasn't sure if s/he was positively inclined and surprised by the statement or didn't know much about the issue and was just curious. I am 99.99% sure the reviewer was not negatively inclined towards the idea of sustainability in the computing curriculum. Anyone who gets all p.o.'d about the idea knows they are in conflict with a growing movement.

Another reviewer suggested that I bring up to speed members of the audience who are not familiar with the fundamental issues. In light of the first reviewer, this makes good sense. Ok, will do - if you wrote that and are reading this, then yes, I will make sure when I speak to cover the fundamentals for those who are not already deeply embroiled in everything.

And embroiled many people are. I was momentarily surprised to read the question asking what is controversial about infusing sustainability into the undergraduate computing curriculum. Perhaps because I routinely encounter professional colleagues who have strong opinions on the matter. In prior outreach on this issue I have encountered everything from:

"Thank goodness AT LAST this issue is being taken seriously!" 
"Oh no, not ANOTHER mandate being shoved down my throat!"

(Mandate? Mandate? They are called "recommendations" for a reason).

There are also people in the professional community of computing education who are curious, curious, to hear about what the controversy is all about. Not ready to bite my head off nor to shower me with roses. Just curious.

I am reminded by this reminder that rather than presuming either roses or rotten tomatoes when I speak next March, I can view this as a micro-classroom opportunity. Perhaps challenge the crowd with comments such as these:

Sustainability is part and parcel of computer science and you ignore it at your peril

Sustainability is more than reducing your electricity load - which we suck at by the way

The "solution" isn't sending your old electronics off to a developing country for recycling  and patting yourself on the back

I believe all of the these, and I could continue with some evidence, but the point isn't (and won't be) for people to sit and take solemn notes about the pros and cons and the logic of it all. The whole point here will not be for me to talk talk talk but to get people off their comfy little conference hall chairs and engaging with the challenge of sustainability in their classrooms. What a panel can provide is an opportunity for constructively dealing with a difficult, challenging, conflicted topic with one's peers. In person. Where it is a lot harder to flame someone.

If you are a computing educator and think sustainability in the classroom is great stuff but haven't overcome the challenges of curricular rubber hitting the road let's all wrestle with your excitement and questions.

If you are a computing educator and think infusing sustainability in the classroom is silly or impossible let's all wrestle with your skepticism.

If you are a computing educator and not sure what you think - even better. I would like to put you right smack in between your opinionated peers and let's all talk about it.

*The Panel will be presented at the SIGCSE 2013 Symposium in Denver, Colorado and is called: "Computer Science Curriculum 2013: Social and Professional Recommendations from the ACM/IEEE-CS Task Force".

**My fellow panelists and wonderful colleagues are: Beth Hawthorne - bravely moderating this adventurous panel, along with Flo Appel and Carol Spradling, both of whom are battle seasoned veterans of the social and professional issues world of computing.

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