Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Off to a Flying Start in Denver - SIGCAS

I arrived in Denver last night for the ACM SIGCSE conference and settled right in with my roommate, the two of us managing to blow up the hotel room lamp within ten minutes of arrival, as a result of plugging in too many computing devices. Bright light, loud noise, darkness. We also blew out all the lights in the room except for the bathroom; there was just a tinge of a burning smell. I have to give credit to the hotel staff for arriving immediately, getting the lights back on and replacing the lamp without batting an eyelash.

This morning we piled down to the pre-conference SIGCAS meeting, which, if you don't recognize that particular acronym, is the Computers and Society organization within the Association For Computing Machinery (ACM). It was wonderful to be surrounded by a dynamic group of people focused on social and ethical concerns within computing education.

We started off by discussing the latest goings on of the organization supporting The Pledge of the Computing Professional. I wrote about this pledge and organization some time ago. In short, the Pledge is intended as a right of passage for graduating computing undergraduates. The Pledge promotes computing as a profession with certain responsibilities, including the ethical and social. A goal is to have students internalize this awareness.

Today's report shared the growing number of colleges and universities that are instituting the Pledge as a voluntary ceremony and how excited students seem to be about it. I was impressed to hear about student enthusiasm for publicly affirming a social ethic. All of us in the room agreed to walk the talk. We stood up, recited the pledge and received our frameable certificates.

We also heard previews of several panels and presentations on computing and society that will take place over the next few days. There was a spirited discussion about how to increase membership in SIGCAS. Computing and Society educators and Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) educators share some unique challenges which should be helpful in expanding the ranks of SIGCAS from within SIGCSE. Both groups have to face peers who sometimes decline to take them as seriously as those focusing on "hard" topics. (As if teaching societal and ethical issues in computing is easy!).

Both groups share a concern with the people oriented factors in computing. Perhaps the SIGCAS organization needs to do some dedicated PR and marketing to get the word out. My sense is that they fly somewhat under the radar. What better time in history to draw attention to goals of making the world a better place?

In terms of working in the context of one's environment, I have also learned on this trip that it is possible to work in the bathtub. It is the little things that make these conferences so special.

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