Fordham is joining forces with a network that can help students and faculty examine ethical issues in the tech sector.
“What does it mean to work to convey to software engineers how to understand and reduce bias? How do you bring a social justice ethos or cura personalis into your work life?” asked Lauri Goldkind, Ph.D. an associate professor in the Graduate School of Social Service.
These are the kinds of questions she hopes to focus on through Fordham’s membership in the Public Interest Technology University Network.
Working with Jesse Baldwin-Philippi, Ph.D., associate professor of communications and media studies, and Vice Provost Jonathan Crystal, Ph.D., Goldkind pursued a connection to the group, which welcomed Fordham as a full member this month.
Ethics and the User Experience
Fordham students are already focusing on the human aspects of their work in the digital space.
The course focuses on how human-centered design and participatory design methods can be used when creating websites and email campaigns.
“It’s not just trying to get people to do everything but click the unsubscribe button, which is bad practice and bad ethics. It’s about designing privacy notices that actually inform people rather than trick them into giving up their data,” said Baldwin-Philippi.
“There are people who are dedicated to thinking through both what an actual, legally binding opt-in policy looks like, and also what user experience design looks like.”
A More Just Tech Ecosystem
The course is one example of the ways that Fordham students can learn how to ensure that technology is harnessed for good. It’s part of a growing field known as “public interest technology.”
The field is the focus of the Public Interest Technology University Network, which brings 59 universities and foundations together to answer the question ‘What does a more just tech ecosystem look like?’
Goldkind said the field is similar to the focus on justice in law education.
“Many schools have public interest-facing law that is oriented around social justice, the legal process, and equity and access,” she said.
“This is the same paradigm applied, broadly speaking, to the digital sector. So it’s addressing everything from government institutions and making more equitable public policy around technology to how to make the corporate sector in the tech space more equitable, inclusive, and open.”
Opportunities for Faculty Grants and Research
Goldkind said the most immediate benefit to membership in the Public Interest Technology University Network is that it opens doors to faculty for research and teaching grants. In her own research, for instance, Goldkind has extensively explored the role that artificial intelligence can play in social work.
Building New Tech-Ethics Courses Across Disciplines
The network also offers a different spin on interdisciplinary teamwork, both for faculty research and student engagement. Goldkind said grants offered through the network could be used to build courses that tap into multiple disciplines.
“What it means is that we could work with someone in say, the department of computer and information sciences, or information systems at the Gabelli School of Business, on a course that cuts across majors and minors and focuses on tech ethics,” she said.
The new membership is an opportunity, Goldkind said, to focus on ethical questions across sectors, and potentially in areas where they “hadn’t been previously thought about.”