Accessible Design

Teaching How All Technologies Are Accessible in Data Structures and Algorithms

It Can Relate to Real Lives

Attitudes and Expectations in Justice-Centered Data Structures for Non-Majors

There’s a growing recognition of the need to teach computing students relevant social, ethical, and professional skills. But there remains a key question of how to integrate these approaches within the existing computing curriculum. My students are presenting a paper at SIGCSE TS 2024 on our work toward this end.

In this study, we report on the attitudes and expectations of non-computer science majors enrolled in a Data Structures and Algorithms course designed with a justice-centered approach. Our approach extends prior work by integrating an iterative design methodology called CIDER to empower students to not only critique technologies, but also redesign, reimplement, and re-evaluate them. This approach views the skills learned in any computing course as tools to achieve a specific goal. By encouraging students to question and critique our goals, we also create opportunities for them to use their skills creatively to reimagine technologies.

Our research employed both quantitative and qualitative methods. We administered pre-quarter and post-quarter surveys to assess changes in students’ attitudes towards computing, including their confidence and sense of belonging. Additionally, we analyzed students’ self-reflections at the end of the quarter to gauge their fulfillment of expectations and their perspectives on the course overall without specific regard or mention of particular course design approaches. The study population included a diverse mix of gender and racial identities, allowing us to examine the experiences of underrepresented groups in computing education.

The results revealed a significant increase in computing confidence and sense of belonging among students, highlighting the positive impact of our approach. However, women, non-binary, and other students not identifying as men (WNB+) still reported lower levels of confidence and belonging by the end of the quarter compared to men, despite an overall increase. In free response questions, the majority of students expressed a positive sentiment towards the course, appreciating its focus on real-world implications and ethical considerations. Nonetheless, some students desired more interview preparation, indicating an opportunity to better align students’ sense of learning across the technical, social, and sociotechnical dimensions.

Our study highlights the potential of justice-centered pedagogies in computing education to show students how to blend their traditional technical education with pressing social and sociotechnical questions. Future work should also explore ways to teach students to navigate the practical complexities of the tech industry and society at large: Within workplace power structures, how might students actually affect change in the technologies they’re responsible for implementing? By doing so, we create a new kind of justice for our students that empowers them to conduct their computing work in ways that are aligned with their social values.