Graduate Teaching on Diversity: Week 2

The third meeting of our graduate diversity & ethics class went by quickly. I broke the students into small groups of 5-6 to discuss ethical considerations of competition and mutual aid in two contexts: academic research and graduate studies – students took part in two 15min discussions – one for each context, using the following questions as a guide:

  • When is mutual aid beneficial?
  • When is mutual aid detrimental?
  • When is competition beneficial?
  • When is competition detrimental?
  • Can mutual aid result in ethical violations?
  • How can ethical violations be avoided in the practice of mutual aid?
  • Can competition result in ethical violations?
  • How can ethical violations be avoided in the practice of competition?

After the two discussions, we had some class-wide discussion which I hoped to use as a consolidation of ideas. If anything, it was very interesting to see the contrast between the small group comments and the larger conversation.  I hovered over the small-group discussions and got a sampling of the student conversations which seemed quite balanced (equal time spent on discussing mutual aid and competition) whereas the focus ended up on competition in the class-wide comments. I’m not going to take too much meaning from this, because I think I could improve my skills as a facilitator. It also seemed to me that a majority of the students actively participated in the small-group discussions, whereas only a few voices were heard during the class-wide comments (and those voiced were male dominated). I’m not sure that I could perfectly facilitate a conversation along those lines, but I think I will seek out other ways to summarize small-group discussions to the larger group that may equalize the presentation of ideas. Here the summaries were more for my own interest, since every student participated in the same discussions (and this won’t be the case in future classes). In retrospect, it might be interesting to break this conversation in two: small group discussions on competition vs. mutual aid as a student and a panel (by those more experienced in academic research than incoming graduate students are likely to be) to discuss the same idea in the context of academic research.

I had intended to talk more practically about department testing and qualifying exam requirements in the context of when “cheating” is not allowed and when collaboration is expected or encouraged, but 50 minutes goes by quickly. I would also like to have more input from my colleagues on this point, because my understanding of the expectations may not be as representative as I think. I did ask the students to listen to Computer or Human? to spur a discussion about when is your work considered your own, which would have been interesting …

The first short assignment was also due, in which I asked students for a contemporary example of discrimination resulting from research, development or technology in ECE or CS, with a paragraph each summarizing the discrimination that occurred (or is occurring) and their reaction to this discrimination. There were a number of examples of gender and age discrimination in the tech sector, with heartfelt consideration of the negative impacts. There were a few articles with an international perspective on gender discrimination, with an example of some very explicit gender discrimination, including about a law in Iran that provides more seats to men to major in engineering than woman. There were a few examples of technological development resulting in discrimination, for example in the ‘gig economy’ which can result in worse labor rights for low-income workers. Overall, it provided an interesting sampling of discrimination and student perspectives thereon. I’ll be asking for a similar submission at the end of quarter, but will reword the ask to push the students a little further.

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