Report: Responsible Computer Science Challenge In-Person Kick Off Meeting

By Kathy Pham | Aug. 13, 2019 | Fellowships & Awards

On July 16th 2019, Mozilla convened the seventeen awardees of the Responsible Computer Science Challenge. The goal of the event was for awardees to meet each other, share ideas, hear from industry leaders in responsibility, ethics and tech, and plan for next steps of the Challenge. The agenda included an industry panel, group working sessions, and two keynotes on critical race and gender studies and human rights.


Opening Remarks

The event started with traditional Mozilla land acknowledgement by Jenn Beard, Program Officer of the Responsible Computer Science Challenge. A land acknowledgement is a formal statement that recognizes and respects indigenous peoples as traditional stewards of the land. The site of the Mozilla San Francisco office is on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Ohlone (“oh-lone-e”) and Costanoan (“coh-stah-no-an”) Nations. The Ohlone is a grouping term created by anthropologists to signify broad-based linguistic and cultural similarities among some 58 independent tribal groups. Surviving through two centuries of persecution and genocidal policies during the Spanish, Mexican, and American eras, Ohlone people continue to inhabit their ancestral homeland, The San Francisco Bay and Monterey Bay areas. We took the opportunity to commit ourselves to the struggle against the systems of oppression that have dispossessed Indigenous people of their lands and denied their rights to self-determination, work that is essential to human rights work across the world. As we consider how we approach ethics in computer science, it is critical for us to help students and stakeholders to consider the thoughts, viewpoints, and needs of all people.

We are at a very exciting stage: The Responsible Computer Science grantees are getting ready to implement concepts with their students this fall, and have the potential to grow their work within the field of computer science and beyond. The long-term goals of the Responsible Computer Science Challenge will hopefully lead to shifts in the way technology is built and considered in society.

Industry Perspective

Next, three senior leaders in industry joined us for discussion of ethics and social responsibility and the importance of this work to the tech industry:

We discussed the role of Responsible Computer Science curricula in industry, and David, Kathy, and Mary shared what their respective companies are doing in ethics, responsibility, trust, safety, and more. The topics included: skills missing from students in computer science and engineering, the hardest problems facing the tech sector, hiring processes and open roles, how they each got into their roles today, how teams in their companies are supporting employees who raise ethical issues, how interviews may be changing, leadership commitments, and more.

This discussion was a complement to the 35 industry leaders who signed the Industry Support letter for the Responsible Computer Science Challenge.

Working Sessions

Based on each team’s Challenge proposals and interest, a list of preliminary topics was generated for deeper discussion in small groups:

  • True interdisciplinary work: how to collaborate, and which disciplines to partner with
  • Fairness and bias: how to define, and how to incorporate into curricula
  • Existing content: what exists, where to find it, how to collaborate
  • Classroom activities: getting into the weeds of classroom assignments
  • Leadership buy-in: how to garner the support needed to make changes in areas like curriculum
  • What is AI’s role in this challenge?
  • External collaborations: working with community groups
  • Student groups: what already exists, how can we activate and engage them for this work?
  • International groups and communities: who else should we be talking to and how can we meaningfully partner to spread and scale the work?
  • Negative impact analysis: red teaming, pre-mortems, etc.
  • Introduce core ethics principles to First-Year CS Students
  • Industry: Benefits and drawbacks to partnering with industry
  • Define ethics and pedagogy: What we mean when we’re talking about “ethics” and how this relates to teaching

The group split into four working groups to further discuss true interdisciplinary work, fairness and bias, existing content, and classroom activities.


Two scholars joined to present and discuss on race, gender, and human rights in technology.

  • Jenny Korn is a feminist activist of color for social justice, a scholar of race and gender in mass media and online communication, and a member of Mensa, the high intelligence quotient (IQ) society. Currently, Korn is a Fellow and the Founding Coordinator of the Race and Media Working Group at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. She is also the Founder of Princeton University’s Club Diversity Discussions.
  • Sabelo Mhlambi is a researcher at the Berkman-Klein Center and Carr Center for Human Rights whose work focuses on the intersection of human rights, ethics and technology. In particular, Mhlambi’s research examines the human rights implications of algorithmic technology and proposes a new ethical framework for governing the creation and use of AI and maximizing public good. Mhlambi’s work brings inclusivity on the conversation on Ethics and AI by introducing non-western framework for examining technology. His work is also supplemented by more than a decade building large scale software, open-source software and content recommendation systems.

Next Steps

As part of the Responsible Computer Science Challenge, we launched the Global Responsible Computer Science Community of Practice. Those working towards integrating social responsibility and ethics into computing curricula around the world are invited to join. The goals of this community: Spark cross disciplinary insight, collaborate with a global cohort, provide a platform for sharing and scaling pedagogy ideas, and continue work beyond the Responsible Computer Science Challenge. Mozilla will also host a series of webinars applicable to the Responsible Computer Science.

The cohort will also collaborate on proposals to conferences such as: MozFest, Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE), and ACM Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (ACM FAT*).

Check back on this blog and on the page for links to curricula, syllabi, and classroom activities developed and published in the open from the awardees.


Allegheny College | Meadville, PA | Oliver Bonham-Carter

Bemidji State University | Bemidji, MN | Marty J. Wolf, Colleen Greer

Bowdoin College | Brunswick, ME | Stacy Doore

Columbia University | New York, NY | Augustin Chaintreau

Georgetown University | Washington, DC | Nitin Vaidya, Maggie Little

Georgia Institute of Technology | Atlanta, GA | Ellen Zegura, Jason Borenstein

Harvard University | Cambridge, MA | Barbara Grosz, David Gray Grant

Miami Dade College | Miami, FL | George Gabb, Joshua Young

Mozilla | Kansas City, MO, Boston, MA| Jenn Beard, Kathy Pham

Northeastern University | Boston, MA | Christo Wilson

Omidyar Network | Redwood City, CA | Yoav Schlesinger

Santa Clara University | Santa Clara, CA | Sukanya Manna, Subramaniam Vincent

University of California, Berkeley | Berkeley, CA | Cathryn Carson, John Canny, Margo Boenig-Liptsin

University at Buffalo | Buffalo, NY | Atri Rudra, Varun Chandola

University of California, Davis | Davis, CA | Annamaria (Nina) Amenta

University of Colorado, Boulder | Boulder, CO | Casey Fiesler

University of Maryland, Baltimore County | Baltimore, MD | Maria Sanchez

University of Utah | Salt Lake City, UT | Suresh Venkatasubramanian

Washington University | St. Louis, MO | Ron Cytron