“Teaching Global Disruption and Information Technology Online” accepted for publication in Interactions magazine
As a part of a special issue on Sustainable HCI Education in Interactions magazine, Bill Tomlinson, Bonnie Nardi and myself, elaborated on an online course that we taught about Global Disruption and Information Technology. This article was part of an ongoing conversation with a community of researchers that are exploring the “Limits to Computing”. This year that community is having the LIMITS 2017 conference at Westmont College. Conveniently it will coincide with the Gaede Institute on the Liberal Arts’ conversation on “The Liberal Arts for a Fragile Planet” Our work on teaching these ideas is based on this paradigm:
Computer Science has always dealt with limits. Developing effective algorithms that compensate for limited memory, limited computational power, and limited bandwidth are central to the discipline. Over time technology has gradually raised these limits (e.g., Moore’s Law) to such a degree that computing now competes for large-scale access to the electrical grid, oil, and other energy resources, as well as rare earth minerals. These resources were not traditionally thought of as limits for computing. On the other hand, sectors of society that have always worked with limited physical resources such as agriculture, logistics, and utilities have now embraced computing as a means of operating more efficiently and now consume even more intensively than before. To capture these new intersections between computing and resource usage, the term “Computing within LIMITS” was coined.
We, of course, think that Computing within LIMITS is critically important to the future of the computing discipline, and potentially a powerful transformative force in the world more broadly. We imagine teaching LIMITS in general as a pathway to greater engagement. This online course in particular, taught in the UC system with more than 186,000 undergraduates, could help reduce the impact of global disruption from resource competition by connecting the computing discipline to the broader discourse on sustainability. We hope it is a model and inspiration for other efforts at colleges and universities around the world. Hopefully our experiences can make a small contribution to this greater effort.