June 15, 2019

Accountable Algorithms

Ethan Zuckerman had an interesting reaction to his first experience with the TSA Pre-Check program, which lets frequent flyers go through a much shorter and less elaborate procedure at airport security checkpoints. Ethan’s concerns about unfairness are worth pondering, but I want to focus here on his call for more openness about the algorithm that selects people for enhanced search.

Public processes often involve algorithms, and the public has an interest in the openness of these processes. Today I want to expand on what we mean when we talk about this kind of openness. In my next post, I’ll work through a specific example, taken from airport security, and show how we can improve the public accountability of that algorithm.
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On the Harvard "Cheating" Scandal

The news that Harvard is investigating more than 100 students on charges of unauthorized collaboration on a take-home exam has, predictably, led many commentators to chime in. No matter who you are, a story like this is likely to trigger one of your hot buttons, whether it’s the declining moral standards of kids these days, the moral core of elite educational institutions, the inherent injustice of top-down rulemaking, or whatever. Not to mention that the course was “Introduction to Congress.” [Read more…]

What is the 21st Century blackboard?

In the fall I’ll be back from the FTC and teaching again. I want to draw on the wisdom of FtT readers to help me figure out what technology I should be using to present material to students in the classroom. It’s a lecture class, teaching security and privacy to a class of 175 students, mostly computer science majors.

What should be my primary technology for presenting material?

In recent years I have preferred a technology called a “blackboard.” For those not familiar with this technology, it uses a large flat light-absorbing panel (the “blackboard”), across which I scrape a small cylinder of soft rock (“chalk”), leaving a residue on the board. I like the blackboard because it regulates my pace of presentation, because it allows students to see a lot of material at the same time, and because I can go back and modify / emphasize / point at material I have written. I like the physicality of the board — I am right there next to the board, the lights are on, and I can point at things for emphasis. (But I don’t like turning my back on the students while writing, nor the dust that gets on everything.)

I dislike canned PowerPoint style presentations for lecturing, because there tends to be less material visible to students at a time, because it gives me less opportunity to improvise in response to student questions, because it is less natural to refer to past material or emphasize a point, and ultimately because I think it pushes me toward an overly scripted lecturing style that conveys less nuance and enthusiasm for the material. I used to lecture with PowerPoint but for the last decade or so I have used the blackboard, and I think my teaching is better that way.

But it seems to me that there should exist a higher-tech approach that combines the advantages of the blackboard with the advantages of electronic media. I want something that I can use in an existing tech-enabled classroom, and that will scale up to a class of, say, 200 students.

What should I use? Please educate me in the comments.