Socially conscious software development : a case study

Bennett, Kathryn
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Eglash, Ron, 1958-
Krishnamoorthy, M. S.
Spooner, David
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Computer science
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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States
This electronic version is a licensed copy owned by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. Copyright of original work retained by author.
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What does it mean for software to be socially conscious? How can developers make software that avoids negative social consequences? This thesis seeks to answer these questions. Technology does not usually grapple with social or cultural divisions. When social identity is part of the technology's subject matter, additional care must be taken to developing content in a way that does not exclude any particular group of users. The Darwin game is one such case. Initial work by our NSF Triple Helix team suggested that underrepresented students resist learning about evolution due to the associations with racism. The game is a teaching tool that hopes to teach the concepts of the theory of evolution while also raising the question of Charles Darwin's abolitionist ties, with the intentions of keeping underrepresented students from feeling excluded from science and challenging the misconception of Darwin as a racist scientist. We hypothesized that exposing these connections would make students more receptive to the lesson. This game is but one of many instances in which special considerations have been taken to make STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) material more inclusive. This thesis will discuss underrepresented groups in computing and software development, explore several of the existing approaches to teaching sensitive material, explain some of the issues encountered while building the Darwin game, and present some initial reactions from students.
May 2015
School of Science
Dept. of Computer Science
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
Rensselaer Theses and Dissertations Online Collection
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