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Summer is Over. I Know Because I am Wearing Shoes Again

Last year was the first year in our Great Transition, from teaching computer application courses to integrating computer science concepts into all of our courses. It was a challenge that will continue into this year. So as I prepare for the new school year I have been thinking about our curriculum, tinkering with last year's lessons, and developing some new ones.

Every summer I read or reread a few "classic" books. This year I read George Orwell's 1984. I also read Jane Mayer's The Dark Side, which chronicles the USA's post-9/11 foray into torture, renditions, etc. Fiction and non-fiction were blurred yet married by actions of those with strongly held beliefs, utilizing every tool at their disposal to justify their actions and further their cause. Remember the telescreens of Big Brother, with their 24-hour non-stop campaign of mis-information?

As the health care debate raged into August, I too was bombarded with misinformation via talk shows, emails, Facebook postings, and Twitter updates from across the political spectrum (from the President's office, the offices of my Senator and Congressmen, various political organizations, and the good old newspaper).

I also watched the citizen unrest in Iran, through blogs on the web, YouTube videos and Twitter updates.

Finally, the last few days of summer brought news that Utah had passed a law equating driving while texting to driving while intoxicated.

Is there a CS link with all this? Well, there was clearly a technological component to these experiences. The delivery of information has changed, moving down to the micro-level of individual journalism, but still clinging at the macro-level of control of information by government and organizations. It all led me to consider that wise saying from Spiderman "with great power comes great responsibility." I wonder whether we, as the teachers of this technology to the youth of our society, might add lessons on the ethical and moral responsibilities of that technology while we are sneaking in the critical thinking and problem solving skill lessons.

The high school students that sit in my classroom have lived with computers and technology their whole lives. They use this technology without giving any thought to how it works and the power it represents. In some ways it is similar to how my generation grew up with a telephone and television.

I believe that my students often use this technology without thought or consequence. Given the opportunity, they will text and tweet while engaging in other activities, giving superficial, if any, thought to the context in which they are communicating or to any impact of their actions. As a result we have cyber-bullying, texting-related automobile accidents, new forms of cheating, rampant plagiarism, and young girls being charged with crimes because they emailed semi-naked pictures of themselves to their friends. Much of this irresponsibility, I think, is without intent or malice. Rather, it stems from their complete comfort with the technology.

When I was first learning to drive, my dad handed me the car keys for a driving lesson, but before I started the engine he said to me: "I just handed you the keys to a 2,000 pound weapon. Let's talk about how to handle it before you get started." Maybe we need to consider a similar lesson as our students start up their iPODs, laptops, and cell phones.

Ron Martorelli
CSTA Board of Directors

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