✍️ Column by Dr. Marianna Ganapini, our Faculty Director. This is part 5 of her Office Hours series. The interviews in this piece were edited for clarity and length.
Join us again for some new exciting ideas on how to shape curriculum design in the ethics of tech space. This month Chris McClean shares his experience as the global lead for digital ethics at Avanade, and we are excited to learn more about how it trains tech and business professionals to recognize the most pressing ethical challenges. And as always, please get in touch if you want to share your opinions and insights on this fast-developing field.
What is your background? What courses do (or did) you teach connected to Tech Ethics, and who’s your audience (e.g., undergrads, professionals)?
I am the Global Lead for Digital Ethics at Avanade, a 40,000-employee technology consulting and advisory firm. A substantial part of my role includes training our tech and business employees worldwide about how best to recognize and address ethical issues that arise in the technology we design, develop, deploy, and operate. I also offer Digital Ethics training, assessments, and program design for our clients (technology and business executives) as part of a broad advisory practice.
What kind of content do you teach? What topics do you cover? What types of readings do you usually assign?
I teach general concepts and trends in Digital Ethics, which covers a wide range of ways technology impacts individuals (such as privacy, accessibility, financial health and opportunity, mental well-being, personal dignity, and legal status), society (such as health care, education, the economy, criminal justice, and law enforcement), and the environment (such as energy use, material use, waste, pollution, and impact on biodiversity). I also cover a wide range of ethical controls, such as values alignment, ethical testing, security, resilience, monitoring, oversight, recourse, and accountability. I usually distill academic research for my audience given the amount of time such reading might take, and I rely heavily on real-world cases of ethics done well or done poorly.
What are some teaching techniques you have employed that have worked particularly well? For Tech Ethics, what kind of approach to teaching do you recommend?
I found it’s especially helpful to run audiences through scenario analysis, especially if we can use real case examples. I’ve also run workshops that include a detailed assessment of a technical product or project using our Digital Ethics Assessment Framework.
In your opinion, what are some of the things missing in the way Tech Ethics is currently taught? For instance, are there topics that are not covered enough (or at all)? What could be done to improve this field?
It’s hard to say, as I don’t have much visibility into all the different ways people are teaching these topics. However, given what we’re seeing in the industry, it seems like we’re spending a good deal of time on data ethics/privacy and responsible AI (which are critically important) but not enough time on the mental health, personal dignity, and environmental impacts of technology. I also don’t see enough emphasis on how to incorporate ethical practices into various professional disciplines, like design, engineering, marketing, or audit.
How do you see the Tech Ethics Curriculum landscape evolve in the next 5 years? What are the changes you see happening?
I’m encouraged to see how much more often Tech Ethics is taught as part of general computer science and data science curricula. I’m hopeful that this trend will carry into business curricula as well, just as we’ve seen topics like sustainability and corporate responsibility become more popular. Ideally, I think our ethics-related education needs to include perspectives from economics, sociology, and even marketing to show that taking ethics seriously can positively impact business and social performance.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We should look carefully at the value of having stand-alone ethics training versus embedding ethics consideration into other aspects of training. As a disparate subject, it’s very easy to compartmentalize ethics as something that’s done occasionally, possibly by other people. But if it’s incorporated as a standard element of other courses, it’s easier to see that considering and addressing ethics is everyone’s job throughout the entire tech lifecycle.
Bio of interviewee:
As the global lead for digital ethics at Avanade, Chris McClean is responsible for driving the company’s digital ethics fluency and internal change and advising clients on their digital ethics journey. Prior to Avanade, Chris spent 12 years at Forrester Research, leading the company’s analysis and advisory for risk management, compliance, corporate values, and ethics. Chris earned his MS in Business Ethics and Compliance in 2010 and BS in Business with a Marketing emphasis in 2001.