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Reflecting on Data Ethics and Life as a Researcher - Janis Wong on Being the 2018-19 St Leonard's Associate Researcher

In this article, doctoral student Janis Wong reflects on her experiences working with students at St Leonards School in St Andrews as the 2018-19 St Leonard's Associate Researcher.

Do machines have a moral compass? Is Mathematics biased? Is computer code amoral? These are some of the questions my research focuses on and had the opportunity to explore with St Leonards School students.

This academic year, I am delighted to have been appointed the St Leonard’s Associate Researcher to teach St Leonard School sixth form students the Theory of Knowledge in their curriculum. As an interdisciplinary Computer Science and Management researcher working on the legal and technological applications in privacy, data protection, and ethics, I looked forward to engaging with the School’s students to find out how they interact with technology, network on social media, and to what extent they considered data ethics in their daily lives.

As the St Leonards Associate Researcher, I was excited not only to share my passion and expertise to students but also hear about their experiences living in our now data-driven society. As a generation that grew up with digital devices and surrounded by the Internet of Things, their insight into how humans and computers interact will shape everyone’s future. While I was the most knowledgeable in the room on data ethics, the students were the lived experts.

Screen showing the title of Janis Wong's talk at St Leonard's School

"I was excited not only to share my passion and expertise to students but also hear about their experiences living in our now data-driven society.

As a generation that grew up with digital devices, their insight into how humans and computers interact will shape everyone’s future."

Janis Wong speaks about her work with students at St Leonards School

Taking into consideration the Areas of Knowledge of Ethics, Natural Science, and Human Science, I decided to frame my teaching around these learning outcomes:

  • Understand the concepts surrounding data and data ethics
  • Identify the challenges to understanding ethical and moral values in Computer Science
  • Explore the ethics of algorithms and algorithmic decision-making through a case study
  • Consider some best practices to ensure digital and data ethics

The most rewarding part of being the St Leonard Associate Researcher was speaking to the intelligent and bright students. With the diversity of their opinions and continuous stream of questions, they made the sessions worthwhile and greatly enjoyable. Many queries were more creative and inquisitive than those asked to me by other researchers in my department. Students also brought with them personal examples of poor data protection practices, the difficulties they faced in understanding privacy policies, and how algorithmic decision-making could go wrong. It was brilliant to see the students so involved with the topic both from academic and non-academic perspectives.

My appointment as St Leonard’s Associate Researcher was rewarding and inspiring. The experience has reignited my enthusiasm for my own research and I look forward to seeing how the students will use technology to change the world for the better.

Thank you to the students who I met and taught, Ben Seymour at St Leonards School, and Brett Dodgson at the University of St Andrews for making this possible.

About Janis Wong

Janis Wong is a PhD researcher in Computer Science and Management, focusing on data protection issues such as ethical data sharing, algorithmic accountability, the preservation of privacy for groups, and research ethics. She is part of the Centre for Research into Information, Surveillance, and Privacy (CRISP) at the University of St Andrews.

You can follow Janis' tweets about data sharing and privacy - @janiswong_

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