SIGCSE: I, Robot? Using Science Fiction in Computer Science Education

One of Thursday’s panel discussions was “Using Science Fiction in Computer Science Education”, with 5 panellists who, rather fittingly, had 3 physical panellists and 2 virtual – Rebecca Bates, Judy Goldsmith, Nanette Veilleux, Valerie Summet and Rosalyn Berge.

How do we engage our students? How can we get them to understand the vitality and important of current directions in CS, as well as giving students a context for the future directions- well, form this panel: why not Science Fiction? We’re all familiar with the idea of using familiar story frames to provide a context for information but, in this case, the stories we use are well-know Science Fiction stories. But this raises an important question – what is well-known? Does membership in our community implicitly include an understanding of the number 42, the fact that Han Shot First (don’t test me here) or the mutual incomprehension of the stultifying beauty of 2001?

Discussions across this panel covered a range of different areas, from using robotic stories to discuss the nature if intelligence and whether algorithms were emotions, to the teaching of ethics with a level of visibility into the problem that we’d normally never have – stories are a free source of ideas and what-ifs that we can use, and Science Fiction is the logical choice for our community, given the basis.

Did HAL die? Did HAL commit murder? Was Deckard a garbageman, an assassin, an executioner or a traitor? What does this mean to us as Computer Scientists? How can we use these ideas in our teaching? What do we think our students should learn from the aspects of SF that we enjoy, and which stories would we also like them to know? Movies provide an excellent way to expose people to ideas, in a way that most people are receptive to. It was raised in the panel that 2001 was often a big ask for the students – I proposed the excellent Moon as an alternative, which worked slightly better in the contemporary framework. Apparently, students find it easier to handle old books than old films or television – the special effects can get in the way. Fortunately, there is no shortage of old written material – I, Robot is a rich source by itself.

This is certainly an idea that I want to try out in my own teaching and look forward to think about – once I get back home. 🙂

One Comment on “SIGCSE: I, Robot? Using Science Fiction in Computer Science Education”

  1. […] SIGCSE: I, Robot? Using Science Fiction in Computer Science Education […]


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