New online master’s degree program seeks multiskilled, multidisciplinary thinkers to shape the future
Technology is an enabler. Applying it in the public interest means there is a use value for the common good. Creating an open and iterative feedback loop between stakeholders leads to building a better future together, and for everyone. A new master’s degree program at Arizona State University will explore this further by training leaders who will imagine, design and use technology for social good.
The School for the Future of Innovation in Society is launching the Master of Science in public interest technology this August. The online, cross-disciplinary program will help students develop the knowledge and skills that will allow them to understand the motivations for and challenges of public interest technology, assess new and emerging technologies for social impact, engage with users and deploy technologies responsibly.
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“Public interest technology is a movement spearheaded by a group of philanthropies, like the Ford Foundation, and a network of about three dozen universities, including ASU. They are focused on developing academic programs and pathways for students to understand how science, technology, and innovation can be better developed and deployed for good in the world,” said Dave Guston, foundation professor and the school’s founding director. “Now Ford and other funders are attempting a more ambitious effort: finding more ways that more people with tech interests and talents can serve the public interest, and developing intellectual perspectives that help us understand how we can as individuals and societies make better choices about technology.”
ASU is a charter member of the Public Interest Technology University Network, an organization dedicated to furthering the field of public interest technology and inspiring a new generation of civic-minded technologists and policy leaders. The underlying ideas of public interest technology are in deep harmony with ASU’s charter and ASU’s identity as a New American University.
“These ideas are also central to an intellectual perspective and commitment that many of us in SFIS identified and developed years ago — and persist in doing,” Guston said. “(The school) is dedicated to the idea that ‘the future is for everyone.’ A crucial way to make a reality of this aspiration is to ensure that technological change is strongly linked to the public interest — that is, to develop public interest technology.”
Students will learn to assess new and emerging technologies that are playing an integral role in society today. They will critically study, analyze and reflect on the successes and failures of existing sociotechnical systems and make recommendations on how to meet anticipated challenges and opportunities of new and emerging technologies.
“In both its content and its online format, this program is for people from all over the world,” said Professor Katina Michael, who will direct the program. “It adopts “values by design,” focusing on care and empathy as a catalyst for change. Technologies are supposed to liberate users, not enslave them. We are looking for the next generation of thinkers who will shape a sustainable future and cut across a number of verticals from health, government, telecommunications, transportation, energy, for-profits and nonprofits alike.”
Several of the school’s faculty members will share their expertise in public interest technology as part of the program, including Michael, who has spent her career studying the social implications of emerging technologies and their impact on ordinary people. Michael is an elected Board Member of the Australian Privacy Foundation, a senior member of the IEEE and founding editor in chief of the IEEE Transactions on Technology and Society. The program will feature classes this fall taught by Clinical Professor Benedicte Callan, Professor Robert Cook-Deegan, Professor of Practice Elisabeth Graffy, Clinical Associate Professor Mahmud Farooque, Associate Professor Erik Fisher and Professor Erik Johnston.
“Many of our faculty have enjoyed careers that have embodied these ideals of technology-for-social-good,” Guston said. “Either prior to working at a university or in conjunction with their academic work, they have brought their technical expertise to public sector or not-for-profit organizations. They have lived public interest technology and are passionate about teaching it.”
Students in the master’s degree program will explore how new technologies are changing how we interact and work, how to assess the impact of a technology and possible consequences, and how to effectively engage the public in discourse about technology and their interactions.
“This master’s degree will typify a new generation who are more than engineering and computing brains,” Michael said. “They are multiskilled, multidisciplinary thinkers who shape the future through stakeholder engagement and participation as well as through invention.”
“Between the practical experience of the (school) faculty and the dynamic research programs that fuel their world-class scholarship, there is no better place on the planet to study and train in public interest technology,” Guston said. “And ASU, the nation’s most innovative university for five consecutive years, allows you to pursue this degree online, from wherever in the world you are.”
The master’s degree program will be enrolling students for August classes. Those interested in the program can discover more about the program and core faculty on the program site. Applications will be open in mid-June.
COVID-19 births new podcast club, which provides a unique way to talk about the things that make us human
It’s not a club that requires a monthly fee, a secret key or a password. All that’s required is a listening ear and a curious mind.
Sponsored by Arizona State University’s Project Humanities, “Talking, Listening and Podcasting with ASU Project Humanities” is a new podcast club that launches on Thursday, June 4. It’s essentially an extension of the award-winning initiative’s event series and is designed to keep community conversations going during summer 2020.
“To be clear, Project Humanities is not starting its own podcast,” said Neal A. Lester, the project’s founding director. “Rather, we are building on the popularity of audio books and podcasts. Just as what happens with book clubs and film clubs, our podcast club invites individuals to experience a podcast independently, then come together to talk about it and potentially learn from it.”
For this new programming, Project Humanities has selected popular podcasts that are accessible, provocative and linked to topics related to past and future Project Humanities events. These one-hour virtual conversations will be co-facilitated by a Project Humanities team member in partnership with community members, supporters and partners.
The hour-long podcast discussions will occur every other Thursday at 6 p.m. (MST) and will be broadcast via Zoom and Facebook Live. Topics include corporeal punishment and African American parenting, death and dying, youth mental health as related to academic pressures, menstrual equity, and police departments and neglected rape kits.
Like most other programming at ASU, Project Humanities transitioned to virtual events this spring because of COVID-19. However, the podcast club has been nearly a decade in the making.
“Listening to podcasts was something that really helped me emotionally when my father died in 2011,” said Jocelyn Booker-Ohl, a coordinator with Project Humanities who produced the series. “Music was too emotional to listen to and silence was even worse. Television requires you to sit, but I didn’t want to sit around for long periods of time. So, I started listening to podcasts while taking my dog for long walks and have been hooked ever since.”
Booker-Ohl said she found herself talking about podcasts nonstop to family, friends and acquaintances in the following years. Then when the coronavirus pandemic hit and people were forced to shelter in place, Booker-Ohl said it was the right time for Project Humanities to introduce the idea to the public.
“People need something to do right now and they want to learn, so here’s an option,” Booker-Ohl said. “We also don’t want to put this out into the internet void. We want this to be participatory like a book club. We want to feel like this is a shared experience, where our followers are listening and thinking along with us. We truly want a mutual conversation.”
Two weeks before each discussion, Project Humanities will post the name of the podcast and episode, guest facilitators, subject matter and related materials to engage the listener through social media channels. On the day of the event, Project Humanities will host the conversation on Zoom and Facebook Live so that followers can chat with guests.
Booker-Ohl said the podcast club is a trial run; if it’s a success, Project Humanities will consider continuing the series in the fall.
“My hope is that we’ll continue this in the fall,” Booker-Ohl said. “It’s a decent amount of preparation work but my fingers are crossed.”
‘Talking, Listening and Podcasting’ schedule
6 p.m. Thursday, June 4
Podcast Series: “Making Contact”
Episode: “Spare the Kids” (based on the book “Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America” by Stacey Patton)
Facilitators: Neal Lester and psychologist Michelle Melton
6 p.m. Thursday, June 18
Podcast Series: “Radiolab”
Episode: “After Life”
Facilitator: Jocelyn Booker-Ohl
6 p.m. Thursday, July 2
Podcast Series: “1A”
Episode: “Why Did Police Departments Throw Out Rape Kits?”
Facilitators: Rachel Sondgeroth, Project Humanities coordinator, and Samantha Hill, ASU alumna
6 p.m. Thursday, July 16
Podcast Series: “This is Normal: A Podcast about Youth Mental Health”
Episode: “School Stress Led Him to Despair. Support from Family, Friends Brought Him Back”
Facilitators: Stefano Contreras and Brooklyn Christofis, Desert Vista High School recent graduates
6 p.m. Thursday, July 30
Podcast Series: “Vicious Cycle: On the Bleedia”
Episode: “Menstrual Equity”
Facilitator: Sai Vadnerkar, Phoenix Country Day Upper School student
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