Embedding Equitable Design through Undergraduate Computing Curricula

Patricia Morreale
Kean University

Computer science curricula rarely include courses like CS ethics or usability that teach CS students how systems affect people and society. When such courses are included, they are largely disconnected from the rest of the CS degree. As a result, students entering the workforce tend to design software that is highly inequitable for large portions of the intended users of that software. There is a need for the integration of inclusive design in the undergraduate curriculum.

This project, based on the foundations of equitable design methods, investigates a new approach to teaching CS that embeds equitable software design into computing courses throughout all four years of the undergraduate CS curriculum. The new approach integrates equity and inclusion into the CS work the students are already doing, without requiring larger changes to the curriculum.

Research questions investigated as part of this work will generate knowledge that will allow CS teachers to better understand the impacts of the changes on the ability of students to create high-quality software that is equitable and the impacts on the culture in computing classes and majors.

RQ1 (Faculty): How and to what extent do our educate-the-faculty workshops and curriculum affect how well faculty understand and can teach equitable software design?
Two educate-the-faculty workshops were held in May-June 2021, with 18 CS faculty from three schools attending. Faculty learned about inclusive design using the gender inclusiveness magnifier (GenderMag) method and developed lesson plans for use in their own classrooms during AY 2021-2022.

RQ2 (Feasibility): How and to what extent is the embedded equitable design curriculum feasible to use?
Faculty are using GenderMag in their classrooms during AY 2021-2022. In fall 2021, ten faculty used GenderMag materials in their classrooms, with additional faculty using GenderMag spring 2022. Preliminary feedback from fall 2021, gathered through faculty surveys and interviews, indicates that faculty report the use of inclusive design in their classes as going as well or better than expected.

RQ3 (Student Success): How and to what extent does the approach improve student success as defined by better grades and reduced DFW rates, especially for underrepresented students?
As the use of inclusive design is just in the first year, data on this longitudinal research question is not yet available.

RQ4 (Student Software): How and to what extent does the approach improve students’ ability to design equitable software?
Again, too soon to know.

RQ5 (Culture): How and to what extent does the approach improve the inclusiveness culture for students in computing programs?
While it is still early, preliminary results from fall 2021 student surveys appear to indicate improved inclusiveness, particularly in teamwork.

The outcomes of this project will include new course materials to support transforming an existing CS curriculum to one that embeds equitable design, and professional development for faculty to foster success at embedding equitable software design into their courses.

Broader impacts of this work are expected to include methods for faculty development and curriculum in inclusive design, suitable for integration in computer science, information technology, and other disciplines.


Margaret Burnett, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR; Patricia Morreale, Kean University, Union, NJ;