Associate Director of Assessment, CTAL
Interested in reading and discussing Weapons of Math Destruction?
Join us Thursday, February 15 at 12:30 p.m. for the Faculty Commons Book Club. This session will be co-facilitated by Jenny Lambe, Associate Professor of Communication, and Kevin R. Guidry, Associate Director of the Center for Teaching & Assessment of Learning.
Cathy O’Neil’s 2016 book Weapons of Math Destruction describes the growing role of invisible algorithms that are increasingly shaping our lives, often in ways that benefit the few at the expense of the many. Reading this book confirmed for me the importance of having at least a conceptual understanding of computation and data, once obscure ideas that now play central roles in our lives even if we don’t know it. I’m proud that UD has already recognized the importance of these ideas in the 2014 revision of undergraduate general education objectives that added “computational thinking.” At the same time, I am dismayed that two of the most prominent candidates for “weapon of math destruction” status that O’Neil describes come from U.S. academia: college ranking systems and for-profit higher education.
This book raises two important questions for me. First, to what extent are we culpable in the toxic and destructive behaviors described in this book? Do we actively or passively foster the use and creation of our own “weapons of math destruction” (e.g., financial aid, at-risk prediction scores and early warning alerts)? Second, how are we preparing our students to live in a world where they are constantly being evaluated, ranked, and rewarded or punished by systems that they don’t even know exist and are impervious to feedback and correction?