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Lincoln Center undergrad's project explores responsible AI, classroom technology


ASU student Jose Gonzalez-Garduno poses in front of Big Ben in London, England.

ASU student Jose Gonzalez-Garduno in London, England. Photo courtesy Jose Gonzalez-Garduno

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December 19, 2022

In recognition of the ever-changing landscape of today's digital world, Arizona State University's Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics hosts semester-long undergraduate supervised research opportunities for students to explore ethical questions across humane technology topics.

Over the course of the fall 2022 semester, Jose Gonzalez-Garduno, a senior in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering computer science program, developed a project to explore how AI technologies in K–12 classrooms benefit both students and educators.

"AI isn’t just changing how STEM courses are being taught in school — it's changing the whole education sector and how it operates," Gonzalez-Garduno said.

He and other students accepted into the Lincoln Center research program shape their projects through close consultation with Erica O’Neil, research program manager for the center whose guidance Gonzalez-Garduno called "inspiring."

Students who participate in the program may also earn research credit and negotiate an honors contract. Interested students can reach out to O'Neil at eloneil@asu.edu for more information.

We sat down with Gonzalez-Garduno at the beginning of the semester to talk about his background and inspiration for joining the special course.

Question: Tell us a bit about your experience at ASU and how you came to study computer science.

Answer: Computer science was a subject I sought since high school. I was first introduced to the field in my junior year of high school, when I attended Western Maricopa Education Center, also known as the West-MEC, and participated in their innovative career and tech education programs. I was part of the first cohort of students that were enrolled in the computer programming course, which prepared us for creating software and web developments. As a result, I graduated with two internships offered by West-MEC, and soon after, I was offered a full-time position with Encore Capital Group as a software developer. 

Right after high school, I started attending community college, and eventually, I transferred over to ASU for the fall of 2019. Since then, my experience at ASU has been phenomenal. I've been part of some amazing clubs and programs here on campus. I'm also a brother of Lambda Sigma Upsilon. I joined in 2020 and became president of the ASU Wahati Chapter last year in 2021.

Q: What inspired you to pursue undergraduate research?

A: As a first-generation college student, I always felt that completing my undergraduate degree was just the start of my education. The educators at Barrett (Honors College) also encourage you to get involved and do research to further (your) interests.

In my case, it's computer science, and since the field is so vast, I wanted to see where I can start specializing. That's when I came across the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, and I saw they were offering a course researching responsible AI. I wanted to see what that was about and see if I could specialize in artificial intelligence. Since then, I've been really excited to see how I can further that research and take it to the next level, and pursue this area of study at a graduate level.

Q: You're researching and looking into the question of what the benefits and the consequences are of using AI applications in K–12 classrooms. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that?

A: AI isn’t just changing how STEM courses are being taught in school — it's changing the whole education sector and how it operates. These intelligent technologies aid humans in teaching, achieving their learning goals and transforming education institutions. I'm looking at how current systems known as computer-based training and computer-aided instruction are used. At some level, we still want to have that human interaction, so these technologies currently act like an interactive tool that enhances human capacities. 

Research in intelligent tutoring systems investigates things like gamification, such as completing challenges to earn prizes or achievements. These different types of motivations can further students’ development and ultimately have a positive impact. Unfortunately, it starts becoming a problem in regards to how privacy is handled. Many students are receiving technology resources like Chromebooks at a young age, and as a result, schools now have access to much more information about their students. 

My current research is looking at these two components hand in hand, and whether the positives outweigh negatives, and how these improvements can help further the education field and how students benefit from it.

Q: As a senior at ASU, what are your next steps after graduating?

A: I plan to go on to a master's program in computer science, and hopefully go on to achieve my PhD. It's going to be a whole new journey for me as a first-generation college student. I’m also looking forward to getting a job as a software developer and seeing the difference that I can make within these tech companies by seeing how we can create new technologies that positively impact society.

Q: You shared that you are a first-generation college student. How has that shaped your experience in higher education and your decision to go on to graduate school? 

A: It’s definitely a unique experience. I've been working full time for the last five years in order to help support my family and myself. It has definitely made a big impact on the way I approach education. Typically, you look for guidance from your parents, and in my case, my family members didn't attend college, so the application process and even navigating my major and how to enroll in classes was challenging. 

Eventually, I surrounded myself with other students with similar experiences. That's one of the reasons why I joined Lambda Sigma Upsilon, as most members were also first-generation students. They had the same troubles that I did, and as a result, I want to be that role model to help other students. It’s helped me push forward in everything that I do.

I want to share my appreciation for Dr. Erica O'Neil, for the opportunity to work alongside her studying the ethics of responsible artificial intelligence. The unknown of grad school is definitely very scary, but seeing how she leads the course and shows us the process has really helped me feel more confident. Her guidance has inspired me.  

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