I want students to leave my class thinking about the world in a fundamentally different way, not just blindly accepting the promises technology brings.

Eric Santanen

Professor Eric Santanen, management, used to be a software engineer developing computer programs to help people do their work. But it was the bigger picture that intrigued him.

"My boss would ask me, 'Can you build this for us?' The answer was almost always 'yes.' But I became more interested in how everything I had done with technology impacted the person who was going to use it. That became a far richer and intellectually stimulating domain for me."

In the classroom, Santanen challenges students to question technology's big picture by reconsidering everything they believe about how it changes the world. Technologies are disruptive, especially when the legal system has not caught up to address their capabilities. Santanen discusses the profound effects, from privacy and cybercrime to artificial intelligence and jobs lost when technology takes over.

"The benefits of technology are ubiquitous, but I want students to look beyond the obvious, and that will make them feel uncomfortable," he says. "People tend to readily adopt new technologies and are conditioned to click 'I agree' without understanding what it is that they are agreeing to because of the promises of convenience. But we rarely take time to consider the detrimental impacts of using those technologies. Every time we click, we're giving up more data. In my classes, we explore philosophical questions of what privacy means in the context of human dignity and interpersonal relationships."

As co-director of Bucknell's Institute for Leadership in Technology & Management, Santanen is part of a team that guides 24 select sophomores through an intensive summer program. During the six-week session, they solve real-world problems presented by companies such as GE, Martha Stewart Living and IBM.

"We expose students to intersections of engineering, technology and management in the context of hands-on organizational learning," he says. "When they're finished, they've tackled a problem they thought was impossible, and they've been pushed in directions they didn't expect to be pushed in. It's a transformative experience."

Santanen's nontraditional approach serves students not simply by teaching them about technology, but also by teaching students to become ethical decision-makers.

"I want students to leave my class thinking about the world in a fundamentally different way, not just blindly accepting the promises technology brings," he says. "I want them to ask questions nobody else asks and to be aware of potential long-term impacts. Tremendous benefits can come from thinking about technology more deeply. Years ago, the question was, 'Can you build that?' I want my students to ask, 'Should we build that?' "

Posted Dec. 1, 2015

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