Computer Ethics

Professor Terrell Ward Bynum
Director, Research Center on Computing & Society Department of Philosophy

Southern Connecticut State University
New Haven, CT 06515 USA
Telephone: +1-203-392-6790
Email: bynumt2@southernct.edu
Web: http://home.southernct.edu/~bynumt2/

Brief Professional Biography

Terrell Ward Bynum is Professor of Philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University, Director of the Research Center on Computing and Society there, and Visiting Professor at De Montfort University in Leicester, England. He is a lifetime member of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Past Chair of the Committee on Professional Ethics of the Association for Computing Machinery, and Past Chair of the Committee on Philosophy and Computers of the American Philosophical Association. Professor Bynum’s academic degrees include a PhD (City University of New York), MPhil (City University of New York), MA (Princeton), BA (University of Delaware) – all in Philosophy – and a BS (University of Delaware) in Chemistry. He has been a Fulbright Fellow (University of Bristol, England), Danforth Fellow (Princeton), Woodrow Wilson Fellow (Princeton), Mellon Fellow (City University of New York), and Dartmouth Fellow (Dartmouth College).

In the field of Computer Ethics, Dr. Bynum has published articles and books, created conferences and workshops, given speeches and addresses, produced and hosted video programs, and developed an internationally influential web site. His other works include books, monographs, articles and reviews in logic, psychology, history of philosophy, artificial intelligence and education. In 1968, he created the scholarly journal Metaphilosophy, which he edited for twenty-five years.

In 1991, Professor Bynum was co-creator and co-director (with Walter Maner) of the National Conference on Computing and Values funded by the National Science Foundation; and from 1995 to the present he has been co-creator and co-director (with Simon Rogerson of De Montfort University) of the ETHICOMP series of international computer ethics conferences held in Leicester, England (1995); Madrid, Spain (1996); Rotterdam, Holland (1998); Rome, Italy (1999); Gdansk, Poland (2001); Lisbon, Portugal (2002); Syros, Greece (2004); and Linkoping, Sweden (2005). He is currently co-chair of ETHICOMP 2007 to be held in Tokyo, Japan in March 2007.

Abstract

Computer Ethics is an interdisciplinary, cross-listed course (Computer Science 324 and Philosophy 324) that was created in 1988. Since its inception, the course has evolved dramatically to reflect the rapid expansion of information technology and the civic and ethical challenges that have emerged from that expansion. The course content is organized around a number of issues that are of immediate concern, including threats to privacy from massive databases, high-speed networks, data mining, workplace surveillance, the electronic theft of intellectual property, such as music, video, film and text, and catastrophic computer-related accidents such as airplane crashes and nuclear power plant shutdowns. The ethical and social-justice implications of non-human intelligence (cyborgs and robots) and unequal access to computer technology are also addressed. Using these civic questions as a starting point, students explore the computing and information technologies that provoked them, such as data mining and matching, disclosure algorithms, pattern recognition, encryption and decryption, cyborg and robot technologies, and decision-making software.

Although the course includes lectures by the instructor or visiting scholars, students also engage in active learning through online discussions on the WebCT site and their work in five-person research teams. The course is writing intensive, and assignments include graded proposals, outlines, drafts and revisions. Students taking the course have contributed to its development over the years by contributing topics and case studies for the textbook that emerged from the course. Beginning in the Fall 2005 semester, students whose research results were exceptional and of use to others have been invited to publish them on the web site of the Research Center on Computing & Society, an influential Computer Ethics site with two million hits per year from over 120 countries.

Learning Goals

Assessment of Student Learning

The University’s ongoing assessment program seeks ways to measure learning outcomes. The course has five stated objectives (see the syllabus above), and outcomes related to these are assessed in the ways described below:

Course Objective One: Students should acquire a broad perspective on the social and ethical impacts and implications of information technology.

Fulfillment of this objective is assessed by using pre- and post- tests at the beginning and end of the course. A broad pre-test covering a wide diversity of topics in Computer Ethics is administered in class on the first day. At the end of the semester, a comparable post-test, covering the same ideas in Computer Ethics, is administered to each student on-line. The results of the pre- and posttests are compared to see if the students did indeed gain a broad perspective on the field of Computer Ethics.

Course Objective Two: Students should acquire specific knowledge about major issues in several different areas of the field of Computer Ethics.

Fulfillment of this objective is assessed by the five quizzes, which students take during the semester, covering five specific knowledge areas of Computer Ethics.

Course Objective Three: Students should acquire in-depth knowledge of at least one significant ethical issue generated by information technology.

Fulfillment of this objective is assessed by student performance in the eight different assignments in their course-long research project. The final research paper is especially important in assessing the fulfillment of this objective.

Course Objective Four: Students should develop skills in clarifying and ethically analyzing realistic cases that involve information technology.

Fulfillment of this objective is assessed by student performance in their research project-related written case analyses. Students who do well on this assignment demonstrate significant case-analysis skills.

Course Objective Five: Students should exercise and improve their skills in critical and analytical writing.

Given the fact that students produce 5,000 words of critical/analytical writing, it is clear that they exercise whatever relevant skills they may have brought to the course. A more important question is whether they improve those skills during the semester, and this is harder to demonstrate. During the Fall 2006 semester, the instructor will work with the University’s Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Committee to develop an appropriate outcomes-assessment method. One suggestion is to expand the pre- and post- tests to include, in each, a brief critical essay to write. At the end of the semester, an independent panel of teachers could then compare the quality of writing to see if improvement has occurred.

Course Objectives

  1. Students should acquire a broad perspective on the social and ethical impacts and implications of information technology.
  2. Students should acquire specific knowledge about major issues in several different areas of the field of Computer Ethics.
  3. Students should acquire in-depth knowledge of at least one significant ethical issue generated by information technology.
  4. Students should develop skills in clarifying and ethically analyzing realistic cases that involve information technology.
  5. Students should exercise and improve their skills in critical and analytical writing.

The Course

Syllabus

Syllabus for Computer Ethics

Catalog Description

Application of ethical theories to problems created, aggravated or transformed by computer technology. Topics include, for example, privacy, computer crime, professional responsibility, replacement of human decision-making by computer decision-making, intellectual property, globalization of ethical issues.

Author’s Comments

Ever since this course was first taught in 1988, it has been a “work in progress,” evolving as new developments in information technology generated new social and ethical challenges, and as the instructor tried new teaching materials and new pedagogical methods. The description of the course that the reader finds here is a “snapshot” of the course as it exists in the Fall 2006 semester. There is no doubt that the course will continue to evolve in the future.

The biggest challenge in teaching this course

The biggest challenge that the instructor has faced in teaching this writing intensive course has been the need to provide sufficient writing advice and assistance to students whose mother tongue is not English. Three quarters of the students in the class are Computer Science majors, and a number of them (perhaps two to five students per semester) have transferred into the University from colleges in non-English-speaking nations (primarily in Asia or the Middle East). They often transfer their English composition credits from abroad and nevertheless cannot actually write grammatical English. Every semester, the instructor spends many hours working with such students and writing extended comments on their paper drafts. During some semesters, nearly half of the instructor’s time has been devoted to working with these students. Normally, the instructor also refers them to the University’s Campus Writing Center for help from professional writing tutors. In the future, the instructor will continue to work with the Writing Center and the Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Program to find ways to better serve students whose mother tongue is not English.

Linking Science and Social Issues

Why is Computer Ethics (Computer Science 324/Philosophy 324) a SENCER Model?

What are the capacious civic questions or problems addressed in the course?

The “Information Revolution”, which began in the mid-twentieth century, is still in its early stages. Nevertheless, powerful and flexible computing and information technologies already have generated a vast array of social and ethical challenges. Examples include threats to privacy from massive databases, high-speed networks, data mining, workplace surveillance – electronic theft of intellectual property like music, video, film and text – catastrophic computer-related accidents such as airplane crashes and dangerous nuclear power plant shutdowns. These and many other issues are examined in this course, along with the computing and information technologies that generate them.

Of major interest is the role of computer professionals in society. Because the technologies which they create, maintain and administer are so powerful and flexible, computer professionals have a special responsibility to society to consider the possible negative impacts of their products, services and actions, and then take care to see that risks are minimized. Students in this course study a diversity of professional roles and responsibilities, as well as codes of ethics adopted by professional organizations in computer science.

What aspects of computer science and technology are covered in this course, and how are they linked to public policy questions?

The course covers a diversity of topics and cases where ethics and public policy issues may arise. Every major advance in information technology brings new risks and social issues, as well as new advantages and possibilities. Topics in the course include the development and use of information systems, both hardware and software components, and the need to design and use them wisely.

Examples of Social/Ethical Issues and Related Information Technology

Examples of Social/Ethical Issues and Related Information Technology

Download (PDF, 13KB)

Evaluating Learning

Internet Research Teams and Classroom Presentations

Very early in the semester, by means of an online survey, students in the course choose four broad Computer Ethics topics to be covered in addition to the two mandatory topics (History and Nature of Computer Ethics, Professional Responsibility). After four additional broad “Course Topics” have been chosen, students are divided into five person “Internet Research Teams” – one team for each of the four chosen topics. (Maximum enrollment in this “critical writing” course is 20 students.) Each team conducts Internet research to identify what the members take to be the five best websites in their area of research. As their research develops, team members discuss their progress in “team discussion rooms” on the WebCT site. After everyone on a team has agreed upon the five best web sites in their area of responsibility, each member selects a specific research topic and writes a “Research Project Proposal.” Each of the five members of the team must choose a specific research topic that is different from the other four topics. All five projects, however, must be in the same general area of Computer Ethics (e.g., privacy, security, globalization, etc.)

During the course, while their chosen area of Computer Ethics is being studied by the class as a whole, each team makes an in-class Internet-assisted presentation, explaining and demonstrating to their classmates and the instructor “the five best web sites” in their research area.

Graded Assignments

This is a “W” course, which is part of the University’s “Writing-Assignments Across-the-Curriculum” Program.” So each student will produce 5,000 words of analytical writing, more than half of which will be revised, based upon comments of the instructor. In addition, each student will take five online quizzes and give one classroom web site demonstration. These assignments, plus class participation, can generate a maximum of 1,000 “grade points”, which will be used to determine the student’s course grade. (See the attached list of assignments and grade points.)

Example Paper Assignments

Prior to the Fall 2006 semester, paper-writing assignments in this course were not combined into a semester-long research project. It may nevertheless be informative to readers of the present model to see examples of paper-writing assignments from previous semesters. Several examples are presented here.

  1. In the history of computing, new ideas and concepts often were developed or “discovered” before anyone had created a physical object or a physical process to make use of them. For example, Napier discovered logarithms, and later Oughtred used them to invent the slide rule. Write a paper in which you clearly and carefully explain three to five such ideas, plus the circumstances in which they first became known, then finally the circumstances in which they first were successfully incorporated into a physical object or physical process. (Note: Use the web resources on the history of computing that are included on the textbook-associated web site. Be sure to specify the URLs that you accessed to help you prepare your paper.)
  2. Clearly and fully describe each of the five steps in Norbert Wiener’s method of doing computer ethics (see the relevant handout), then use Wiener’s five steps to ethically analyze the “Free Range Property” case in the textbook.
  3. Carefully and fully explain Johnson’s views about software ownership, copyright laws and patent laws. Next explain Stallman’s views about software ownership and compare them to Johnson’s.
  4. Using the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice, write a case analysis of the famous London Ambulance Case. Be sure to do the following things in your analysis:
    1. Describe the case in your own words and then identify the key ethical issues raised by the case.
    2. Apply appropriate components of the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice to explain what, if anything, failed to conform to the Code.
    3. Draw appropriate conclusions, including advice on preventing similar problems in the future.

5. Using Elizabeth France’s article in the textbook as a basis, explain the European Union’s way of protecting privacy and compare that method to the one proposed by James Moor in his article in the textbook.

6. First, explain – in your own words! – James Moor’s definition of privacy and his proposal to create “zones of privacy.” Next, put yourself in the shoes of a business person running a company and explain how you could gather information about a customer’s shopping and browsing habits in order to serve the customer better, while at the same time respecting and preserving that customer’s privacy. (Note: There is no obvious right answer to this challenging question. This assignment is an invitation to become creative and speculative about the possibilities.)

7. In her article “The Computer Revolution and Global Ethics”, Krystyna Gorniak compares the “computer revolution” to the “printing press revolution.” Explain in detail how, according to Gorniak, these two revolutions are similar to each other. (Hint: How did the printing press revolution lead to changes in ethics? How, according to Gorniak, will the computer revolution do the same?) Why, according to Gorniak, must Computer Ethics be considered a global ethics? Why does Gorniak think that Computer Ethics is even more important than its founders believed?

8. Using ideas from John Weckert’s article “Giving Offence on the Internet”, explain what “giving offence” means. Why, according to Weckert, are some kinds of offence harmful and serious while other kinds are not? Why is the Internet an especially likely “place” for offence to occur? Give some examples to illustrate your points. How do these ideas relate to the question of censorship on the Internet?

In the University as a Whole

CSC/PHI 324 Computer Ethics participates in the University’s Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Program, which includes the following guidelines for courses in the Program:

W-courses use writing as a vehicle for learning, requiring students to express, reformulate, or apply the concepts of an academic discipline. Current research has shown that revision is a necessary part of writing. Therefore, the emphasis on writing in W-courses is not intended primarily to give students additional practice in basic composition skills, but to encourage students to think more clearly and express their thoughts more precisely. W-courses take a two-pronged approach to learning, with the students addressing subject matter via written assignments and the instructor aiming to improve the quality of written performance by giving feedback and requiring revision.

The Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Program should include courses and instructors in all disciplines. It is particularly desirable to foster W-courses in such previously under-represented fields as applied arts and social sciences, and the technical and quantitative sciences. The following guidelines describe the sort of course envisaged, though alternative means to the same end will always be considered.

A significant portion of the writing for the course should be critical/analytical
writing.

  • Critical/analytical writing addresses a question for which there is more than one plausible interpretation, explanation, analysis, or evaluation, and thus requires original thought from the student. This original thought both demonstrates and assists the student’s mastery of course material. In other words, in W-courses students practice solving discipline-based problems through writing.
  • Instructors communicate their knowledge of writing in their disciplines to their students through a variety of means, such as paper comments, conferences, handouts, and in-class presentations on writing.
  • In addition to formal papers, the critical/analytical component may include short, unrevised papers, essay exams, and in-class writings.

The critical/analytical writing component should emphasize revision.

  • “Revision” implies making substantive changes to writing: rethinking the thesis, organization, support, or content, rather than simply correcting surface errors.
  • Instructors may encourage revision in a variety of ways, e.g., written comments on drafts, one-on-one conferences, and in-class peer workshops.
  • To encourage revision, instructors’ comments should suggest changes and explain reasons for the suggestions.

Ordinarily, instructors should require substantial revision of students’ work (preferably at least two assignments totaling 1500 – 2500 words) be turned in for additional response (comments and grade).

  • W-courses should, in general, require students to write 5000 words over the course of the semester.
  • Given the nature of revision, which necessitates rethinking the content of a piece of writing (see point b above), revised versions of earlier papers may be part of the total word count. When the final draft will merely be a corrected version of the preliminary draft, the pages in the preliminary draft should not be considered as part of the total word count.
  • The writing should be spread throughout the semester, in a minimum of three (3) assignments, which may be separate or related to one another. Because extensive revisions are encouraged, students need time to revise, and instructors need time to comment.
  • To help assess students’ writing skills, one assignment of at least 250 words might profitably be assigned and evaluated in the first week of the semester. In addition, because writing is a tool for learning, further writing assignments should be incorporated into the class as early in the term as possible.
  • Written assignments should be a major part of the course grade. It is suggested that out-of-class papers count for 50% or more of the semester grade, though in certain fields, other percentages may appropriately be applied.

Online Quizzes

Besides the in-depth knowledge that each student gains from a research project, he or she also must learn key ideas from the history of Computer Ethics, and from several broad areas of Computer Ethics, such as privacy, security, professional responsibility, ownership of intellectual property, non-human “agents” (robots and softbots), access to computing technology by persons with disabilities, globalization of computer networks (to name a few examples). These topics are covered in the textbook, in “handouts” posted on the WebCT site, in presentations by visiting lecturers, in student web-site-research reports, and occasionally in films and videos. In order to demonstrate their broad knowledge of several areas of Computer Ethics, students must each take five online quizzes on the course WebCT site. Two of these quizzes are on the History and Nature of Computer Ethics and on Professional Responsibility. After that, each student can choose any three of the remaining on-line quizzes.

Each semester, there are six on-line quizzes available on the course WebCT site. The quizzes cover the two mandatory course topics (History and Nature of Computer Ethics, Professional Responsibility) plus four general topics selected by the students early in the semester. Every student must take five of these six on-line quizzes, including the two mandatory ones.

By this means, students demonstrate their broad knowledge of ideas and issues in the field of Computer Ethics. The quizzes consist of 12 to 15 questions each, and most of the answers are graded by the computer upon which the quiz is taken. Two or three answers in each quiz consist of sentences or paragraphs that must be graded individually by the instructor.

Teaching and Learning Strategies

Introductory Comments. Students learn best when they are actively engaged in discussions, research, writing and other activities. In addition, they are positively motivated when they believe that they are doing something important and helpful to others. The course was developed with these ideas in mind; and since 1988, it has been a “work in progress”, continually evolving as new materials and teaching strategies were tried and new developments in information technology generated social and ethical challenges. Students taking the course contributed to its development over the years by commenting on and rating experimental teaching materials and strategies. They also suggested “basic study questions” and cases to analyze for inclusion in a textbook that began to emerge from the evolving course. Eventually, they also contributed works of their own to the course-related web site.

Although the course includes lectures by the instructor, or by visiting scholars, the students engage in a variety of learning activities other than simply taking notes. For example, they participate in online discussions on the course WebCT site; they work in five-person teams doing research on the Internet and reporting the results to the class; they engage in paper-writing projects that include graded proposals, outlines, drafts and revisions; and they take online surveys and quizzes. The students also take a pre-test and a post-test as part of the University’s ongoing assessment program.

Beginning in the Fall 2005 semester, a new student opportunity was added to the course. Students whose research results are excellent, and may be useful to others, are invited to share their works with the world by publishing them on the web site of the Research Center on Computing & Society, an influential Computer Ethics site with two million hits per year from over 120 countries of the world (see Computer Ethics on the Internet). Students whose works are selected for inclusion on this web site are pleased to know that people in many countries will see their works and may benefit from them.

Online Surveys

From time to time, students have the opportunity to express their preferences in online surveys and thereby influence the content and events of the course. For example, early in the semester, the students themselves select four broad “Course Topics” (from a list provided by the instructor) to be covered after the two mandatory topics – (1) the History and Nature of Computer Ethics and (2) Professional Responsibility for Computer Professionals – have been completed.

Online Discussions

One third of the students at the University live on campus. The remaining two thirds live in New Haven, or in surrounding communities, or in other regions of Connecticut. In addition, most students have jobs or family responsibilities that make it difficult for them to meet fellow students face-to-face outside the classroom. For these reasons, student discussions outside the classroom take place primarily on-line, “asynchronously”, on the course WebCT site. The class and its research-project teams are, in effect, “online communities” when they “meet” outside the classroom.

Visiting Lectures, Videos, Films

During the semester, there a many class sessions into which one can integrate presentations by visiting lecturers or video excerpts or short films. These “class-session enrichment events” occur about three to five times per semester, depending upon opportunities and the instructor’s wishes for that semester.

Evaluating of Student Work (and Attendance)

1,000 grade points – There are ten graded assignments in the course, which together can generate a maximum of 1,000 “grade points”. The assignments are weighted, with the lowest gradepoint value (the draft research topic proposal) being 10 points (1% of the course grade) and the highest (the revised research paper) being 250 points (25% of the course grade). [See the “List of Assignments and Their Point Values” above.] The course grade is determined by the following equivalence list:

980 points or more A+
940 to 979 points A
900 to 939 points A-
870 to 899 points B+
840 to 869 points B
800 to 839 points B-
740 to 769 points C
770 to 799 points C+
700 to 739 points C-
670 to 699 points D+
620 to 669 points D
580 to 619 points D-
579 points & below F

After two unexcused absences, students lose 20 points (2% of the course grade) for each additional unexcused absence.

In-Class Oral Web-Site Reviews

Each student must identify and review a rich, helpful web site related to his or her course research project. First, the student gives an in-class oral review of the site, which includes an Internet-assisted demonstration. After that, the student writes a three-page review of the same site. The oral review is worth 30 grade points and the written review is worth 50 grade points.

In-Class Participation and On-Line Discussion

This part of the course is worth 100 grade points (10% of the course grade). To encourage spontaneous, relaxed online discussion, students’ entries are not graded on the quality of English usage. Instead, they are graded on the usefulness of the student’s comments for moving the discussion forward in a helpful way. This is very easy to achieve if the student participates seriously in discussions. Similar considerations govern the evaluation of in-class participation. On-line and in-class discussions typically have been very lively and interesting, and students find it relatively easy to earn at least 90 grade points from these popular course activities.

Evaluation of the Course and of Teaching

Near the end of the semester, using “The Connecticut State University Course Information Survey,” the course and the instructor’s teaching are evaluated by the students. This evaluation instrument, which is used on all four campuses of the Connecticut State University System, consists of 30 questions with answers that are machine readable (except for students’ written comments at the end). The questions cover a variety of teaching-evaluation topics, such as the usefulness of class materials and class activities, the number and quality of graded assignments, the availability and helpfulness of the instructor, fairness in the grading of assignments, and the overall quality of the course and instruction. The University’s Office of Institutional Research scores the answer sheets and provides a computer-generated report to the Department Chair and (after grades have been turned in) to the instructor. Ever since the Fall semester of 1988, when the course first was offered, these student evaluations have been excellent for both the course and the instructor.

Research Projects

This course is part of the University’s writing-across-thecurriculum program. Most of the students’ writings are related to course-long research projects that include, for each student, a Research Project Proposal, a Research Web Site Review, a Research-Related Case Analysis, a Research Paper Outline, a Research Paper Draft, and a Completed Research Paper. These assignments constitute, for each student, a minimum of 5,000 words of writing. Two of the assignments, totaling 2,750 words, must be revised based upon constructive comments by the instructor.

Assignment Sheets for Written Assignments

For each written assignment, there is a sheet that describes the work that should be produced and lists the criteria that will be used to grade it. The students can use this sheet as a guide and a checklist, as well as a helpful aid to ask good questions about the assignment. The instructor uses the sheet to help make the grading efficient as well as consistent from student to student. The assignment sheet also provides an excellent starting point for relevant discussions between the student and the instructor.

List of Assignments and Their Point Values

List of Assignments and Their Point Values

Download (PDF, 15KB)

Related Resources

Textbooks and Websites

A Textbook that Emerged from the Course. From 1988, when the course first was taught, until the mid 1990s, the instructor tried a variety of teaching strategies, assignments and pedagogical materials. The result was a set of readings, slide presentations, class activities and assignments that worked reasonably well. Beginning in 1997, students in the course were asked to evaluate materials, exams, writing assignment and teaching methods. They also were invited to suggest alternative readings, study questions, and cases for analysis.

By 2002, classroom-tested materials for an excellent textbook had been identified, developed and refined. At that time, Professor Simon Rogerson of the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility at De Montfort University in England (with whom the instructor had collaborated for many years) was asked to join the textbook project as co-editor. A first-class textbook was created containing “classic” readings by major figures in the field of Computer Ethics, plus basic study questions, realistic cases for analysis, and helpful lists of additional study materials. The book was published in 2004 by Blackwell of Oxford, England:

Computer Ethics

Terrell Ward Bynum and Simon Rogerson, Editors,
Computer Ethics and Professional Responsibility,
Blackwell, 2004, xviii and 358 pp., ISBN (hardcover)
1-85554-844-5; ISBN (softcover) 1-85554-845-3.

This textbook is currently being used not only in the present course, but also in Computer Ethics courses at English-speaking colleges and universities around the world. (It is scheduled for publication in Chinese by Peking University Press in 2007.)

Course Related Websites

There are two web sites associated with this course. One, which is accessible only to course members, is the WebCT site on which
class “handouts” are posted and students take their online quizzes and surveys. The site provides course-related email service for students, as well as 24-hour access to their grades and attendance records. Online course discussions and team discussions occur on this site as well.

The other web site, which is closely tied to that of the Research Center on Computing & Society at the University, has the following web address:
Computer Ethics & Professional Research

It contains a variety of resources to complement the course textbook, including:

  • Basic study questions for all of the Editors’ Introductions
  • Sample answers to some of the “Basic Study Questions” in the textbook
  • Sample student essays from courses that used the textbook in the past
  • Additional cases to analyze beyond those that are included in the textbook
  • Links to Internet resources suggested in the textbook
  • Links to additional Internet resources not mentioned in the textbook
  • A list of further readings beyond those already cited in the textbook
  • Additional resources as they are identified or developed

The site is continually expanding as additional resources become available. Some of the materials on this site were created by students who took the course in past semesters.

Background and Context

Course History

CSC 324 / PHI 324 Computer Ethics was created in 1988, and it has been a dynamic, continually evolving course since then, regularly taking account of rapidly advancing and expanding information technology and the resulting social and ethical issues. In addition to a special textbook, which the students themselves helped to develop (see the discussion below), the course makes use of timely magazine and newspaper articles published while the course is being offered. It also takes advantage, using WebCT courseware and a course-related web site, of the continual “flow” of new computer ethics ideas, cases and materials appearing on the Internet.

In 2001, a joint task force of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Society of the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (CSIEEE) published curriculum guidelines, entitled Computing Curricula 2001, which established – for the first time in history – a separate “Area” within the Computer Science Body of Knowledge called “Social and Professional Issues”. This new “Area” includes ten social and professional “Knowledge Units”:

SP1 History of computing
SP2 Social context of computing
SP3 Methods and tools of analysis
SP4 Professional and ethical responsibilities
SP5 Risks and liabilities of computer-based systems
SP6 Intellectual property
SP7 Privacy and civil liberties
SP8 Computer crime
SP9 Economic issues in computing
SP10 Philosophical frameworks

In 2002, the textbook and web-based resources of this course were adjusted and expanded to provide pedagogical materials covering all ten of these “Knowledge Units” recommended by the ACM and the IEEE. See the textbook: T.W. Bynum and S. Rogerson, editors, Computer Ethics and Professional Responsibility, Blackwell, 2004 edition. See also the textbook-related web site for the course:

Computer Ethics & Professional Responsibility

for web-based materials.

Where is the Course Taught?

Southern Connecticut State University

Southern was founded in 1893 as New Haven State Teacher’s College. Today, it is a comprehensive university serving over 12,000 students in more than 115 under-graduate and graduate degree programs in both arts and sciences and professional studies. In 2002, the University established its first doctoral program (in Educational Leadership). Southern also offers various non-credit educational programming. The University educates students from many cultures at many stages of their lives. Half of all course credits are earned by full time undergraduate students. Most graduate students attend Southern on a part time basis, and they account for a growing share of all students. Approximately 4,000 graduate students are matriculated in graduate programs, with about 25 percent enrolled full time.

What is the Role of the Course in the Undergraduate Curriculum?

CSC/PHI 324 Computer Ethics is an interdisciplinary course that is offered jointly every semester in the Computer Science Department and the Philosophy Department. Three quarters of the students in the course are undergraduate majors in the BS Program of the Computer Science Department, and the remaining 25 percent are students from the humanities or social sciences. The course simultaneously fulfils at least three needs within the University’s undergraduate curriculum:

In the Computer Science Department – The BS Program in Computer Science is accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET (AccreditationBoard in Engineering and Technology). One of the requirements for retaining thisaccreditation is that students majoring in Computer Science must study at least theCore Knowledge Units in the “Social and Professional Issues” Area of theComputer Science Body of Knowledge identified by a joint ACM/IEEE CurriculumTaskforce. The Computer Ethics course at Southern more than fulfils thisrequirement, and it thereby helps the Computer Science Department maintain national accreditation for its BS Program. In addition, Computer Science students find the course to be both interesting and important, because it covers social and ethical topics that are very different from the usual mathematical and technical courses in their curriculum.

In the Philosophy Department
– The Philosophy Department is the home of the Research Center on Computing & Society, and the instructor of this Computer Ethics course is the Director of that Research Center, as well as a member of the Philosophy faculty. The web site of the Research Center includes a section devoted to the textbook for the Computer Ethics course

Computer Ethics & Professional Responsibilities

and students in the course who create excellent Computer Ethics materials can publish their work on the Research Center’s web site. The Computer Ethics course is one of several in the Department in the area of “Applied Philosophy.” Other such courses include Bio-Ethics of the Life Sciences, Business Ethics, Moral Problems in the Law, Philosophy of Education and Philosophy of Science.