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:

a. Describe the case in your own words and then identify the key ethical issues raised by the case.

b. Apply appropriate components of the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice to explain what, if anything, failed to conform to the Code.

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

- 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.

b. 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).

c. 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 (Text File 1kB Jul25 08)