Computer Ethics


Who Created the Course?


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.





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