Comparative Analysis of Computer Ethics Syllabi at Universities of the State of California (USA).

Porfirio Barroso, Gloria Melara and Alexandre Lazaretti


This study aims to examine a comparative analysis of Syllabi of Computer Ethics at universities of the State of California. The study includes an assessment of the Computer Ethics compliance with either the Computing Curricula 19911 (CC1991) and/or the latest Computing Curricula 20012 (CC2001). The Computer Curricula is the recommended curricula by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and it is the curricula followed by accredited computer programs. The Computer Ethic course was not an established core course in computer science programs. Nevertheless, since the ACM Computing Curricula 1991 identified topics on computer ethics as fundamental knowledge that all computing students must possess, computer ethics courses started to be part of the core of computer sciences programs. As a result several Internet resources and textbooks have appeared since 1991. However, there is not data to know how, and what computer ethics topics are taught. The purpose of this study was to investigate “The Computer Ethics topics that are taught, the breath and depth of the topics covered, the methodology used, and the degree of compliance they have with the CC2001”.

The methodology consisted on selecting, categorizing and analysing the communality and differences of the gathered information. The main focus was on the extraction and statistic analysis of topics gathered from syllabi. Then, the analysis of these topics was compared to the recommended topics from the reports CC91 and CC2001. The CC91 recommended topics: Historical and Social Context of Computing, Responsibilities of the Computer Professional, Risk and Liabilities, and Intellectual property with a minimum of eleven hours. The CC2001 added 5 hours and the topics of civil liberties, Computer crime, Economic issues in computing, and Philosophical frameworks.

The gathered data was separated on five main categories: General Information, Text Books, Course Descriptions, Topics, and Academic Standards. The analysis of the data on “general information, text book, course description, and academic standards” found correlation to the standard guidelines to create a syllabus with the information of location, access time to professor and resources as well as the rules and level of professor’s expectation related to a grading scale and policies. The analysis on Topics unveiled that 58 percent of the respondents elaborate on “What is Ethics” in their course. The next topics were equalized or tied with 42 percent: “What is Morality, Property/ Plagiarism and Privacy”. In the third place, there are topics equalized with 33 percent: “Codes of Ethics, Internet Good/Bad, Responsibilities and Philosophical Theories” Followed with 25 percent “Philosophical questions” and “Theories” like “Utilitarism and Deontological Duties/Rights”. In the last significant place is Bioethics with 17 percent. Other topics with not statistical significance: Computer Ethics, Basics of Decision Making, Confidentially Rights vs. Justice, Public Good, Access. An analysis of the time spent on the topics is also an important parameter to elaborate on the depth of the topic. This analysis is used on the discussion of the relevance of the topics and their compliance to the recommended curricula

We concluded our studies with some remarks: First, the fact that from all universities of State of California, only 40% of them have a Computer Ethics Syllabus in their departments of Engineering and Computer Science. Second, a discussion of discrepancies found between topics from syllabi and ACM recommendations. Third, the result of this investigation established points of references on the teaching of Computer Ethics on the State of California. These points of references are of value to the international community as well as to professors interested on Compute Ethics research. Finally, recommendations for further investigation in the State of California to find out methodology or alternative forms that programs without a computer ethics course have to comply with the ACM recommended curricula on computer ethics. More over, extend this study to other states and countries to investigate computer ethics education.


Computer Curricula 1991 Report:

Computer Curricula 2001 Report: