Impact of Compulsory Computer Ethics Education on the Moral Judgment of Information and Communication Technology Management Students

Candace T. Grant


Research Question

Does Rest’s Defining Issues Test 2 provide an effective and easy way to determine whether a computer ethics course has a positive impact on the moral judgment of Information and Communication Technology Management Students?

Preparing future Information and Communications Technology (ICT) professionals to deal ethically with the complex ICT-related issues they will face in the workplace is a challenge being considered by many ICT schools at colleges and universities. Ethics became a hot topic in the early 2000’s, with the financial reporting improprieties of WorldCom and the involvement of audit firms such as Andersens in not identifying the discrepancies. It has gathered more momentum with the recent crisis in the financial markets and the inappropriate behaviours of people in positions of authority such as the British MP’s and their inappropriate expense reporting.

Educational institutions, organizations and professional associations are funding many education and training programs. The researcher has developed a compulsory course for second year students in a four year ICT Management degree program and has delivered it twice to over 400 future ICT professionals. The program makes use of some key pedagogical approaches that have been shown to be effective in ethics education, such as OBAL, role playing, dilemma discussions, critical thinking and stakeholder analysis. It is important to demonstrate, to students, employers and the public at large, that the program is effective and meets learning outcome targets.

How can we demonstrate that students leave the computer ethics course, functioning at a higher moral development level than when they arrived? Is there an effective measure that would be easy to administer and thus repeatable with each course? Is there a technique that could be administered as part of the course and feedback provided to students individually to support their personal development?

Bebeau (2002) has done some interesting work in influencing moral behavior in the professions. She has developed interventions, measures and feedback mechanisms to support the ethical development of dentists throughout their program of study. Her work is based on Rest’s Four Component Model (1994) which suggests that there are four processes that affect moral behavior: moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation and moral character and that educational interventions should address all of them.

The scope of this paper will be to determine if the approach used for developing moral judgment in dental students can also be used effectively for ICT management students. Bebeau (1994) measures the moral judgment level of dental students at the beginning of their course of study and provides individual feedback. Counseling is provided to students with lower than expected levels of moral judgment. Moral judgment is measured again at the end of the program and individual and program changes studied.

Rest’s model suggests that moral judgment progresses through three schema, from “personal interest” through “maintaining norms” to “postconventional”, and that professional ethics should function at the postconventional level (Rest, Narvaez, Thoma, & Bebeau, 2000). In Bebeau’s study, in most cases, there was a positive change in moral judgment. It should be noted that the dental profession is different from the ICT profession in that the dentist’s patient is usually the key stakeholder making stakeholder impact easier to identify. ICT professionals often find it more difficult to relate to stakeholders as they are often involved in developing or supporting technology for a customer they never encounter. Since the scenarios used in the measurement tool are content independent, it isn’t anticipated that this will cause a problem.


Rest’s Defining Issues Test 2 (DIT2) (Rest, Narvaez, Bebeau, & Thoma, 1999) has been widely used in a number of environments to study the development of moral judgment and is widely correlated to be effective (King & Mayhew, 2002). It will be administered in Fall 2009 to the students taking a compulsory computer ethics course. The test will be administered at the beginning of the course, feedback provided to the students and the test administered again at the end of the course. The details follow:

  • The material for the Defining Issues Test 2 is provided by the Centre for the Study of Ethical Development at the Universities of Minnesota and Alabama. The Centre provides the forms, processes the completed forms and produces a report with individual findings for each student.
  • The test will be administered at the start of the course. It includes five scenarios with non-ICT related content, for students to read and vote on what they think the protagonist should do. Students are then presented with twelve statements about the scenario to which they respond on their level of agreement to each scenario using a Likert scale. They are then asked to rank the 12 statements in order of importance.
  • The test results provided by The Centre will be analyzed and individual reports returned to the students. Individual sessions will be scheduled with students with lower than expected scores.
  • The test will be administered again at the end of the course with the results returned to the students. Students will have an opportunity to provide feedback on the process and its usefulness.
    The data from the initial and final tests will be analyzed to determine the degree of change in the moral development levels of the class as a whole. It will also be examined to determine differences related to age or years of ICT related work experience.

Study Findings

The study will report the level of moral judgment of students in the class and whether these results are affected by age or years of ICT related work experience. It will also report changes in the moral judgment level that occurred during the course and whether individual counseling showed a similar improvement in moral judgment to those who didn’t have counseling. The study will also assess the effectiveness of the process and whether this could easily be used in subsequent deliveries of the course and what changes need to be made before using it again.

It is anticipated that this approach can be used with each course to help students understand their own moral judgment levels and identify how to develop it. This could be a measure used throughout the program to assess students as they enter the degree program and then at the end as a good demonstration of the change in moral judgment achieved. It could also be used to measure the impact that a specific intervention has on the moral judgment levels of students in the program.


Bebeau, M. (2002). The Defining Issues Test and the Four Component Model: contributions to professional education. Journal of Moral Education, 31(3).

Bebeau, M. (1994). Influencing the Moral Dimensions of Dental Practice. In J. Rest & D. Narvaez (Eds.), Moral Development in the Professions: Psychology and Applied Ethics, Psychology and Applied Ethics (pp. 121-146). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

King, P. M., & Mayhew, M. J. (2002). Moral Judgement Development in Higher Education: insights from the Defining Issues Test. Journal of Moral Education, 31(3).

Rest, J. (1994). Background: Theory and Research. In J. Rest & D. Narvaez (Eds.), Moral Development in the Professions: Psychology and Applied Ethics, Psychology and Applied Ethics (pp. 1-26). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

Rest, J., Narvaez, D., Bebeau, M., & Thoma, S. (1999). A Neo-Kohlbergian Approach: The DIT and Schema Theory. Educational Psychology Review, 11(4), 291-324.

Rest, J., Narvaez, D., Thoma, S., & Bebeau, M. (2000). A Neo-Kohlbergian Approach to Morality Research. Journal of Moral Education, 29(4).