Influencing the Ethical Awareness of Young ICT Professionals

Candace T. Grant


Research Question

What are the attitudes of Canadian IT Management students towards the use of ICT? Does it vary with age and IT professional experience? Does a computer ethics course have an impact on their ethical views?


Unethical business practices at companies such as Enron have increased the focus on ethical behaviour from a variety of organizations, government oversight bodies and professional associations (PMI, 2007). They are looking for ways to not only improve the awareness of unethical behaviour but also provide structures and guidance on what individuals should do when it is discovered. (McDougall, 2006)

As Information and Communication Technology (ICT) becomes more pervasive and digitization and dissemination of content become easier, the ethical issues become more varied and more complex (Moor, 1996). ICT professionals are faced with ethical decisions not only as users of ICT themselves, but in their management and support of users outside of ICT who make use of the technology (Gotterbarn, 1991). As a result, there is a high demand for education that provides the skills and knowledge that will be relevant in the workplace.

Education has a positive impact on moral development in general, (Kohlberg, 1969) an in the professions, specifically (Rest and Narvaez, 1994). However to be effective, the participants current thinking must be considered before undertaking an intervention is wasteful to focus on discussing the ethical issues of downloading music if the participants don’t engage in it.

The Ted Rogers School of IT Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, with approximately 800 students, provides a four year Bachelor of Commerce Degree with an ICT Management major. Second-year full and part-time students take a compulsory course in computer ethics. They range in age, in number of years of ICT work experience, ethnic background, gender, and exposure to ethical discussions on the use of ICT. The aim of the course is to make students aware of the ethical issues surrounding ICT and provide some techniques in addressing them.

The Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, De Montfort University, UK (Prior, Fairwether, Rogerson, and Hawash, 2008) has developed and implemented a process to assess the ethical attitudes of current and future ICT professionals in areas such as the use of electronic surveillance technology and the use of university resources for personal purposes. This process has also been used by a US university with results expected to be available in April 2010. This study will use the De Montfort process to identify student attitudes and the differences as a result of age and number of years of IT work experience. It will also determine whether their views changed during the course.


The process will be administered in Fall 2009 to the students in an evening class of the compulsory computer ethics course (ITM407): IT, Ethics and Society. The process consists of a survey, followed by online discussions. The survey will be administered again at the end of the course. The details follow:

The survey, administered at the start of the course, includes approximately 20 scenarios that each describes an ethical dilemma related to the use of ICT and a suggested course of action. The participant is asked to use a 5 point Likert scale to identify how strongly they agree or disagree with the course of action. The survey also gathers additional information on the participants to enable cross tabulations e.g. age range, number of years of ICT related work experience. The top key issues will be selected for more in depth discussion.

  • Discussion topics will be posted in online discussion forums using the virtual learning environment tool, Blackboard. This will allow students to discuss the issues anonymously and surface some of the reasoning behind their answers to the questionnaires.
  • The survey will be administered at the end of the course to measure overall changes in the attitudes of the class.
  • The data from the initial and final survey will be analyzed to determine the students attitudes to specific ICT related ethical issues and whether those attitudes changed during the course and if there is a difference in attitudes based on age or years of ICT related work experience. The data will be presented in a manner suitable for comparison with the studies conducted in the UK and the US.

A Guideline document will be developed that provides a description of the process followed that could be used by other countries or institutions in doing a similar study.

Study Findings

The process administration and data gathering and analysis will be conducted in Fall 2009 with an evening class of approximately 50 participants. Completion is planned for the end of November 2009, giving ample time to complete the final paper by January 2010. The study will provide a summary report of student attitudes at the beginning of the course and how they changed by the end of the course. It will provide a summary of the key reasons or issues that arose both from the online discussions and how it was determined which topics would be used as the basis of the small group face-to-face discussions. It will include a summary of the key points that arose from the face-to-face discussions and the suggestions from the students on future actions.


It is anticipated that this approach can be used with each course to help students identify their own behaviours but also those of the group. The surveys can easily be updated with current issues. The course can be tailored to address the student identified top key issues in the course and their online discussions can drive the issues for discussion.

It is anticipated that because a similar process if followed, that this data could be compared with both the UK and the US study also being conducted in Fall 2009 to determine if there are differences in the key issues or differences in the thinking around the key issues.


Gotterbarn, D. (1991). Computer Ethics: Responsibility Regained. National Forum: The Phi Beta Kappa Journal, 71, 26-31.

Kohlberg, L. (1969). Stage and Sequence: The Cognitive-Developmental Approach to Socialization. In D. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research. Chicago: Rand McNally and Company.

McDougall, P. (2006). Money, Power and Principle. Information Week, April(1083), 20-22,24.

Moor, J. H. (1996). Unique Ethical Problems in Information Technology. Science and Engineering Ethics, 2(2), 266-175.

PMI. (2007). Project Management Institute Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.

Prior, M., Fairwether, N. B., Rogerson, S., & Hawash, M. (2008). Is IT Ethical? 2006 ETHICOMP Survey of Professional Practice. IMIS.

Rest, J., & Narvaez, D. (1994). Moral Development in the Professions. Psychology and Applied Ethics. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.