Is Using A Distance Learning Approach Applicable to Teaching Ethics to Business and Computer Science Students?


Dr Harjinder Rahanu
School of Computing Science
Middlesex University
The Burroughs

Eva Turner
Principal Lecturer
Department of Innovation Studies
University of East London
Royal Albert Way


Teaching in ethics for computing students may take many forms, for example, as part of technical module; separate module taught in technical departments; or module taught in other departments, such as a Philosophy module. The second form is the technique used at Middlesex University. The module is delivered to computer science and business information systems students. The experience gained by the authors in delivering this module has led to several changes in the approach and syllabus of the module. The paper describes the rationale for the development of a distance learning application on the Internet. This application is seen as a mode for future delivery of the module.

During its history the module has evolved accordingly due to the introduction of new teaching personnel; to new computing technologies and their respective ethical issues, which have implied revisions to content; to changes in student profiles and to logistics issues in running the module across a number of distributed campuses. The analysis of each change describes the challenges that academics face in educating the professionals of tomorrow in the context of undergraduate courses at university level. It is hoped that the lessons learnt from this case study can assist fellow academics that are working on developing modules to teach ethics to computing students. The paper discusses whether there can be one standard curriculum suitable for distance learning.

Introduction of new personnel
The introduction of new personnel involved with delivering the module at Middlesex University has invoked changes to the module syllabus. Each member of the teaching team introduces a certain expertise to the module. If the involvement of any specific member is lost then this can, and has had, profound effect on the content of the module. Respective units on the module can be lost or replaced according to the loss or recruitment of teaching staff. On occasions this can be detrimental to the learning outcomes of the computer ethics module. The development of the distance learning application on the Internet is seen as a possible solution to this issue.

Introduction of new computing technologies
The ever-rapid introduction of new computing technologies invokes respective ethical issues. Each advent implies revisions to content of the module. The impact of the development and deployment of the Internet is a classic example of how a new technology has implied changes in the syllabus of the computer ethics module. New units have been developed for introduction into the module. This implies that

  1. A typical 12 week semester, each teaching week corresponding to specific topic, constraints the number of topics that can be covered. The development of each new unit implies a conscious decision being made as to which existing unit must be replaced, if at all.
  2. Each member must be professionally competent to deliver a unit. The introduction of new units implies the possibility that staff may not have the relevant expertise. This factor influences whether the adoption of a new unit is successful or not.

The above can have a profound affect on the learning outcomes of a module. The development of the distance learning application on the Internet is seen as a possible solution to this issue. The expertise of teaching staff can be captured and delivered to students. The syllabus is neither constrained by timetable issues or the possible lack of expertise.

Changes in student profiles
The module was originally developed with the intention of delivering to traditional information systems students. However, recently computer science and information technology students have been given the choice of choosing the module as an option. The pre requisite skills and knowledge that the students have influence the delivery of a unit. The paper will highlight the pre requisite knowledge the students may or may not share when they begin the module, and this is of importance because it influences the deliver of computer ethics modules. In addition, in terms of learning outcomes there has been a greater emphasis placed on developing transferable skills. These skills will be identified in the paper.

Logistics issues in a distributed campus environment
The current computer ethics module is run across three campuses at Middlesex University distributed over North London. Issues of timetable, additional teaching and research commitments imply that more often than not a lecturer cannot deliver units themselves across all three campuses. Reliance on additional staff in assisting the on delivery of module units at other sites is paramount. However, as argued above each respective team member has specific expertise, which they introduce into the module. On occasions a lecturer can find themselves in a position where they feel that they do not have the level of competency to justly deliver a unit. In these instances the student learning experience is impinged and ultimately detrimental to their learning outcomes. The development of the distance learning application on the Internet is seen as a possible solution to this issue assisting as a support mechanism for teaching and learning.

The development of the distance learning application on the Internet
In addition, the paper highlights the work initiated on developing distance learning via the Internet. It is envisaged that initially Intranet technologies will assist in primarily resolving the logistics issue in delivering the module across three distributed campuses at Middlesex University. Upon successful completion of the project the scheme will be updated to an Internet solution offering universities distributed across the UK and world to use the site as a teaching and learning resource. The development of the application will be ideally utilizing multi media technology. The incorporation of text, audio and video images, alongside an on-line discussion group is seen as the future delivery mode for this module. In conclusion the paper will discuss the viability of long distance learning as applicable to this subject area.