The Teaching of Computer Ethics at State of Califonia Universities, USA and other Countries.


Porfirio Barroso and Gloria Melara


The introduction of computer ethics in the computer science and engineering curriculum has generated many questions such as what (topics) to teach? When in the curriculum? How? Who? Investigating the status of computer ethics in the curriculum will illuminate some of the proposed questions. This study aims to examine the status of teaching Computer Ethics in the computer sciences and engineering sciences at California, USA. The research focuses on WHAT (topics, lessons, themes, questions) are teaching nowadays 2003 on the classroom at the state of California USA and other countries, and are of greatest interest to instructors. HOW is taught? What (kinds of pedagogical techniques) are most often used in the classroom? The question items surveyed first general questions such as What are the pedagogical techniques that you consider are the most important in order to teach Computer Ethics? And specific questions such as selecting pedagogical techniques that the instructor used in his/her class. The research originated in the state of California, USA and has been expanded through Australia United State of America, India, Canada, China, Hong Kong, South Africa and various European Union countries, from Spain to Finland, from Switzerland till United Kingdom.

The study was conducted through surveys that were sent out to various university professors in the fields of computer sciences and computer engineering. Different methods were used on collecting the surveys. First the survey was requested by E-Mail, then, by telephone and finally visiting the universities and departments of state of California. The survey questions address the professor’s backgrounds related to his/her education, the curriculums of their departments in terms of general requirements, and more specific items relating to ethics and how it is taught at their respective departments of Computer Science and Engineering in Computing. The key items address what general ethics topics from the accreditation and when these topics are tough in the curriculum as well as what pedagogical techniques are used in the classroom, in terms of their perceived usefulness and their frequency of use

Respondents reported using the following pedagogical techniques most frequently:

Case Studies: 74.6 %, Lectures by instructor: 74.6 %, Student written papers: 67.6 %, Small group discussion: 66.2 %, In-depth study of a few selected issues: 64.8 %, Evaluation of classroom participation: 57.7 %, Clippings: 53.5 %, Examinations: 49.3 % PowerPoint presentations: 49.3 %, Student presentations on topics they choose: 43.7 %, Overhead transparencies: 38 %. These are the most important for the professors. The less important for the instructor are: Internships in Ethics 2.8 %, Photographs 9.9 %, Students reports on interview with professionals 11.3 %, Samples surveys of local media outlets 11.3 %, Novel or plays 11.3 %, Slides 12.3 %, Audio Tapes 12.7 %, Simulation games 14.1 %, Video Tapes 21.1 %, Web use in classes 22.5 %.

The preliminary results of this study show that 53.5 % of undergraduate students and 15.5 % of graduate students are required to study ethics during their course of study. In addition, respondents were asked to rank key topics of ethics on a scale of 0-10, with) indicating the issue was “not important” and 10 indicated the issue was “very important.” Key topics in ethics were reported to be as follows: Protection of privacy of personal data (8.54 %), Duty to protect privacy of individual (8.44 %), Accuracy and quality of work (8.42 %), Responsibility to report and correct errors (8.31 %), Honesty and truth-telling in computer work (8.19 %), Author’s rights, copyright, plagiarism, or piracy of hardware and software (8.13 %), Professional responsibilities of computer professionals (8.11%), Duty to protect secrets and privileged data 7.95 %, Conflicts of interest 7.94 %, Professional dignity, honesty, probity of the programmer 7.74.%. These are the ten topics with higher percentage in the survey answers. The ten with less percentage or the ten last are: Duty to promote field or computer science 5.31 %, Loyalty of the programmer to his/her company 5.96 %, Bribery, corruption 6.42 %, Hackers’ Code of Ethics and Hacker Ethics 6.43 %, Use of computer to promote violence, terrorism, crime 6.47 %, Concern for national security and government secrets by computer professionals 6.6 %, Environmental impact of computers 6.65 %, Pornography, obscenity, and pederasty and pedophilia, through computers 6.69 %, Academic background and permanent training of experts in computing 6.73%.

Final questions. When we asked if the professors or instructors thought undergraduate computer students should be required to take an ethics course, 67.6 % said yes, while 12.7% responded no. When we asked if they thought graduate computer students should be required to take an ethics course, 57.7% said yes, while 18.3% responded no.