Will the Regulation of Software Engineering and the Texas Licensing Model Act as Catalysts for the Integration of Computer Ethics into Mainstream Computer Education?

Andrew Storey and J Barrie Thompson


At the end of the Millennium we are seeing moves to license Software Engineers within some parts of the United States (US). Most advanced in these moves is the State of Texas, where licensing has been in operation since mid 1998. This licensing and associated regulation of the Software Engineering profession is likely to lead to changes in the education of computer personnel. Within the paper we intend to consider the following areas:

  • Regulation and Certification Developments and the Facts covering Software Engineering Licensing in Texas, US.
  • Ethics as a Formal Requirement of Professionalism
  • Examples of Ethical Behaviour or Otherwise
  • Methods of Teaching Computer Ethics

In particular with regard to the above areas we will consider;

Rules of the Texas initiative to give Software Engineers a license to practice as engineers in the field of software engineering. The precepts for the potential production of a USA national Licensing exam for Software Engineers and the terms covering exam waiver requirements. Standards of many computer people may not live up to the high expectation of licensing rules.

Computer professionalism is still difficult to clearly define. However a high degree of ethical awareness and practice is required in other professional fields. Therefore it is sensible to assume that ethics education is a formal requirement of professionalism. The challenge is to promote ethical development in such a way that it becomes natural practice. This means, classroom and training techniques that promote higher levels of thinking should be the aim. Development would be expected to continue in the business world.

The use of computer ethics “codes of conduct” as core concepts for computer education will also be investigated. Students of computer science should know that there is an important distinction between being aware of ethical and social impact issues and becoming ethically and socially accountable. The correct combination of these should make them responsible ethical professionals.

Proposals are discussed concentrating on Ethics concepts in education curriculum’s for computer professionals. The debate on where computer ethics education should begin is considered. Ethics concepts if introduced the correct way into Computer Educational Curriculum’s may have a major impact on the amount of future growth of licensing and certification. There is a distinct possibility that future training may have to be geared to licensing requirements. All of which would have a major impact on Standards Development in the computer field and be a major influence in the future structure of Professional Credentials. Techniques of teaching computer ethics and influences from environments and culture will be examined. We will show how the effects of learning in the classroom and in real life situations have different influences. The effectiveness of case study learning scenarios involving ethical decisions will be considered. Improved methods are being sought that do not deliver the ethics message in the form of preaching or attempt to force indoctrination. Information on positive research dealing with this issue is taken from the ImpactCS project. In this a staged progression of educational experiences based upon knowledge units which are placed throughout entire Computer Science curriculum is recommended. Analysis of integrated progression of material and experiences through awareness of computer related ethical issues form an integral part of this investigation.

Finally we will present our conclusions with regard to the essential components and requirements that will aid those, attempting to teach principles of value and ethics to computer users. This should help to move ethical training forward with the aim of producing professional software engineers and computer scientists in the future. Who will be ethically aware and astute at using ethical concepts to make professional socially responsible decisions.


Bickel, R, W. Maria, Larrondo-Petrie, M, M. Bush, D, F. (1998) Ethics, Law, and Information Technology. The Transformat Social Science Computer Review. 16. (3). Pp. 283.

Bickel, R, W. Maria, Larrondo-Petrie, M, M. Bush, D, F. (1992) Edict for Computer Ethics Education. The Journal of Systems and Software. 17. (1). Pp. 81.

Bellinger, B (1998) Debate Weighs Licenses for Software Engineers. Electronic Engineering. Times. 09/21/98, Issue 1026, (152), CMP Media Inc. pp.1-3.

Braxton, S. Stone, D, B. (1998) Social and Ethical Impact of Computing. ImpactCS, [Online]. The George Washington University. Available from: http://www.seas.gwu.edu/seas/impactcs/index.html [Friday, March 12, 1999].

Educom Review. (1995) Computer Ethics. Educom Review. 30. (4). Pp5.

Hrisak, D, M. (1997) Controllers Viewpoint: Ethics Training in Cyberspace?. Corporate Controller. 10. (2) pp. 42-44.

IEEE (1998) Software Engineering Standards Committee – Computer Society Standards Impact 1999!. IEEE, US. On-line. Available from: http://computer.org/standard/impact/Program.html [January 15. 1999].

Johnson, D. (1998) Teaching Ethical Technology Behaviours. Book Report. 17. (2). pp. 96.

Lu, His-Peng, Lin, Jien-Liang. (1998) Effects of Learning and Living on IS Ethics Education. The Journal of Computer Information Systems. 39. (2). pp. 96.

Martin, D, C. Martin, D, H. (1990) Professional Codes of Conduct and Computer Ethics Education. Social Science Computer Review. 8. (1) pp. 96.

Mead, N, R. (1997) Issues in Licensing and Certification. 10th Conference on Software Engineering Education and Training. IEEE. USA. pp. 150-160.

Speed, J, R. (1998a) Software Engineering An Examination of the Actions Taken by the Texas Board of Professional Engineers. Online. US. Texas Board of Professional Engineers. Available from: http://www.main.org/peboard/softw.htm. [December 21, 1998].

Speed, J. R. (1998b) Ethics and the professional engineer. Online. US, Texas Professional Engineer, February 1998 Volume 2, Issue 1, Sections I-VIII, October 12, 1998. NCEES, Available from: http://www.ncees.org/licensure_ exchange/feb/engineerethics.htm. [December 1, 1998]

Thong, J, Y, L. Yap, Chee-sing. (1998) Testing an Ethical Decision Making Theory: The case of Softlifting. Journal of Management Information Systems. 15. (1). pp. 213.

Texas Board of Professional Engineers. (1998) Board Establishes Software Engineering Discipline – The Texas Board’s Software Engineering Statement dated 10/12/98i. Online. US. Texas Board of Professional Engineers. Available from: http://www.main.org/peboard/sofupdt.htm [December 16, 1998].

Wong, E, Y, W. (1995) How Should We Teach Computer Ethics? A Short Study Done. Computers & Education. 25. (4). Pp. 179.