Ethical Issues in Software Design

Computer Science 263

Mostly done through April, the rest remainsopen for topics and schedule changes.

Chuck Huff

Class Meets in RNS 203

Tues: 9:35-11:00 AM
Thurs: 9:30-10:50 AM

current as of 01/29/12

Regents Science Hall 120, 786.3169
Mail to the Prof
Office Hours: by appointment
Mail to the class

Required Texts

Johnson & Miller

Computer Ethics 4th Ed. (CE)

Douglas Schuurman

Vocation: Discerning our callings in life (VO)

Sharp, Rogers, & Preece

Interaction Design (ID)

Welcome to the ethics course in the Computer science major. I plan for this class to introduce you to the real social and ethical issues that surround almost any software project. The point is not to ponder ethical conundrums, but to develop knowledge and skills that will help you address ethical issues as a software professional.


There are two primary text for this class. First, a book on Human Computer action that can likely serve as a reference for you for other projects. This re-imagining of the field moves us away from computers and toward thinking about how people interact with artifacts (since computing is now embedded in many artifacts that are not really computers). You will be using some of the design and design process concepts to structure your work, and many of the methods to inform the design choices you propose to your client. Second, the classic text on computer ethics from Deborah Johnson and Keith Miller (both founders of the field). We will also read some from a St. Olaf author, Doug Schuurman's book on Vocation as we think about what it means to be a computing professional. Finally there will be some pieces (particularly cases) from a text a colleague of mine and I wrote but never completed. There will be other short readings as I discover them and think they might help.

The main event (and 70% of your grade): Team STA Projects

The class will together be analyzing the ethical and social issues on 5 different projects. On the first day of class, you will choose teams that will each undertake an independent socio-technical analysis of some portion of the projects being developed. Look at the team descriptions to get an idea of the five available projects. There will be a series of 6 products that your team will produce over the term, culminating in a written report and oral presentation of your recommendations to your contact person. Your grade on this project will be a combination of team member ratings of your work, a rating given by the client (in this case, your contact person), and the grade given by the instructor (that's me). Here are a set of recommendations for setting up your teams, and some rules about how to fire a member or for a member to move.

Concept Exams

There will be a concept exam that you will take as a team. It will be based on a set of basic and intermediate concepts that are covered in the various readings. You will show your understanding of these concepts by answering a set of questions that require their use. On Wednesday April 6 I will hand out in class the final subset of these question that your team must answer. The exam is due midnight Wednesday April 20. The exam is a team take-home, and you can use any resources to answer the questions. I have provided a detailed rubric (.doc) that explains my expectations for complete answers.

Vocation Reflection or Exemplar Interview

Finally, you will be asked to write two short reflections based on your vocation as a computing professional.  Both should be no longer than 3 pages (1,200 words or so). The first vocation essay might address the following questions: How do you see your computing work as a calling? (or, Do you see your computing work as a calling?)  What is the meaning in it?  What obligations does this mean you have? Note that this first essay is due quite early, Feb. 14. This first essay is your considered opinion (both words are important here) and need not include references. The second essay is a revision of the first one, that will need to include reference to the material we have covered for the class. I have provided a rubric (.doc) that explains my expectations for excellent essays.

Speaking Credit (ORC)

You will be making many presentations in class.  This is because you will be constantly consulting with the class for their input on your project.  In addition, you will be making a final presentation to the class and to your client.  I will be giving you lots of feedback on these presentations, and I hope you will learn from them.  There is no independent grade for this aspect of the course, but your performance will be reflected as a part of your project grade.



Percent Grade

Concepts Exam 24
Vocation Reflection 6
Team STA 70

Late Policy

Late papers will be reduced according to the following schedule: up to 24 hrs late = -5%, between 1 & 3 days late = -25%, 3 days to 1 week late = -50%. Papers beyond a week late will not be accepted. Grace is available if the lateness is the result of an oversight or accident on the part of one of the members of your group. Negotiation is possible based on hardship. It is your responsibility to keep track of time and to turn your paper in. I will not track you down. Lateness for a product, a class presentation, or an appointment for the client is very serious. Other people are depending on you.

Disability Accomodation

If you have a documented disability that will impact your work in this class, please contact me to discuss your needs. Additionally, you will need to register with Student Disability Services located at the Academic Support Center. All such discussions will be confidential.

Useful Links



Lecture Topic
Project Tasks


Design & SocioTechnical Analysis
Therac 25 (pdf); GC 11 (pdf);
Organize group (schedules, reporting, tracking, task specialists)

  Some basic terminology, and an overview of the course, team planning; Connecting HCI to socially embedded users. How design and ethics depend on people in systems. How design goals and ethical goals connect.

Th 9
Data Collection Overview
CE 1
Organize group, have first meeting, review client & project info, bring questions to class, contact client to schedule interview

The broad overview of techniques  you will use; Triangulation, validity, piloting,

Tu 14
Doing Good Interviews
CE 2
Begin constructing relevant STS for client; First draft of topics for client interview

1st vocation reflection due; Specific instruction on interview technique

Th 16
Field & Lab Observation
CE 3; ID 7 (esp. 7.6)
Why it is important to watch folks in their natural habitat & how to do so; Think-Aloud, Diaries, interaction logs,  
Tu 21
Information Interview Presentations
present plan for 1st client interview

Revised interview protocol due in 24 hours

Th 23
Library Resources
do interview, consolidate notes, make initial scoping plans

Kasia Gonnerman in RML250

Tu 28
Questionnaire Design
ID 7.1-7.3 & 7.5
scoping plans, data collection planning,
begin literature search, client care,

Why you should not do a survey; how to ask questions of many people

Mar Th 1
Design & Prototyping
ID 11
bring draft of data collection plans to class

How to integrate specific design and specific ethical considerations

Tu 6 Privacy in Context CE 4; Nussbaum reading pilot methods What privacy means is context sensitive, so design and policy must also be context sensitive
Th 8 Modelling Issues Friedmann reading pilot methods What privacy means is context sensitive, so design and policy must also be context sensitive
Tu 13 Data Collection Plans  
pilot methods
Th 15 Data Collection Plans  
pilot methods
Tu 20   Spring Break    
Th 22   Spring Break    
Tu 27        
Th 29
Professional Roles
Therac Case & CE7
pilot, revise instruments, collect data Thinking about what you do in your role as a computer science or management person.
Apr Tu 3
Ethical Dissent
pilot, revise instruments, collect data how to disagree about ethics in a professional manner and keep your job
Th 5
Ethics Theory
CE 2
pilot, revise instruments, collect data

the theory you thought this course was going to be about 

Tu 10
Interaction Design Process
ID 9
pilot, revise instruments, collect data

How various design processes can integrate ethical issues

Th 12
User Requirements
ID 10
pilot, revise instruments, collect data

How requirements analysis is like socio-technical analysis 

Tu 17


intellectual property
CE 5
pilot, revise instruments, collect data
Concept Exam Distributed
Th 19
pilot, revise instruments, collect data
Tu 24
Free Speech
Machado Case & CE6
pilot, revise instruments, collect data

Th 26     collect & analyze data  
May Tu 1     collect & analyze data Concept Exam Due, 24:00
Th 3     analyze data, propose solutions, write report  
Tu 8     analyze data, propose solutions, write report

Th 10    
analyze data, propose solutions, write report


Tu 15
finalize solutions, write report, prepare presentation
Fri 18

Final Oral Reports

9 - 11 AM
2nd Vocation Essay Due