Social and Ethical Issues in Computing

For the past 10 years I have been engaged in a national (and now international) effort to shape and support the teaching of social and ethical issues to undergraduates in computer science and information science programs. Out of this effort have come several useful initiatives and publications.

With Tom Finholt, a colleague from the University of Michigan, I edited a volume of articles focussed on the social issues that surround computing. The idea was to present in one easy to find place the widely scattered literature on this topic. We also hoped to provide a book that would shape the topics people found of interest as they taught this area.

On my 1994-95 sabbatical, I was a member of the steering committee of ImpactCS an NSF sponsored group that described in detail standards for the teaching of social and ethical issues in the computer science curriculum. The first report from this panel appeared in the December 1995 issue of Communications of the ACM and describes the conceptual background of work in the area. Walter Maner, a computer scientist at Bowling Green State University has said that this report is the evidence that substantial progress has been made in the last decade in this academic area. I agree, in that it provides a conceptual scheme that ties together the topics, skills, and principles in the area. Ten years ago, all we had was a laundry list of issues that computer scientists considered important to be aware of.

The second report from the project takes the conceptual framework and presents it in terms of the standard "knowledge units" computer scientists expect from their Curriculum 1991. Both of these reports are available from the link I provide above

I have recently been funded by the National Science Foundation to begin writing a large series of cases keyed to the ImpactCS curriculum. The idea is to provide faculty and students with resources that will make it easy to think about ethical issues in computing in a way congruent with the standard that ImpactCS recommends. Three of these cases, along with a large amount of supporting material can be found at the ComputingCases site. These cases, along with about 7 others will form a large part of a new text in computing ethics to be published by Jones and Bartlett. William Frey, a philosopher at the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez, is my coauthor on this text.

From pedagogy, my interests have now turned to empirical work. My current project is an NSF funded attempt to map the values and trace the developmetal path of a set of "ethical exemplars" in computing in the UK and Scandinavia.

St. Olaf College
Psychology Department
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Research Projects