Section I: Challenges and Ideas

Challenge 2: What do I want students to be able to do?

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If we were teaching a course in--for example--digital logic design, this might be a relatively straightforward question. They should be able to transform a boolean algebra expression using DeMorgan's theorem, minimize a function using a Karnough map, and so on. But for a course in social impacts of computing, this is not a straightforward question.

These courses can't be effectively taught step-by-step from a traditional textbook. Students need to get past the concept of strictly technical "fixes" for all problems, and the tacit assumption that they, as technologists, represent all users of technology. They need to deal carefully with ethical conflicts, not just assume that they know right from wrong by intuition alone. There is a wide range of topics that can form the intellectual core of a social-impacts course. In C&C2, these include:

Before we select a specific set of topics, readings, and activities for a course (see challenges 3 and 4) , we have found it helpful to develop a set of objectives for that course--phrased in terms of student performance outcomes. These objectives also help us devise ways to assess performance (ours and the students'). There are many ways to organize these objectives: we'll illustrate three possible ones here.



To begin, it may be helpful to simply describe in prose what you are looking for. You will probably be trying to fit a wide range of objectives into a single term or semester--and some of these objectives may be hard to define precisely at first. Among Rob's concerns are these:

"The thing that weighs on me most is that I have only ten weeks in which to introduce students to complex issues that I want them to engage in a sophisticated way for the rest of their lives.

"One important concern is for students to be able to debate the issues in an organized and coherent way. Just having opinions is not enough. Just talking in class is not enough. Some of my most active students are, unfortunately, also some of the most reluctant to consider others' positions and arguments.

"I encourage students to develop their own views, even if it means disagreeing with me. This is extremely hard for many students--especially those whose cultural background has taught them that the teacher is "always right".

"I want students to be sensitized to the world around them. They should read newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio, and watch television critically. They need to know that they will encounter social issues of computing in their daily lives, not just in school. I want to stimulate continuing curiosity--this will help them to understand the ongoing evolution of technology.

"They should be able to understand the vocabulary that they will find in professional literatures. Not just the dictionary meaning of the words, but the value implications of how the words are used. If I talk about software piracy, the word "piracy" has a built-in support for a certain position. If I said "software sharing" instead, the impression would be more neutral.

"There are also "facts" that they should know, just like in any other course. When I cover the issue of privacy, for example, I expect them to know what the Privacy Act and the ECPA are--what they say, and why they're important."



Chuck Huff and Dianne Martin have developed a set of "ethical and social principles and skills", with support from an NSF grant. ( Huff & Martin, 1995) These are aimed at computer science undergraduates. But the same principles and skills are equally appropriate for many different courses in social issues of computing. Their report is an excellent aid in developing a course, and contains a complete discussion of each of these:

Ethical principles

Ethical skills

Social principles

Social skills



A more formal way to organize many of the same ideas uses a paradigm from the educational literature: Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives (Jonassen, et al, 1989). Considered "old-fashioned" and too individualistic by some, Bloom's terminology is still widely used in secondary education, and has recently been applied to teaching of business ethics ( Reeves, 1990). The list for Tom's course at CSULB includes both intellectual and interpersonal skills (Bloom's levels given in parentheses):

Intellectual skills

Social issues

Understand major social issues involving the impact of computerization and related technologies in society.

Personal point of view

Develop the ability to analyze the major issues discussed above, and develop a personal point of view based on this analysis.

Impacts of your work

Determine the impacts of specific personal and professional work activities (including systems design) on co-workers, employers, clients, system users, and society in general (evaluation). An introductory example of a systems design impact--that was unforseen by the designers--is our " Medicare" illustration (in "Life Experience", Challenge 5).

Interpersonal skills

Articulate personal views

Professional development

Understand the importance of professional associations and professional development (affective, valuing level). Many universities will have student chapters of appropriate associations, such as the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) or the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). We encourage students to become active in these.


Work effectively in teams (of colleagues, clients, supervisors, etc.) that may be diverse in composition--in nationality, ethnic origin, gender, language, religious and ethical viewpoints, and other characteristics (affective, organization level). A small-group approach--in class or in project teams--supports this objective. Team strategies are described in Challenge 4.



You might choose to use any of these organizing strategies, or a combination of them, or a different one of your own. Some of our objectives may be relevant to your course. Others won't be. And you may need objectives that we haven't thought of. While you are developing them, you might also consider: It may take some time to develop a list of objectives that you're satisfied with. But after you've done it, you'll find the subsequent challenges much easier to handle.



1 The article titles state the main arguments: Kusserow, "the government needs computer matching to root out fraud, waste, and abuse" versus Shattuck, "computer matching is a serious threat to individual rights." Each argument is framed in terms most important to its author, and to some extent avoids the opposing terminology. It is unlikely that Shattuck would argue in favor of fraud, waste, and abuse--or that Kusserow would argue in favor of violating individual rights. [Return]

2 Rob Kling, "Information Technologies and the Shifting Balance Between Privacy and Social Control." [Return]


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Last Modified: 19 Jan 96
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