Section I: Challenges and Ideas
Challenge 2: What do I want students to be able to do?
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
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
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
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
objectives for that course--phrased in terms of student performance
These objectives also help us devise ways to assess performance (ours and
students'). There are many ways to organize these objectives: we'll
three possible ones here.
- Mental models for understanding social controversies about
- Forms of discourse about computerization, such as technological
- Economic, cultural, and organizational dimensions of computerization.
- Computerization and the transformation of work.
- Social relationships in electronic forums.
- Privacy and social control.
- System safety and social vulnerability.
- Ethical perspectives and professional responsibilities.
To begin, it may be helpful to simply describe in prose what you are
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
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'
"I encourage students to develop their own views, even if it means
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
newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio, and watch television
They need to know that they will encounter social issues of computing in
daily lives, not just in school. I want to stimulate continuing
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
value implications of how the words are used. If I talk about software
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
When I cover the issue of privacy, for example, I expect them to know what
Privacy Act and the ECPA are--what they say, and why they're important."
PRINCIPLES AND SKILLS
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
course, and contains a complete discussion of each of these:
- Ethical claims have multiple forms.
- Ethical principles should be consistent and coherent
- Ethical choices cannot be avoided.
- Some easy ethical approaches are questionable.
- Arguing from example, analogy, and counter-example.
- Identifying ethical principles and stakeholders in concrete situations.
- Identifying and evaluating alternative courses of action.
- Applying ethical codes to concrete situations.
- The social context influences the use of technology.
- Power relations are central in all social interaction.
- Social values and assumptions are always embedded in technology.
- Populations are always diverse.
- Empirical data is crucial to the design process.
- Identifying the social context of a particular implementation.
- Identifying assumptions and values embedded in a particular design.
- Evaluating, by use of empirical data, a particular implementation of a
A more formal way to organize many of the same ideas uses a paradigm from
educational literature: Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives
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
(Bloom's levels given in parentheses):
Understand major social issues involving the impact of computerization and
related technologies in society.
- Understand diverse literatures: define terms, concepts, and theories
different disciplines--such as sociology, psychology, economics,
behavior, and engineering--which are relevant to an understanding of social
issues of computing (knowledge). Some examples of these might be:
market, social class, labor market segmentation, job satisfaction,
costs, public goods, ethical theories, and productivity.
- Understand how controversies are represented: identify major concepts
authors use to frame their arguments (technological utopianism, etc.);
identify specific arguments which are based on these concepts; show how
"sides" of controversies may be incompletely represented (comprehension).
C&C2, there are several pairs of articles that illustrate
sides (but mis-matched arguments) of a controversy; for example, the
versus the risks of computer matching.
- Use printed and electronic media to locate
information on issues
(application). Most campus libraries offer demonstrations or tours of their
facilities which are tailored to individual course needs; see Section II
list of useful electronic resources.
- Compare and contrast alternative points of view on major issues
Some issues make it easy to assign role-playing exercises, in which
can advocate differing views: for example, the alternative value systems
described in the lead article to the Privacy and Social Control section of
Personal point of view
Develop the ability to analyze the major issues discussed above, and
personal point of view based on this analysis.
- Identify key elements of major ethical theories or value systems that
used to build viewpoints (comprehension). Example theories from
ethics could include utilitarianism and deontology (
- Categorize and analyze differing points of view according to their
underlying ethical theories or value systems (analysis). For example, a
who won't "pirate" software--because this would put programmers out of
work--reflects a utilitarian viewpoint; the person who won't pirate because
"stealing is wrong" reflects a Kantian one.
- Deliberate the consequences, merits, and problems of alternative
to the issues (analysis). For example: what different strategies might
encourage an employer to provide ergonomic computing environments?--OSHA
regulation, tax incentives, etc.?
- Develop a personal position on major issues, based on appropriate
theories, value systems, or other frameworks (synthesis). These personal
positions can be reflected in class discussions, homework exercises, essay
examinations, or term projects (see challenge 4).
Impacts of your work
Determine the impacts of specific personal and professional work activities
(including systems design) on co-workers, employers, clients, system users,
society in general (evaluation). An introductory example of a systems
impact--that was unforseen by the designers--is our "
(in "Life Experience", Challenge 5).
Articulate personal views
- Write clearly and speak effectively in a variety of settings
See Challenge 4 for ways to support this
and the next objective.
- Use electronic media such as e-mail and bulletin boards, observing
appropriate "netiquette" and similar conventions (application).
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
We encourage students to become active in these.
Work effectively in teams (of colleagues, clients, supervisors, etc.) that
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
them, or a different one of your own. Some of our objectives may be
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.
- What are the most effective approaches for helping students appreciate
ethical issues of computerization? (See
Bynum, 1992 for a range of approaches
which he calls "pop," "para," and "theoretical.") What is the appropriate
level of analysis and understanding at which these students should engage
ethical issues? (All three sets of objectves, above, address this
- To what extent must this course support non-subject-specific
that have been levied by your department or college? Writing skills are
important for the courses at both UCI and CSULB; the latter course is also
expected to develop the students' public-speaking skills.
- What else do you want students to learn? Paragraphs B.2 and B.3 in the
"Bloom's Taxonomy" list above--professional associations and
aspects of the "working professional" environment that are hard to capture
traditional topic list.
1 The article titles state the main arguments:
Kusserow, "the government needs computer matching to root out fraud, waste,
abuse" versus Shattuck, "computer matching is a serious threat to
rights." Each argument is framed in terms most important to its author,
some extent avoids the opposing terminology. It is unlikely that Shattuck
would argue in favor of fraud, waste, and abuse--or that Kusserow
argue in favor of violating individual rights.
2 Rob Kling, "Information Technologies and the Shifting
Privacy and Social Control."
Copyright © 1996,
Academic Press, Inc.
Last Modified: 19 Jan 96
For more information, email