Learning IT right from wrong

By Linda Pliagas, InfoWorld |  Security

Classroom antics

Gotterbarn remembers that when computer ethics courses first hit campuses, stock
fraud made up the majority of the classes' "wow stories." Now technological
developments in computing have impacted where computing power can be applied, and this
has led to an enormous change in the way ethics is discussed in classes, he adds.

Just a few years ago, professors would cover a single, neat issue every week --
equity, hacking, and security. Today deeper levels are uncovered. "Now we go into a
little bit of philosophy for the nonphilosopher," GeoTrust's Martin explains.

Often "values clarification" is first on the class agenda. Students must realize,
Gotterbarn says, that they arrive in class holding their own standards and ethics. Then
with the ethics lightbulb on, the computer professionals' code of ethics is introduced.
Once students have grasped a framework, social scenarios are given. Then they can begin
to uncover if something is "not quite right."

Preventing problems should be the focal point in computer ethics courses, Roanoke
Technology's Smith says. With his e-mail dilemma, he realized that most managers do not
want to monitor personal communications from work. But if productivity falls, they have
a responsibility to find out why. He calls this work problem a "two-edged sword."

Ethics instruction in computer science departments will undoubtedly continue.
Martin hopes professors will teach the course in a more integrative and robust way than
in recent history. "Ethics should be taught in many classes instead of being solely
focused as a separate course," Martin says. Experts agree that by having standards of
conduct ingrained into the computer science students' minds, the wish of every
professor, employer, and manager will come true. Errors will be self-caught before they
develop into moral catastrophes.

Will an education in ethics bring an end to the computer industry's dilemmas? No,
Sky Television's Bunting says. "There will always be an element of our society who
crosses the line and disregards such boundaries."

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