Investigating Ethical Crimes

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

To improve final year information technology (IT) undergraduate students' ability to analyse ethical issues, we devised a five-step procedure, based on a standard investigative procedure used at crime scenes. The appeal to our students lies in associating the investigation of an ethical issue with the investigation of a crime, as portrayed in popular television crime shows that add modern forensic science to traditional 'whodunnit' mysteries.

We evaluated the success of our ethical 'crime' investigation procedure by comparison with previous student cohorts given the same issues to analyse. To leverage the strengths of our new approach, we scripted an ethical crime scenario for video production. The video depicts events surrounding a petty theft in a busy open plan office. Students investigate first the crime, then the underlying ethical issues.

To help online students learn to investigate ethical issues, we used our previously reported object oriented learning methodology (OOL) to design a class of learning objects, or learning object class (LOC). Class Investigator uses our ethical crime investigation procedure and example video. This LOC facilitates dynamic instantiation of an individualised learning object (LO) for, or by, a student during a lesson. This enables a LO lesson to be not only more highly interactive but also far less predetermined in its sequence of activities for each student.

Keywords: Computer ethics; learning object; object-oriented; online; software engineering.

1 INTRODUCTION

Computer ethics is an integral part of the computing curricula formulated by the joint task force (ACM, AIS, IEEE-CS (Association for Computing, 2005) for tertiary degree students in computer science (CS), computer engineering (CE), software engineering (SE) and information systems (IS). However, during 10 years' experience teaching computer ethics, we concluded that many information technology (IT) students (CS, CE, SE and IS) have difficulty applying a standard procedure (Morris, Zuluaga, R., Zuluaga.C., 2004) for systematically analysing a (computer) ethical issue.

Fortunately, one addition that benefits students learning the finer points of computer ethics is analogical thinking (Johnson, 2001). For example, the cyberspace ethics methodology (Morris, 1999) proposes a step-by-step procedure for analysing a cyberspace ethical issue by analogy with an issue in 'real' space. As this methodology had some success engaging IT students in cyberspace ethical issues (e.g., virtual rape), we report here on our continuation of this analogical approach as follows.

We developed a procedure for analysing ethical issues that is based on a standard investigative procedure used at crime scenes. The appeal to our students lies in associating the investigation of an ethical issue with the investigation of a crime, as portrayed in popular television crime shows that add modern forensic science to traditional 'whodunnit' mysteries.

Section 2 describes the difficulties our students formerly exhibited when analysing an ethical issue. Section 3 explains our ethical 'crime' investigation procedure and reports a preliminary evaluation of its benefits. Section 4 outlines a video we produced to illustrate a crime with underlying ethical issues. We show how students are first asked to investigate the crime, then encouraged to investigate similarly one or more underlying ethical issues.

Our video is useful not only in a face-to-face class; it can also be embedded in a learning object (LO) for delivery online or via CD-ROM or television broadcast. These media will be utilised when the course is delivered 75% online in Africa and 50% online in Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia. Section 5 outlines the design of our ethical crime LO.

2 IT STUDENT DIFFICULTIES WITH ETHICAL ISSUES

2.1 IT student profile

Our computer ethics course is taken mostly by final year IT students (CS and SE included). …