Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

Student Assessments of Information Systems Related Ethical Situations: Do Gender and Class Level Matter?

Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

Student Assessments of Information Systems Related Ethical Situations: Do Gender and Class Level Matter?

Article excerpt


This study examines student perceptions of ethically questionable behavior relating to the acquisition and use of information systems (IS) resources. A perceived ethical breach level (PEBL) variable is created from responses to a set of 10 scenarios posing IS related ethical issues. Perceptions of students at different stages of their business college studies are collected, thus allowing for the evaluation of the effects of ethics-related instruction at the university on student perceptions. Based upon evidence from a number of prior studies presented below, we hypothesize that male and female students will differ in their evaluations of ethical breaches and that the two sexes may differ in how their ethical views change with age and ethics instruction.

By the time students enter their university education, they have all been exposed to differing sets of conditions and influences that can be expected to lead to substantially varied ethical backgrounds. To capture this variation, a set of questions designed to identify the tendency of individuals to deny responsibility for their actions is used, and responses to these questions are combined into a Denial of Responsibility (DR) variable. The behavior of this DR variable across age, gender and class level is of interest in its own right and will be examined. In addition, the DR variable is used in models predicting the ethical perceptions of students in order to better isolate the effects of ethics education at the university from differences due to student backgrounds.

In the next section, a review of related literature providing the basis for this study and the proposed hypotheses is presented. Following that discussion, the survey instrument and methodology are described, the models used to test the hypothesized relationships are presented, followed by the empirical results and finally conclusions.


The ethical challenges posed by IS and the need for ethics instruction has long been recognized. Couger described and studied the effects of an ethics instruction program he used in the late 1980s (Couger [1989]). His study includes results comparing student responses to ethical issues to those of a panel of professionals. No statistical test of the comparative results was presented although students did tend to judge actions exploiting a system vulnerability somewhat less harshly than the professional panel. Recent scandals in the business community have caused increased focus on the teaching of business ethics. While the AASCB accrediting body for business schools has long insisted that its member schools require ethics instruction, a 2005 survey found that over 80 percent of AACSB Business school deans at least somewhat agree that business schools should place more emphasis on ethics education (Evans and Mercal [2005]). The internet era has lead to substantially expanded opportunities for, and increasing financial consequences of, IS-related ethical breaches like, software and media piracy, identity theft, and the introduction of malicious software (malware). Thus, issues involving IS ethics are an attractive area of investigation and are of interest not just to IS majors, but to all business majors.

Varied survey methods have been used over the years to assess ethical beliefs and behaviors in IS related scenarios. An early study of ethical attitudes of upper-division undergraduate MIS and other business majors by Paradice ([1990]) presented a set of 12 ethical "situations" (scenarios) relating to the development and use of computer-based systems. In each scenario some third-party actor engaged in behavior that might be considered unethical. Student respondents were asked to rate the behavior as unacceptable, questionable or acceptable. Few significant differences between MIS and non-MIS students were found, but responses indicated that the actor's intent had a major influence on judgments of the acceptability of the behavior. …

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