Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Teaching IS Ethics: Applying a Research Technique for Classroom Use

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Teaching IS Ethics: Applying a Research Technique for Classroom Use

Article excerpt


This paper describes a classroom exercise that creates lively discussion regarding issues of ethical use of information and information systems. This classroom exercise is built on an approach toward investigating values and norms pertaining to ethical judgment regarding behaviors that involve use of information systems.

Donn Parker (1968) pioneered the use of business scenarios for IS ethics research purposes. He investigated the relative perceived appropriateness of particular actions regarding a wide range of information systems related situations. He contrasted views held by IT professionals, faculty, and students. Parker used the scenario technique for contrasting the ethical values of different categories of stakeholders. In contrast, we are applying the technique in the classroom for eliciting ethical thinking from students for the purpose of allowing them to contrast and compare their views. As a byproduct of this technique we receive a substantial amount of data regarding student views on various issues. We use this data to illuminate the students' understanding of the issues and to provide feedback for instructors to allow stronger background knowledge for leading these discussions. Others have followed with various refinements to this technique in research applications (e.g. Ellis and Griffith, 2001), however we are not familiar with anyone who has modified it for use in the classroom.

The unprecedented evolution of information technology (IT) challenges many aspects of traditional ethical thinking. IT creates opportunities for the extension of face to face behaviors into an electronically mediated environment. For example, the experience of "bullying" has recently moved from the school playground to "cyberspace" (e.g. National Crime Prevention Council, 2011; New Zealand, 2011). IT enables the near instant spread of embarrassing, scandalous, and libelous information content regarding individuals which may or may not be true. Once information is published on the Internet, it may be irretrievably held in countless places and, as a result, never fully expunged from accessibility. Public issues regarding information appear almost daily in news outlets. Google in Italy was convicted in 2011 of malfeasance for allowing a video showing a handicapped child being bullied to be posted and not removing it for months after it was reported (February 25, 2010). The particular issue pertains to whether the conduit of information, Google, is also responsible for unacceptable content.

The importance of ethical behavior among MIS personnel results from interacting with the storage, processing, and presentation of data and information that may affect people's lives in a wide variety of ways. Woodward et al. (2007) provide many arguments regarding the critical nature of ethics for MIS personnel. Further they show for a sample of students the relationship between ethical decision making and reasoning, leading to a call for both more research into the state of MIS students' ethical processing and manner for conveying processes and content pertaining to ethical decision making and reasoning in the classroom. We would argue that with the pervasiveness and ubiquity of computing in society in general and throughout business, sensitivity to the ethical issues wrought specifically by information and information systems is of relevance not only to MIS majors but to all business students, perhaps to all citizens. For example, the recent collapse of the 'News of the World" has reminded us the importance of ethics in journalism (van Onselen, 2011).

In this paper we present an approach that can be used with MIS majors or with general business or non-business students. It focuses on scenarios that can apply to any individual, rather than focusing on those specifically faced by MIS professionals, such as informing management when projects fall behind. Discussion with MIS students can focus on the results of their decisions and actions, whereas discussions with more general business students can focus on appropriate use of information and IT in society. …

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