Computing Cases Header, Picture of a Keyboard with the text "" printed over it


Teaching Tools

Teaching with Cases

Social Impact Analysis

Computer Ethics Curriculum

Curricula Index

Case Materials



Hughes Aircraft

Ethics in Computing Links

Contact Us

ImpactCS and case based teaching

ImpactCS is a recommended computer ethics curriculum that was constructed from 1994-1998 by a panel of computer scientists, ethicists, and social scientists. We explain ImpactCS in more detail elsewhere. Here we attempt to show how teaching with cases supports the goals outlined by that curriculum.

Impact CS identifies three stages through which students can develop during their undergraduate career:

  1. Awareness of the issues
  2. Evaluation and decision-making
  3. Responsible action

Using ethical approaches together with real world cases promotes development in all three of these stages. First, ethical approaches (like our ethics tests) and socio-technical analysis provide us with schemata that we can use to identify ethical issues and problems embedded in complex, real world situations; this promotes awareness of the issues. The ethics tests and decision-making framework we will present will allow students to practice evaluating, ranking and comparing alternatives of action; this promotes evaluation and decision-making.. Finally, responsible action entails responsiveness to ethical considerations that are embedded in the action situation. By integrating ethical considerations into decision-making in real world cases, students practice a decision-making procedure that is responsive to ethical criteria. This promotes responsible action.

Thus all three levels of development mentioned by the ImpactCS curriculum can be promoted by teaching with cases.

ImpactCS also identifies different ethical and social elements and skills that pertain to professional moral behavior:

Elements of ethical Analysis

ES2.1 Ethical claims can and should be discussed rationally.

ES2.2 Ethical choices cannot be avoided.

ES2.3 Some easy ethical approaches are questionable:

Discussing the cases provided on this website provides an excellent opportunity to practice the principals of ethical analysis. For example, students reach their decisions concerning the cases through a framework that involves the application of ethics tests at several stages. The framework itself is a rational decision procedure that requires students to rationally justify their claims at each step. Furthermore, the cases themselves provide narrative situations that elicit decisions from students. Having students present and justify their decisions creates opportunities to discuss rationally ethical claims. These cases also provide situations where ethical choices are unavoidable; this is especially apparent when students dramatize aspects of the cases and act them out. Finally, students may be constantly tempted during discussion of the cases to take an easy ethical answer like "I am simply the agent of my employer, my only responsibility is to obey orders." These cases show the real harm that these simple approaches can produce.

Basic Skills of Ethical Analysis

ES3.1 Arguing from example, analogy, and counter-example.

ES3.2 Identifying stakeholders in concrete situations.

ES3.2 Identifying ethical issues in concrete situations.

ES3.4 Applying ethical codes to concrete situations.

ES3.5 Identifying and evaluating possible courses of action.

Finally, the cases on this website have been developed to elicit examples, analogies and counter-examples. Since they are real world cases, they provide students with the opportunity to practice identifying ethical issues in concrete situations. Furthermore, they also provide ready means for learning about how to apply ethical codes. Finally, they have been written to elicit decisions at different stages; we provide scenarios that have been interrupted at key moments of decision to allow students (1) to practice designing courses of action using ethical considerations as rules that guide the imagination in the design process, (2) to practice evaluating these alternatives in terms of ethical considerations, and (3) to practice using professional knowledge and skills to implement their decisions in the real world.

Basic elements of Social Analysis

ES4.1 The social context influences the development and use of technology.

ES4.2 Power relations are central in all social interaction.

ES4.3 Technology embodies the values of the developers.

ES4.4 Populations are always diverse.

ES4.5 Empirical data are crucial to the design and development processes.

Doing the socio-technical analysis in these cases covers all of the ImpactCS elements of social analysis. Some of the exercises we provide also give practice in recognizing the important of the elements (e.g. the issues of power in the cases).

Basic Skills of Social Analysis

ES5.1 Identifying and interpreting the social context of a particular implementation.

ES5.2 Identifying assumptions and values embedded in a particular system.

ES5.3 Evaluating, by use of empirical data, a particular implementation of a technology.

Again, most of these items are well covered when one analyzes a case from this site in any depth. The only item not well covered is ES5.3, in which students are asked to use empirical data (the way computer-human-interaction professionals do) to analyze a system.