Joe Oldham (pdf) has a different take on introducing ethics to computing students an issue that is “necessary but problematic”. Instead of covering the theory he uses a topical approach: cyberporn.
He sees this approach as a solution to a problem where one option to include ethics is the blending into technical courses which has problems of a lack of curricula space and a context switch for students. The other option is a monolithic course on ethics but this has the problem of
thank goodness that’s over, now can I get back to programming?
Joe uses approach of a short but in-depth course on a topical issue, he chose cyberporn from a list of candidate topics. He makes the point that the students, being fledgling computer scientists, are in a unique position to draw connections to other courses. Cyberporn raises specific social issues connecting to a range of broader questions about computing and society:
cyberporn illustrates that coherent policy discussion depends on understanding of technology
Joe reports that a useful sesssion was held in attempting to define pornography; in discussing what makes cyberporn different. In these areas the class had a good debate based on a good critical reading experience of good literature. Topical learning opportnities arose with publity surrounding campus magazines (Campus Exposure NYT 2007).
Oldham reports that the class was intense. Not once did he have to redirect a discussion “to keep it safe”. More of an issue was a lack of sound sources on the business side of cyberporn. A latent issue is a lack of a framework for discussing this material, there is little in the was of content analysis.
Q: Intellectual property as similar topic. A: students tired of talking about it.
Q: Other areas? A: Additive video games, social networking
Q: To what extent does this single topic transfer to wider ethics? Do you make the links explicit?
A: made links, eg privacy, viewing at work etc.
Q: did you have to reign in discussions
A: expected large number of double en tendres – simply didn’t happen.