Posts from SIGCSE: Integrating ethics through mock trials

Posted on March 26, 2008


Roxanne Canosa and Joan Lucas discuss ways of integrating ethics into computing teaching (pdf). This is increasingly important for computer science educators as several ABET criteria relate to ethics.

They use a system of mock trials as a teaching technique. They see such trial as like a debate but is more structured; like a case study but includes role playing. Procedures and time limits keep discussion on track.

They provide a framework for students based around potentially real commercial trials or decision making. In one case the student “jury” took the role of directors of a multinational retail organisation deciding whether to require RFID chips in all products. Other students took roles for and against the proposal. Both groups had to consider outcomes on stakeholders (which were assessed to ethical appropriateness).

Another case involved a challenge against a proposal to allow a premium “fast lane” on the internet. Proponents argued for the economic benefit while antagonists argued that access to information is a right.

I was most interested by the questions and answers that followed the presentation. I found them an insight into American education where people are trying to teach ethics somehow divorced from values and beliefs:

Q: Did people buy into this?

A: We had 100% participation

Q: So students picked teams and rooted for them?

A: This happened a bit, but more often students didn’t like the competitive atmosphere

Q: It’s not really a trial is it, no one goes to jail?

A: Not in that sense, but a lot of trials aren’t like that.

Q: How did you deal when people brought up religious arguments?

A: It didn’t arise.

Q: But they must have had beliefs that showed through

A: We tried to get them to be objective and not bring in personal values (personal opinions).

Q: What were your expectations of logic?

A: Logic isn’t a requirement for us, we have to teach it to them in this process.

Posted in: ethics, sigcse