The CS 3604, Professionalism in Computing, Course operates a series of on-line debates each semester. Participation in these debates is restricted primarily to students registered for the course, but public viewing is encouraged. If you wish to view the results of a sample debate click here. This same link will take you to the current debates.
Participants in CS 3604 should start here.
Professor David Batstone of the University of San Francisco also runs on-line ethical debates.
A brief run-down on how to analyse scenarios from Paul-Michael Agapow, incidental doctoral candidate (La Trobe University, Australia):
- Identify the parties : name the people or groups involved and if relevant their position and
relationship with each other. E.g. "Dave, a sophomore", "Mary, an acquaintance of Peters".
- Briefly list the relevant facts : "Peter has legitimately purchased some software and loans it to
Mary for demonstration purposes. Unbeknownst to Peter, Mary makes a copy." Leave out
pointless detail and most anything on opinions and attitude. Do not analyse or make a
- Define the dilemma : a dilemma is a question about the "right-or-wrong" ness of an act that
has been performed or may be. This is usually phrased as a question starting "Was it right for
..." or "What should X do?". There will often be more than one point to the ethical dilemma.
Again, don't analyse or make a judgement yet.
- Formulate the options : remember to present all the options, including ones you disagree with
or will later dismiss. An option has two parts. First is an ethical interpretation of what has
occurred and how the situation now stands, essentially answers to the questions posed in the
previous part. (E.g. "Dave was wrong to hack into ..."). Second, there may be options as to what
course of action to take. We still don't analyse or make a judgement.
- Highlight the values : values are the principles and rights that create the dilemma and that
we use to choose between options. (E.g. "Hacking into the power company is an invasion of
privacy.") We start to analyse here.
- Prioritize values, select option, give rationale : weigh up conflicting values (if there are any)
and decide which ones get precedence. Choose an option from those given above and explain
why you choose that one and not another.
A useful table to help you step through this process is available here.
An alternative view of the Nine
Basic Steps to Personal Ethical Decision Making, from the University of
Washington, may be helpful.
For Teachers wishing to find sample case studies for their own use, click here.
Last updated 2002/02/10
© J.A.N. Lee, 1996-2002.