Within the Faculty of Computing Sciences and Engineering, the decision was taken some four years ago to develop a multi-campus, specialist CE module that was to be offered as an option to final year undergraduate students. The module grew out of one person's developing area of interest in professional issues in computing as well as an impending reaccreditation by the BCS.

At the time of development, it was appropriate to make the module optional and this has continued to be the case while it has been offered on each of three university campuses (two located within the UK and one in another European country).

Ethical concepts and consideration of ICT as a discipline provide a necessary philosophical foundation for this module, and it draws heavily upon the research activity mainly centred within the UK. As such, students consider in detail how the development of ICT systems necessarily encompass an ethical dimension and consider their own values in relation to this as potential computer professionals.

Tutors located on each of the three campuses deliver the module during the same time period, and students are expected to achieve identical learning outcomes. Such learning outcomes are subsequently assessed through coursework and examination weighted at 30/70% respectively (see Appendix B).

In order to achieve the prescribed learning outcomes, as well as trying to meet issues related to distributed delivery, a great deal of consideration had to be given as to how the quality and equitability of provision could be supported and evaluated across geographically dispersed campuses. Initially, therefore, learning and teaching strategies underwent perhaps more scrutiny and consideration because of the differing contexts that would inevitably impact delivery.

A further issue lay in the sensitivity of the actual subject area itself for computer science students. For example, such students were still largely encouraged to adopt a scientific, "objectivist" approach to problem solving in developing software solutions to what are deemed to be definable business problems. Therefore, some staff and students largely perceived CE and similar philosophical or abstract subjects to be of rather less value than the more technical, more obviously career-related subjects.

Nevertheless, it was felt to be extremely important to develop the module, to "sell" it to the students and to get them to experience "first hand" some of the issues in using ICT. This was primarily because these students were to become the computer professionals of the future who would inevitably hold tremendous responsibility in this role. As such, it was perceived they needed to be aware of the social and ethical implications of their activities and then be willing to set standards that lead to safe and useful systems development and application.

Initial consideration was, therefore, given to identifying the prime learning outcomes and then to determine the most appropriate teaching strategies to be adopted for achieving these. Such an approach stemmed from prevailing standard practice for module development but was also underpinned by a shared belief that the social construction of knowledge was appropriate for learning. (Two members of the team are approaching education from an Information Systems (IS) perspective and one of these specialised in the Philosophy of Education as part of their studies for their first degree.)

Learning Outcomes

In determining the learning outcomes, it seemed reasonable to contend that one of the primary objectives would concern measurable development of a student's ability with regard to moral judgement related to the application and development of ICT.

Kohlberg's (1969, 1972) research has, in fact, suggested there are a number of stages of moral development and that the highest stage of this (Level III, Stage 6) requires formulating abstract ethical principles and then upholding them to avoid self-condemnation. Furthermore, that movement from one stage to the next involves students undertaking an internal cognitive reorganization rather than simple acquisition of the moral concepts prevalent in their culture (Kohlberg, 1972).

Thus, heightening students' awareness of other cultures' morals and beliefs as well as considering appropriate use/abuse and limitations of the technology is highly relevant to the teaching of CE.

Additionally, at final year undergraduate level, it is also expected that students should not only take more responsibility for their own learning but also that they should clearly demonstrate reflection upon their collective and individual activity.

Thus, the primary learning outcomes were to promote deep learning that would lead to development of moral judgement related to the appropriate application and development of ICT.

Learning and Teaching Strategies

With regard to the teaching strategies that could be employed to achieve the learning outcomes, it was recognized that these were potentially quite diverse even though they might necessarily be constrained by expectations of the various stakeholders such as the institution, the students, society, funding councils and government agencies. Thus, the primary aim was to determine which strategies would be the most appropriate to meet stakeholders' needs.

Research of the literature at the time the module was first being developed indicated that the few tutors currently teaching in the area tended to use both traditional knowledge dissemination approaches (typified by large group lectures) and small-group seminar sessions (primarily used to discuss prepared scenarios relating to issues such as privacy, autonomy, freedom of speech and codes of conduct).

While delivering lectures is a fairly traditional, objectivist and often maligned, approach it is still widely adopted in HE organisations. Interestingly, Campo, Barroso and Weckert (2001) recently discovered that the lecture situation was not, in fact, as unpopular with the students as many might assume. Indeed, they propose "the ideal ‘Informatics Deontology’ course would be based mainly on role playing, accompanying the explanations mostly with lectures by outside professionals and by academics from other departments." They also reveal that one of the "highest scoring techniques was role playing, through which ‘students learn to collaborate with others to achieve wise solutions to difficult problems (Loui, 1999)" (Campo et al., 2001). Fleischman (2001) seems also to have successfully adopted the use of role-playing coupled with assignment writing to facilitate student engagement with a CE module. However, of further interest is the fact that Campo et al. (2001) felt that one of the lower scoring methods—small group discussions—should be one of the techniques to be excluded.

Other research has, however, suggested that "dialogue is an important aspect of a rich learning experience," particularly in complex, discursive domains (Ohlsson, 1996; Voss, 1996; Laurillard, 1993) and that "learning can occur not only through participation in dialogue but also through observing others participating in it" (Stenning, McKendree, Lee & Cox, 1999; Gokhale, 1995).

In a related idea called the "reflective model" of education (Lipman, 1991), the conclusion is drawn that "the community of inquiry, especially when it employs dialogue, is the social context most reliable for the generation of higher-order thinking" (McKendree, Stenning, Mayes, Lee & Cox, 1997; Lim, Ward, & Benbasat, 1997). Thus as Leidner and Jarvenpaa (1993) note "Smith (1989) suggests that when students are actively engaged in a discussion, there is a greater likelihood of creative and critical, as opposed to factual, thinking." Davies (2001) further notes, "deep learning" "is based on active involvement of the student in the learning material. Analysis and construction of the relationship of concepts leads to understanding." This is as opposed to the "surface" approach to learning that is typified by routine memorization and, hence, lack of reflection.

Discussion, whether entered into or simply observed, was therefore perceived to be very relevant to the teaching of CE in that the primary learning outcome was for students to engage in "deep" learning in order to develop a higher stage of moral development.

Fleischman (2001) also lends further support to the adoption of this type of approach when he notes, there is a "need to engage the imaginative and empathetic powers of participating students in thinking about situations in which ethical conflicts may arise."

It is recognized, however, that there are a number of issues surrounding this as Lee, Dineen and McKendree (1998) note—while "dialogue is an essential component of learning, particularly in complex, discursive domains" that "with increasing class sizes and the move towards more and more computer-based courses, this component is ever-decreasing and in danger of disappearing completely." Leidner et al. (1993) report, in fact, that research on within class activity at the college level discovered that only 17% involved higher-order discussion.

Module Delivery and Development

Thus, having considered the relevant research literature, the desired learning outcomes and the various strategies for achieving these the framework for delivery was originally structured around the use of both the lecture and small group discussion sessions. The lectures mainly focused upon giving students a basic understanding of the main teleological (utilitarian) and deontological (duty/rights based) ethical theories as well as an appreciation of normative principles defined as being "non-maleficence" (above all do no harm), "autonomy" (respecting the individual as an end in themselves) and "informed consent" (agree knowing the facts).

The aim of underpinning the module with appropriate philosophical theory was to provide students with an objective and prescribed framework within which they could conduct their analysis in order to achieve a morally justified conclusion. The particular strategy recommended to students was taken from the mandatory text for the module, written by Richard Spinello (1995).

At this early stage, the technologies used to support delivery of the module were in terms of using Powerpoint lecture slides and email plus development of a Web site to give an outline of the module complete with links to a variety of relevant resources. Students were also directed to undertake extensive additional reading of relevant books and journal/conference papers.

Small group discussions were initially undertaken solely in face-to-face (f2f) seminar sessions that were, of course, potentially subject to a variety of constraints. For example, many educationalists realize that active involvement cannot necessarily be guaranteed in general f2f seminars for, as Fleischman (2001) points out, "in classroom discussion, it is not routinely possible to depend on a lively diversity of viewpoints when engaging a particular text, case study or issue."

In addition, it is also fairly widely accepted that there are a variety of factors that impact upon how individuals within groups interact. For example, group size, context of the situation, knowledge of the subject area, learning style, confidence, motivation and the like are just a few of the multitudinous variables that may affect group dynamics and subsequent interaction.

Therefore, as the module developed, it was perceived that further judicial deployment of technology may help to overcome both these and some of the other issues that were being identified. These other issues primarily related to developing students' confidence in discussing ethical issues openly (i.e., widening participation) as well as ensuring equality of provision on each of the three campuses. For example, use of the technology might, it was felt, encourage those students who would not normally participate in f2f discussion to either contribute or, at least, undertake more reflection upon the activity.

It was also noted that f2f discussions would necessarily be impacted by the prevailing local culture therefore simple campus-based contact did not seem fully appropriate for meeting the learning outcomes of the module in that students could not then become aware of differing viewpoints from a variety of cultures.

Thus, it was perceived that the potential existed for using technology to impact learning outcomes and "push back the threshold imposed by the constraints" of f2f discussion. "This being achieved by opening up new media for discourse that are not subject to the same delivery bottlenecks as traditional methods (OECD, 1996)" (Lee et al., 1998).

Thus, a proposal was made to investigate technologies that might facilitate both discussion and role-playing within a virtual but monitored environment across all of the campuses.

Investigation into the Use of Technology

As noted by Leidner et al. (1995), technologies can serve to fulfil one of four purposes aligned to different models of learning. They note, for example, that technologies that serve "the automation function are closely aligned with objectivist theory, in which case the instructor remains the center of attention and in control of the learning process." Such use was, of course, being exemplified through the use of the Powerpoint lecture slides. Leidner et al. (1995) further suggest that technologies may also be used to "informate up." This they define as using technology to "assist the instructor as the nucleus of class activity" as well as "to improve the information an instructor receives concerning student comprehension of material."

However, the use of technology most appropriate for the aims and objectives of teaching CE seemed to lie in what Leidner et al. (1995) describe as using technologies to "informate down" or to "transform." Such use places much of the control of the content and pace of learning in the hands of students. Thus, as they note, "the purpose of instruction then moves away from knowledge dissemination towards knowledge creation."

Leidner et al. (1995) then determine that the technologies that support the "informate down" approach include such things as the creation of learning networks, use of simulations/virtual reality and synchronous conferencing. However, in a geographically dispersed but campus-based environment, it seemed most appropriate to use the technology to "transform" the organization and thereby shift the locus of control away from the tutor. As Leidner et al. (1995) suggest, "in the context of education, the vision to transform would involve using IT (1) to redraw the physical boundaries of the classroom, (2) to enable more teamwork, (3) to allow learning to be a continuous time-independent process, and (4) to enable multi-level, multi-speed knowledge creation." They further note that "the notion of virtual learning spaces begins to operationalize these assumptions" and that "virtual learning spaces are those that link geographically dispersed students with no time constraints."

Thus, using technology to provide a virtual learning space not only seemed to fit the preferred socio/cultural, co-operative models of learning but also seemed appropriate to achieving the desired learning outcomes. Leidner et al. (1995) then determine that "the simplest virtual learning spaces are founded on electronic mail and electronic bulletin boards."

Upon investigation, however, much of the literature regarding use of electronic bulletin boards/asynchronous computer-mediated conferencing has largely been related to its use with adult, part-time, distance learning students and the emphasis on the tutor within this context has very much been to become a competent e-moderator. A typical example recommending this sort of approach can be seen in the work of Salmon (2000).

It was felt that such an approach, once again, simply reflected models of learning illustrated by the cognitive apprenticeship model, or Laurillard's (1993) proposed conversational framework. Within each of these models or frameworks, it can be perceived that much of the dialogue (or conversation) is expected to take place between the tutor and the student. For example, socialization then "occurs as a result of interaction with a ‘reference group’ consisting of peers, teachers and clients, which sets and enforces standards and forms a yardstick against which the novice may evaluate their own performance (Pavalko, 1971, p.89)" (Davies, 2001).

In that sense, it seemed, therefore, simply to perpetuate the role model of the "expert" or "teacher" within the learning situation and did not, as a likely consequence, support greater student responsibility. One of the problems is, as Jacques notes, that "the teacher who is an incurable helper, in satisfying one of his or her basic needs, may fail to develop the student's capacity for self-growth into greater autonomy and responsibility" (Jacques, 1995, p. 17). Thus it was perceived that this did not really represent either the "ethos" of the module nor did it promote what was felt to be the much more appropriate collaborative, learning community approach similar to that proposed by Illich (1974) and Vygotsky et al. (1978), which would necessarily signal a different paradigm for learning.

Such paradigms propose that students should interact with each other, should socially construct their own meaning and thus take responsibility for this within their own community of learning. In this sense, the concern was that students should be empowered to take responsibility for and reflect upon their own collaborative learning within a wider context – i.e., across different locations and cultures. This, therefore, seemed to accord with what might be deemed to be an ethical approach to the learning context as particular regard was being taken to respecting the rights and autonomy of each and every student.

It was, therefore, to promote what Campo et al. (2001) more recently propose as the "active apprenticeship" model that the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) was subsequently piloted in September 1999 on one campus only. Within this model, it was envisaged that students would be cast in the role of self-regulating "pioneers" in what was to be, for them, a new environment—similar to that fictionally described in the novel "Lord of the Flies" (Golding, 1975) or as depicted by Deborah Johnson's (1994) "newly discovered island."

Implementing the Technology

Issues to be addressed in setting up the system included: determining which VLE technology might be appropriate; developing staff skills to enable them to access; "populate" and structure the environment; deciding upon the resources to be provided as well as in determining how to integrate and manage the discussion forum in support of actual module delivery. As the intention was to introduce the technology using an ethically aware approach, there were a number of other issues that necessarily had to be considered. For example, issues of privacy and access primarily stemmed from the fact that students were expected to use the system. Furthermore, their contribution to the discussion area could not be anonymous and all of their activity would be automatically tracked by the system.

Further issues of a more technical nature stemmed from the choice of the actual technology to be used. At this stage, it was felt that detailed evaluation of the technology was not a prime issue but rather as Alavi and Leidner (2001) note, "It is the mutual influence of technology features, instructional strategy, and psychological process that impacts learning outcomes in a given context" that is of prime importance. Therefore, as various comparative evaluations had commented favourably upon the use of WebCT as a VLE (ULT Canada, 1999; McKenna & Bull, 1999; Wisdom Tools, 1997) plus the fact that this was the particular software that was readily available upon each of the three campuses this was the technology adopted to supplement the normal f2f contact sessions. Resources provided for within the WebCT environment initially took the form of providing links to relevant journal papers, provision of a course outline that identified both learning outcomes as well as an indication of the content of each lecture and tutorial session, reading lists, links to video resources and lecture notes together with the discussion forum itself. Students were then registered onto the system and were variously encouraged by tutors within the f2f sessions to use the WebCT resources as they felt appropriate.

Postings to the conference by students were, however, to be on a purely voluntary basis as the belief was that making this a requirement would necessarily change the environment and impose a variety of undesirable constraints. Similarly, it was decided that contributions would not be assessed because this would, again, impact usage. Thus, the intention was to provide a forum, as Alavi et al. (2001) note, "for learners to generate responses, thus, directly engaging and facilitating the psychological processes required for learning in this context." However, in order to provide some positive encouragement, tutors initially posted scenarios into the system to "pump prime" discussions. One of the original intentions in doing this was to replace some of the f2f tutorials. However, this did not prove to be very popular among the students. Therefore, all scheduled f2f lectures and seminars were undertaken. Notably, the specified Spinello scenario discussions were then continued within the virtual environment in addition to other diverse issues being raised. These included scenarios relating to such things as Intellectual Property Rights, Hacking/Cracking, Worms/Viruses, Surveillance, Privacy, Cookies, Abuses of the Web (cyberstalking, flaming, and the like) plus other social and cultural impacts of ICT. During the delivery period of the module, all accesses to the WebCT environment were tracked and the following results were gained for the discussion forum:

Student Contribution—1999

Total Student Numbers



Total Student Contributions

Contributions by Gender





Male = 42

Female = 7

19 male students and 4 female students contributed towards the discussion in total.

On analysis of the patterns of contribution, these were found, perhaps not surprisingly, to produce "star" networks wherein the focus revolved around the tutor's original contribution.

Before starting the next session, in February 2000, it had been decided that a different strategy needed to be adopted in order to prompt usage of the conferencing system and to attempt to integrate use of the system into the teaching of the module. Thus, an introductory exercise was proposed by way of an initial posting by the tutors into the discussion area. This exercise required that the students devise a Code of Conduct for implementation within the conferencing environment. Despite several iterations of this exercise, no finalised Code of Conduct has yet been produced. Further tutor postings were deliberately restricted but usage by the students during this delivery period was extensive as illustrated in the following table:

Student Contribution—2000

Total Student Numbers



Total Contributions

Contributions by Gender





Male = 642

Female = 52

As the tutors refrained from posting into the discussion area during this period different patterns of networking were evident. Some students inevitably were notable in starting threads of discussion but generally these did not lead to the "star" network seen when the tutors posted ideas. However, a further pattern emerged that seemed to suggest that while initial use of the conference was relatively focussed and relevant that mid-term there was a degeneration into general inappropriate use including "flaming." At this stage, some students became anxious and reported this to tutors who took action in the f2f sessions to address the problem. Following such action, the discussion then became much more relevant and focussed with students clearly developing their analytical skills and moral judgement evidenced through more appropriate and reflective contribution.

In 2001, in an attempt to further link or embed use of the conferencing context within the f2f activity, students were encouraged to perceive the virtual environment of the conference as a microcosm of the Internet itself. For example, students were encouraged to draw certain parallels between the two contexts in that the conferencing environment (as with the Internet) was virtual, everyone had access to it and everyone had the freedom to express their own views. This also gave ample opportunity for tutors to relate ethical issues discussed in the f2f sessions to activities/discussions that were undertaken within the virtual environment. In order to facilitate a common approach among all of the tutors, a "briefing" sheet was developed and distributed. This also recommended that tutors simply monitor the conference activity and completely refrain from posting messages into it.

Student Contribution—2001

Total Student Numbers



Total Contributions

Contributions by Gender





Male = 155

Female = 14

Contribution to the discussion during this period was predominantly undertaken by two male students on one of the campuses (63 postings by one student and 62 by one other). Only two female students from any of the campuses made any contribution and there were no contributions made by any non-UK based students. The pattern of contribution was again quite different to those noted in the previous experiments but discussions were relevant and continued to indicate improved analysis and reflection on the part of students.


Upon completion of each module delivery period, students have been required to complete an evaluation of the use of the conferencing system in support of their learning. In general, students have consistently commented very favourably on the inclusion of the computer conferencing resource. Primary among their comments was the fact that they felt that one of the major benefits for them had been the fact that they could access the discussion at times and places to suit themselves. Another positive outcome was that the students appreciated the fact that they could have time to reflect upon both their own ideas as well as views of their peers in developing their personal moral stance.

As the development of the teaching of CE is subject to ongoing research, students were also required to complete profiles that indicated their individual learning styles, group behaviour as well as moral judgement. Such profiles have then been used to try to identify some of the variables that might impact on approaches to and interactions with the computer conferencing context. Staff feedback has also been sought and generally this has proved positive towards the use of technology to support delivery of the module. The remaining issue is still, however, to determine the most effective way of engaging students with the module and how best to integrate use of the technology into appropriate techniques to facilitate this. As Leidner et al. (1993) note "the success of computers in education depends on how well they are integrated with the instructional objectives."

Whether or not the use of asynchronous conferencing has helped students to develop their moral judgement in a way that would not have been possible using only the traditional f2f approaches does, however, remain difficult to determine without reference to a control group. However, evidence from the discussions and feedback from each cohort demonstrates that students appreciate the opportunity for engaging with the module outside of normal time/contact constraints. That through discussion and reflection and actual use of the technology that their understanding improves and that they benefit through exchange of ideas with students outside of their own local culture and environment. This latter was evidenced by the improving quality of discussion undertaken in both the virtual and f2f context.

Annals of Cases on Information Technology
SQL Tips & Techniques (Miscellaneous)
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 367 © 2008-2017.
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