Cultural, Ethical, and Legal Issues in Computing Syllabus- Spring 2021 - York

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Contributed date

May 19, 2021 - 9:00am

Critical Commentary

This syllabus was created for a 400-level class called Cultural, Ethical, and Legal Issues in Computing, offered in Spring 2021, synchronously online via Zoom.

The course is offered within the Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT) ABET-accredited Bachelor of Science program, and includes primarily senior ISAT students, as well as some senior Computer Science majors, for whom this satisfies an ethics requirement. The learning objectives are largely set for the course--although I tweaked the language slightly--but the syllabus is not set.

This was the first time I taught the course, and my main considerations in developing my syllabus were theoretical and pragmatic. Theoretically, I wanted to focus on questions of justice and injustice through an STS lens as much as possible. Pragmatically, I wanted to make this as accessible and engaging as I could for technically oriented seniors on their way to graduation, and I was very cognizant too of the challenging year that the pandemic has been for everyone and that this would be a completely online course.

Although it is only referenced in the syllabus, I designed the course to include a set of case studies developed at Drexel (shared to me by Kelly Joyce, but also posted on the online ethics center being moved to University of Virginia) and a set of broader readings. I saw the case studies as being grounded in the everyday professional lives of software engineers, providing a basis for the course requirement related to professional ethics and engaging students in thinking through concrete situations they might find themselves in very soon. But I also wanted students to engage the larger, societal issues related to computing broadly, to think about justice and flourishing. Most weeks included both a case study reading and a set of readings that engaged these broader questions.

In a class of approximately 21 students, I put the students into three large groups of 7-8. Each of these groups was responsible for leading two of the discussions related to these broader themes. In each case, half of the group would be designated as the presenter group and half were the respondents. The second time the group was responsible, this flipped. These 7-8 students were also responsible for having their cameras on. I referred to this as the "Zoom fishbowl," and it worked very well to make for a lively, well-prepared, engaging discussion.

For their final project, students had to write and present their own case study, using the Drexel case studies as a template.


Emily York



Cite as

Emily York, "Cultural, Ethical, and Legal Issues in Computing Syllabus- Spring 2021 - York", contributed by Emily York, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 15 June 2021, accessed 29 September 2023.