Why Ethics?


Student Materials


Ethics background required: None. This lab motivates the need for ethics education in computer science and/or data science.

Subject matter referred to in this lab: What do computer scientists/data scientists do?

Placement in overall ethics curriculum:

Time required:

Learning objectives:

Ethical issues to be considered:  This lab briefly considers many ethical issues in computing and data science. The actual issues covered will depend on the professor and class contributions.


Preparation: Read through the entire lab. Make copies of the job descriptions for computer and data scientists. Alternatively, make the descriptions available online.

Guide for Instructors

Lesson plan

Introduction (10 min)

Hand out (or point students to) the list below of jobs that computer and data scientists might be hired to do. Give them a moment to look it over, and ask if they would like to add anything.

Computer Science

Data Science

Activity (15 min)

Read or summarize to students: It should be apparent from the list that computer and data scientists can hold jobs that are very influential in society. With such power, people in these positions can bring great good, or, if they are not careful, great harm. In the next 10 minutes do the following in your group:

Reflection as a class (10 min)

After 10 minutes, return the students to the larger group to share their thoughts. See if an individual can summarize the need to consider carefully how products are designed and data analyzed based on the class discussion.

Here are some suggestions if the students are unable to come up with ideas:

Things that can go wrong:

Things that can make a positive difference:

Wrap up (Read or give to students)

According to author Sara Baase, in her book A Gift of Fire (Baase 2012), “Ethics is the study of what it means to do the right thing.” While this is a simple definition, it turns out that the study of ethics can be a complex topic. However, it is certainly one that computer and data scientists, because of the nature of their work, need to carefully consider as they are trained and then move forward into their careers.

If your university has a plan to use future labs, mention that students will have opportunities in other classes to learn tools to help them as computer/data scientists make ethical decisions on implementations and to anticipate detrimental outcomes.


  1. Name 3 jobs that you as a computer or data scientist could hold in the future

  2. What is ethics?

  3. Give an example of a product design or a data analysis task that could be have positive effects or negative effects on its users depending on how the data scientist, computer scientist, or engineer approached the implementation.

Online teaching

This lesson is easily adapted to an asynchronous online environment where a student would complete the assignment individually and then post some of their ideas while also responding to the ideas of others.


Baase, Sara. 2012. A Gift of Fire. Pearson Education Limited.