Integrated Ethics Labs is an on-going project with the goal of providing professor- and student-friendly ethics labs to be integrated into computer sciene, data science, and statistics courses. We believe, as have others before us, that ethics have become an increasingly important part of the undergraduate education of students in these disciplines.
Furthermore, we believe that ethics studies should be progressive in the following sense:
They should begin by laying a foundation of eithical principles, goals, and frameworks;
They should build on this foundation through all four years of the student experience.
While a particular lab can be used in isolation from all others, our experience shows that laying the groundwork with the first year curriculum prepares the students to gain more from subsequent course-related labs. If you do choose to use a lab in isolation, we recommend that you have the students complete A First Look at Ethics in Computer and Data Sciences as homework prior to presenting the isolated lab.
The first year: Laying a foundation
The first year of the curriculum introduces a toolkit of frameworks for use in evaluating approaches to ethical dilemmas. The use of these framework tools is encouraged throughout the curriculum as a way of pushing students to reason through the big picture and potential solutions rather than simply voicing an impulsive opinion. The most useful framework for a given situation can then be used to support and articulate a more thoughtful opinion.
There are four frameworks presented first in year one and then reinforced in the subsequent years. The first three frameworks are frequently used in ethics textbooks, but we see the use of analogies as complementary.
The virtue ethics framework encourages the student to answer the questions “What approach would a virtuous person take?” and “Which virtues would this decision uphold?”
The utilitarian framework asks the student to consider who this decision would affect and to try to determine if the benefits of the outcome to some outweigh the costs to others. In other words, does the chosen approach bring the most “utility” or happiness to the most people?
The deontological framework informs a decision based on a set of rules such as state laws or religious commandments or a company code of ethics.
Sometimes, before any of these frameworks can be used, it is helpful to just understand the situation better. The computer and data science fields are new enough and dynamic enough that there is limited or no precedence for dealing with a particular situation. This is where an analogy can be helpful. An analogy is saying something is like something else for the purpose of clarification. Generally the concept in the analogy is better understood than the dilemma in question, and might help in understanding the less-familiar predicament.
Applications built on a foundation
Once a foundation has been laid, it supports a better, deeper discussion of subsequent application labs The application labs are designed to fit with the content of particular courses. For example, an ethics lab to be integrated into a Data Analysis course might deal with the potential for unethical choices in data cleaning, while a lab to be integrated into a Software Engineering course might deal with the addictive aspects of certain software products.
Recommendations for using the labs
We recommend that no faculty member be “forced” to present one of the labs.
It is important for the students to see the labs as a significant and integral part of the course. A faculty member who presents the material under duress can influence students negatively.
Recognize that you are presenting material that is interdisciplinary in nature.
While you are the content (computer, statistics, data science) expert, you may not be an expert in ethics. You may feel awkward at times in presenting the ethics side of the lab. However, this makes you an excellent role model for students who are also not ethics experts but who will need to address ethical issues in their future occupations. Comfort will be gained as you present a lab a second or third time and are able to adapt it to your personal style
Let students know that the material covered in the labs will be assessed.
This shows that the material is an integral part of the course, and as we all know, students pay more attention to the material that is “on the test!”
The ethics labs employ a variety of activities, and feedback shows that students find them to be quite engaging. It is often the case that students who rarely speak up in class will be quite vocal with this material. Therefore, while each lab could be completed in about 30 minutes, be prepared to be flexible regarding both the time devoted to the labs and the directions that student conversations may go.
Preparing to lead a lab
Each lab provides to the professor the following:
- Ethics and content knowledge prerequisites
- Learning objectives
- A summary of the lab
- A step-by-step guide for leading the lab
- Student handouts if applicable
- Assessment ideas
While the labs are designed to be somewhat “off-the-shelf”, the best results occur when the professor prepares in the following ways:
- Read the entire lab several times to familiarize yourself with the material
- Print or post online any student handouts
- Adapt the lab for the size and personality of the course.
- If a lab is used without any previous introduction to ethics, we recommend that you have the students complete the A First Look at Ethics in Computer and Data Sciences lab as homework prior to presenting the isolated lab.