Syllabus: CSE 3981 Social and Ethical Issues in Computing

Dr. J. Edward Swan II <>
Fall 2010
Course Time and Location
Mon, 1:00 pm–1:50 pm, 104 Butler Hall (usually)
Wed, 1:00 pm–1:50 pm, 104 Butler Hall (weeks when Mon is a holiday)
Office Hours and Location
Mon and Wed, 4:45 pm–6:00 pm, 104 Butler Hall
Course Prerequisites
Senior standing
Catalog Description
One hour lecture.  Study of major social and ethical issues in computing, including history of computing, impact of computers on society, and the computer professional's code of ethics.
Course Goals
Students will develop an awareness of their responsibilities and duties as computing professionals.  Students will also acquire an appreciation for the history of the computing discipline and their place in it.  They will analyze the social implications of the rapid computerization of our culture.  They will also consider various computer crimes, how these crimes arise, and methods for preventing them.  In addition, students will argue both sides of various computing-related issues and controversies.  Finally, students will formulate their own code describing their moral and ethical responsibilities as computing professionals, and compare it to other major computer ethics codes.
Required Text
Michael J. Quinn, Ethics for the Information Age (4th edition), Pearson/Addison Wesley, Boston, MA, 2011.

Class Format

By your senior year, you, as an emergent computer professional, should have developed enough of an understanding of and identification with your field to understand and accept its code of ethics.  This course will be taught mostly by you and your fellow students, as a seminar.  In the seminar environment, we hope that you will try to thrash out these important social issues yourself, justifying to yourself and internalizing the ethical attitudes of responsible members of your chosen profession.  This course will require you to present formal oral presentations, write short "my opinion" papers, and participate in informal weekly discussions.  For the final exam you will write a case study paper.  The goal of these assignments is to help you consider important ethical dimensions of computing, as you move from the protected academic environment to the real world of your first professional full-time employment after graduation. 

Covered Topics

  1. Philosophical bases for computer ethics
  2. Reliability and safety of computer systems
  3. Protecting software and other intellectual property
  4. Privacy and information
  5. Computer crime and legal issues
  6. Computers and social issues
  7. Issues on the impact and control of computer technology
  8. Professional codes of ethics (ACM and IEEE)

Grading Scale

90%–100% A
80%–89% B
70%–79% C
60%–69% D
0%–59% F

Graded Activities

Oral Presentation: 30%
My Opinion Papers: 30%
Final Case Study Paper: 30%
Class Participation: 10%

Oral Presentation:

Each student will make a ~20-minute oral presentation to the class during the semester, and will then lead the class discussion on this topic for the rest of the class session.  This presentation will be concerned with one of the sub-areas under discussion on the day of his or her oral presentation and should consist of a summary of and introduction to the material being discussed.

Students will be assigned a topic from those listed in the course outline.  Students will research their topics, take notes, outline their talk, and prepare a presentation using visual aids such as slides.  On the scheduled date, each student will deliver their talk, and then lead the discussion during the rest of the class.  Students will turn in their slides after their talk. 

You will be graded on the depth and originality of your analysis of the topic; the number and quality of your bibliographic citations; the organization, clarity, and persuasiveness of your class presentation; the effectiveness of your visual aids, and how appropriately you use your time.

My Opinion Papers:

Each student will write 6 short (~500 words) "my opinion" papers on various topics that arise during the class discussion.  These papers will express your personal position regarding a computer ethics topic.  Each paper should  include (1) a clear statement of your opinion, (2) a well-reasoned discussion of the factors involved in the issue and a justification of why you hold your opinion, with (3) reference to one or more philosophical theories of ethics.  The instructor will suggest various topics for the my opinion papers, but students may also select their own topics.

Since a student's opinion cannot be judged to be "right" or "wrong", these papers will be graded on how thoroughly and deeply the issue is analyzed and explored and on how well the student expresses and defends their ideas.  The papers will also be graded on the proper use of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Each my opinion paper will have an announced due date; late my opinion papers will not be accepted.

Final Case Study Paper:

The final exam for this class will be a case study paper, approximately 5 to 10 pages in length.  The paper must discuss a case that is relevant to our study of computer ethics.  The goals of the paper are to summarize the case, analyze it, and discuss your reaction to it.  This paper will be due at the beginning of the last regular class meeting. 

Class Participation:

This part of the grade will depend upon attending class and participating in the class discussion.  Each unexcused absence will cost 2 points of participation grade; up to a total of 10 points for 5 unexcused absences. 

Students who are auditing the course must attend at least 75% of the class meetings in order to receive a passing grade.

Exceptional Circumstances

A student who misses class or is late with an assignment, and who feels their situation is due to exceptional circumstances, should immediately discuss the matter with the instructor, and the instructor may waive the late penalty and/or grant an appropriate extension.

Writing Assistance

From Technical Communication Tutors: The Shackouls Technical Communication Program provides writing tutors each semester to assist you with all writing-related issues, from routine writing assignments for your classes to senior-design reports, theses, and job-application materials.  You may email electronic copies of your documents in Word or PDF form to the writing tutors for them to check; be sure to submit them early enough for the tutors to be able to return your papers prior to the due date. 

From Each Other: You may also partner with others in the class to proof-read each other's papers.  Any writer will tell you that proof-reading is an excellent way to improve your own writing.  However, you must ensure that proof-reading does not cross the line and become writing your fellow student's paper for them; this would constitute academic misconduct. 

Academic Honesty / Misconduct and Collaboration

In this course, students are expected to uphold the Mississippi State University Honor Code:

"As a Mississippi State University student I will conduct myself with honor and integrity at all times. I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor will I accept the actions of those who do."

Upon accepting admission to Mississippi State University, a student immediately assumes a commitment to uphold the Honor Code, to accept responsibility for learning, and to follow the philosophy and rules of the Honor Code.  Students will be required to state their commitment on examinations, research papers, and other academic work.  Ignorance of the rules does not exclude any member of the MSU community from the requirements or the processes of the Honor Code.

Students are also expected to maintain the standards of academic honesty that are described in the CSE Department's Undergraduate Studies Academic Honesty Policy (CSE 4833).  These are important policies.  Not only will violators fail to learn the course material, but violators will receive an "XF" in this course, and will otherwise be handled according the CSE Department's Undergraduate or Graduate Studies Academic Honesty Policies, as well as the Academic Operating Policy and Procedure of Mississippi State University.

As a professor at Mississippi State University, I am required to report all incidents of academic misconduct.

In terms of academic misconduct, in this course there are two primary dangers: (1) using somebody else's writing as your own, and (2) failing to properly cite your sources. 

Right to Change

I reserve the right to change the course policies or schedule in order to facilitate instruction.  Any such changes will be discussed in class and updated on the course web site.

Additional Policies

Personal Electronic Devices: Students must respect their fellow students and not disrupt class. Therefore, cell phones, pagers, other such alarms, or personal conversations which disturb the lecture are not allowed.  Students with personal laptops are encouraged to bring them to class; however, laptops are not required for this course.

Grade of Incomplete (I): Following MSU policy, incomplete grades will only be given in extreme circumstances, such as illness, death in a student's immediate family, or similar circumstances beyond a student's control.

No Food or Drinks in Class: It is the CSE department's policy that you can't eat or dink in Butler Hall classrooms.

Email: When I send class-related email, I will use your email address. 

Drop / Add Policy: This class follows Mississippi State University's Official Drop/Add Policy:

A.   Add/Drop without penalty — A student has through the fifth class day into the semester to drop a course and through the sixth class day to add a course without being assessed a fee or academic penalty.

B.   Drop after the fifth class day through the 30th class day into the semester — A student who elects to drop a course during this period must receive the approval of his/her advisor, will be assigned a W on his/her academic record, and be assessed a fee.  The advisor who permits the drop will specify its effective date. 

C.   Drop after the 30th class day into the semester — A student cannot drop courses after this period except in documented cases of serious illness, extreme hardship, or failure of the instructor to provide significant assessment of his/her performance.   A request to drop a course during this period must be approved by the student’s advisor and academic dean.  The dean who permits the drop will specify its effective date.  A student receiving permission to drop will receive a W on his/her academic record and be assessed a fee.

D.  Faculty are expected to provide a student with significant evidence or assessment of his/her class performance within the first 30 class days of the semester.

Last modified: November 26, 2010