Embedding Ethics in Computer Science Courses: Does it Work?

Abstract: Technology is shaping the way people live, work, and interact with each other, and graduates of our computer science programs increasingly find themselves designing algorithms and using data that raise ethical issues they may not be aware of or equipped to address. Courses that contemplate the role of technology in society have been a standard, but often optional, part of curricula for years. An emerging alternative is to embed ethical discussions as modules within CS courses. This approach offers the opportunity to tie ethical issues to technical content at the moment students learn it, and to have students engage with these issues repeatedly throughout their degree. However, little is known about the effect of embedded ethics education on students.

We report on a study examining the impact of a pair of ethics modules embedded into a CS2 course. We describe our pedagogical goals and the strategies employed to realize them, as well as our study. We found that students' interest in ethics and technology, and their confidence in identifying, raising, and discussing ethical issues, increased significantly after completing the modules. The study also demonstrated that we achieved our pedagogical goals. These results show that even a modest intervention can have a positive impact. We hope that the articulation of our pedagogical approach and our assessment results will encourage others to embed ethics modules into their courses, to innovate with respect to embedded ethics pedagogy, and to do principled assessment of what is effective in this emerging area of CS education.

Diane Horton, Sheila A. McIlraith, Nina Wang, Maryam Majedi, Emma McClure, and Benjamin Wald. 2022. Embedding Ethics in Computer Science Courses: Does it Work? In Proceedings of the 53rd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education V. 1 (SIGCSE 2022), March 3–5, 2022, Providence, RI, USA. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 7 pages.