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Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences

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Although ethics is often viewed as an academic specialism or an add-on to training programmes in technology and science, it is in fact an area of the utmost relevance to professionals and, indeed, everyone. This free course, Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences, draws upon examples taken from dialogues, plays and the media to discuss ethics and ethical issues within the context of Information and Computer Sciences. The course explores the importance of language and the role of rhetoric in everyday ICS practice, providing a resource of interest to ICS students and professionals alike.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • discuss what ethics is and what constitutes an ethical issue
  • identify and discuss ethical issues that arise in the media, in routine conversations and, in particular, in personal everyday professional practice
  • discuss the role of emotions in ethical deliberations
  • discuss how negotiation might resolve apparent ethical differences
  • identify and discuss the ethical issues presented and rhetorical styles used in play and dialogue excerpts, with focus on explaining how language is used to alter other people's ethical perceptions and convince them of specific points.

By: The Open University

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Introducing Ethics in Information and Computer Sciences


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Ethics is an established area of academic interest, but it is only fairly recently that the relevance of ethics to Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) started to emerge clearly outside philosophical studies. Professional bodies in Engineering and ICS have begun to require, as a condition for accreditation, the study of ethics-related topics, and, partially in response to these requirements, new pedagogies for teaching and learning these topics are gradually emerging.

This course explores the idea that drama and dialogue provide powerful tools to help ICS students and professionals to identify, discuss and understand the role of ethics in their professional practice. The core of the course is based upon discussion of a selection of plays and dialogues that raise ethical questions of relevance to professionals. The examples also represent different styles of argumentation and, hence, illustrate the relevance of rhetoric to professional practice in ICS. Although the course introduces some ideas taken from academic texts in the area of ethics, it does so to provide learners with a shared vocabulary that can be used for practical analysis and discussion of ‘real’ problems.

‘Introducing ethics in Information and Computer Sciences’ has been created to provide a predominantly self-contained resource including a mix of materials on different media. The last section in the course, however, revolves around the analysis of a play script – Joe Penhall's Landscape with Weapon – which we are unable provide online as it is currently subject to copyrights restrictions. To derive maximum benefit from the course, we strongly recommend that you obtain a copy of the play. Crucially, although the course has been tentatively designed to be read and studied independently, the authors strongly believe that group discussions provide the best context for exploring the materials, so, if you are studying this material online, we recommend that you use the course forum to share your views with other learners. Also, please use the course forum to leave comments and feedback you might like to share with the authors: we will be most grateful for you thoughts!

Bearing in mind that one of the aims of this course is to develop awareness of ethical issues in different contexts, we suggest the use of a learning journal not only as a note-taking device, but also as a file to register experiences and thoughts on conversations as well as readings outside the course (e.g. newspapers).

The course is based upon a conceptual framework developed by Professor John Monk, and it capitalises on the lessons and feedback gathered during a trial course run by the authors in 2008 with a small group of volunteers using FM, the Web 2.0 videoconferencing tool available on OpenLearn. The course is available in various formats for download and reuse within the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike 2.0 License. The authors very much hope that learners and colleagues will not only profit from but also build on this work: we acknowledge the course as a first draft initially shared over the Web but, nevertheless, deserving of further development.

Find out more about studying with The Open University by visiting our online prospectus [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

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