For my 2021 scholarly activity, I set for myself a scholarship (Non-Peer reviewed publication) objective. In 2020, I developed and delivered the ‘IT Ethics: Professionalism and Ethics in Computing’ course via FutureLearn. 8,783 learners from more than 168 countries enrolled in this FutureLearn course. The 8,783 learners contributed more than 10,430 overwhelmingly positive comments and gave the course a star rating of 4.7 out of 5. Out of 1,018 learners who completed the IT Ethics end of course survey, 64% said the course was better than they expected and 34% said the course met their expectations. In addition, 96% of the respondents to the IT Ethics end of course survey said ‘Yes’ to the question relating to gaining new knowledge and skills and 74% of the respondents said that they have already applied what they learned in the course.
One of the self-directed activities that the IT Ethics FutureLearn course offered the students was the ability to analyse moral dilemmas depicted in scenarios using four ethical analysis approaches: philosophical theories, the Doing Ethics Technique, the ACS Code of Professional Conduct and the interactive video and action scenarios approach. What was not clear from the comments the learners contributed was which ethical analysis strategy was more effective in facilitating the achievement of the learning outcome –be able to analyse ethical problems in a computing context. This is the question that this scholarly activity tried to address.
The philosophical theories approach to ethics in computing involves developing logical and balanced arguments for the ethical problems that follow sound critical thinking principles. The Doing Ethics Technique is nothing but a series of questions, specifically ten, that can be applied to a scenario or an ethically questionable situation related to computing with the hope that answering the ten questions will at the end of the analysis facilitate the recommendation that can solve the problem in question. The ACS Code of Professional Conduct comprises of six values: The Primacy of the Public Interest; The Enhancement of the Quality of Life; Honesty; Competence; Professional Development; and Professionalism. The Code also lists a series of non-exhaustive requirements explaining how the six values relate to a member’s professional work. These clauses expand and further explain these values. The Interactive video and action scenarios approach highlights a video scenario of an IT professional facing a moral dilemma along with three short outcome videos to show the possible actions to deal with the behaviour and the likely consequence of each action. These interactive YouTube videos enable ICT professionals to make choices and then see how these choices play out.
To find out which ethical analysis strategy was more effective in facilitating the analysis of the ethical problems in a computing context, a machine learning algorithm, specifically Topic Models, was applied on the downloaded learners’ comments associated with the four ethical analysis approaches. The machine learning algorithm, which successfully separated the data in accordance with the ‘approach’ they originally came from, has revealed that the philosophical theories approach was least effective of the four with the three others performed by the learners to a satisfactory level. As the philosophical theories approach is assessed in the ITC506 ‘Topic in IT Ethics’ subject, a decision should be made by the teaching team with regards to the adoption of this approach in the assessment of ITC506. Either discontinue using this approach or continue using it providing students are given ample opportunity to develop the skill. Upon reflection, while this scholarly activity has not revealed which ethical analysis strategy was more effective in facilitating the analysis of the ethical problems in a computing context, the scholarly activity has highlighted the least effective strategy, thereby informing the design of the ITC506 assessments.