What is your current practice of teaching ethics to students, both institutionally and individually?

Note that the teaching of ethical standards (not just lists of rules) has at least two elements: What to do, as well as what not to do to be ethical.

Are your students required to take any ethics courses? Are those courses tailored in any way to the concerns of the technorati? Do you bring up ethical consequences of the things you teach? Are you required to? What topics do you think are most important?

What can you recommend to others for giving students some ethical training?

Are students required to buy in to an ethical standard beyond the classroom?

Or do we simply depend on, and hope that, it happens somewhere.

It would be helpful to know which courses you teach that clearly require ethical behavior and how you go about teaching it. For example IoT (Internet of Things) development has clear implications about security and privacy. How do students learn this?


I hadn't really considered teaching this, but one could use the ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, and simply talk through the major points. I looked at the General Moral Imperatives section and it basically boils down to the usual ideas about "doing what you would want to happen" in a situation. If people do not realize that we are in a collective enterprise and that their actions affect everyone, then they need more basic education.

To answer your questions: There is some "soft skills" training here, but I am not involved in presenting it. As far as I know, it is not discussed otherwise and the students are not required to accept any set of principles. I guess we figure that they already have it. My co-instructor referred to ethics as "the things we used to assume everyone already knew." Where and how they used to learn it and who is failing in their responsibility, I do not know.

Gerald M. Weinberg writes about The Platinum Rule (do unto others as they would be done unto) and I can't see that much more needs to be said about ethics, beyond illustrating what could happen if that rule is not followed. It is no different from other fields that have codes of ethics and professionalism. (Except that we can easily influence the lives of millions of people, for good or ill.)

In this reference - Stanford panel debates: Does teaching ethics do any good? - they ask, "can something as personal as ethics be taught in a classroom?" I don't see ethics as personal, any more than physics or finance are. If you know what to do, you can safely assume that any other person who also knows will do the same thing. The only 'personal' factor would be ignorance.

It also says, "teaching students social psychology, rather than moral philosophy, is one of the most effective ways to make them more responsible social actors." I would agree. Finally, one participant said, "When I teach them how to write a philosophy paper, I definitely assume I know better than they do how to write a philosophy paper ... [but] I'm 100 percent certain I am not more virtuous than many of my students. Some of them live much more conscientiously than I do." I don't understand that either: why wouldn't more experience make one more virtuous? As the old saying goes, good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. Shouldn't this be true in all cases?

  • $\begingroup$ I find this question fascinating, and it is yielding a lot of self-examination. But it seems to lead to a conundrum or two: if ethics is subjective, then there is really nothing to say, but if objective, we should be able to reduce it to a set of ideas that apply uniformly. If it is mostly about external factors like safety, then we can describe safe and unsafe things and how to prevent harm. If it is about "doing what is best", then I think it is indescribable, and we just have to wait for people to be self-realized. Maybe train them, like with, say, Buddhism? Or Trans-personal Psychology. $\endgroup$ – user737 Aug 8 '17 at 14:59

IIRC, my shop and chemistry classes included mandatory safety briefings. Many educational institutions have a code-of-conduct with which students are supposed to know and comply. The same should happen and apply if any computing activity might affect student safety, or potentially violate the conduct code.

  • $\begingroup$ I think this was downvoted because it didn't address enough of the question. Anyway, I can understand safety training, because it is not always obvious what can go wrong in a new situation. But I am not sure how there could be ethics training? It would be like training people to be smart, or to predict the results of their actions. Is that teachable? Can we out and out make people better as people? If so, for the love of God, let's get started! $\endgroup$ – user737 Aug 8 '17 at 14:54

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