Teaching Computer Ethics at Spain and Portugal Universities

AUTHOR
Alexandre Lazaretti, Porfirio Barroso and Gloria Melara

ABSTRACT

This study aims to examine the perceived benefits of teaching Computer Ethics in the computer sciences curriculum. The research focuses on what classroom topics are of greatest interest to instructors, and what pedagogical techniques are most often utilized in the classroom. The research originated1 in the United States in the State of California, and it has been expanded through Spain and Portugal.

The study was conducted through surveys that were sent out to various university professors in the fields of computer sciences and computer engineering at the universities of Spain and Portugal. The survey’s questions address generalities as professor education and experience, curricula of their departments in terms of general requirements and more specific items relating to Computer Ethics and Law. The items of key focus address specific pedagogical techniques employed in the classroom, in terms of their perceived usefulness and their frequency of use. Other key items address issues of general ethics, such as concepts and ethical theories that are specifically addressed in the curriculum.

The objectives of this study were to examine the perceived benefits of teaching Computer Ethics and Law in the fields of information sciences and engineering. The questions guiding this study are “What is taught in Computer Ethics and Law (topics, lessons, discussions) today in the universities of Spain and Portugal? What the professors find most interesting? How this subject is taught (types of teaching techniques)? What are the most successful teaching techniques?”

The methodology used surveys and interviews of university professors in the fields of information sciences ethics, engineering ethics and law. The surveys were first conducted by email, then by phone, and finally, by visiting the universities and departments in the universities of Spain and Portugal. The surveys were sent to all the Information Science and Engineering departments in all universities of Spain and Portugal.

The first part of the survey gathered a rough profile of the professors who answered the survey and their individual opinions about Computer Ethics and Law. In the second part, which is of more importance, the questions focussed on the topics the instructors considered essential for the students to learn ethics. These questions are framed within the analysis of the traditional theories and fundamental concepts of ethics in general. The second part the most common methods used by professors when teaching Computer Ethics and Law, are examined more in depth. The respondents selected the methods that they find most useful for effective learning.

The facts revealed on this study are that only 64 universities on Spain have Faculties or Schools of Computer Science. From these 64 universities 91% responded, drawing the following results: 53 percent of the respondent universities with Computer Science programs do not have Computer Ethics, Computer Law or similar courses. And only the 38 percent of the respondent universities with Computer Science programs have Computer Ethics and/or Computer Law.

The sample of interest is the respondent universities with Computer Science programs that have Computer Ethics and/or Computer Law courses. From this sample the 38 percent of them have a Computer Law course and 33 percent of them have similar course that focus on Compute Law. Similar result of 38 percent of them have Computer Ethics course. The last relevant data is that 17 percent of them have both courses: a Computer Ethics and a Computer Law course.

The facts drawn from the analysis of the data are compared with the previous study make a reference to the past paper. at the state of California. At this stage of the study, the conclusion is that the teaching of Computer Ethics and Law at Spain universities is more often done in a separated course such as Computer Ethics and/or Computer Law.

REFERENCES

Teaching of Computer Ethics at the State of California’s Universities and Other Countries. Challenges for the Citizen of the Information Society. ETHICOMPT 2004. Published by Department of Product and Systems Design Engineering. Syros Greece. April 2004. ISBN 960 – 7475 – 26 -7. pĂ ginas 106-115.

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