The Impact of using Computer Supported Collaborative Learning Tools on Moral Reasoning in A Multi-Institutional Computer Ethics Module


Frances Grodzinsky (USA), Joe Griffin (Ireland) and Pat Jefferies (England)


Concerns about the increased use and abuse of information technology have evolved into more formalized evaluations of computer ethics in many organizations. This trend extends to most of the universities where there has been an attempt to integrate professional ethics or computer ethics into computer science/information technology curricula. However, whilst a degree of commonality in topics and classroom methods exists in this subject area, little formal evaluation of the effects of collaborative learning on students’ moral reasoning has been undertaken. This is of great concern, since the interpretive nature of moral reasoning suggests that it may be particularly susceptible to social influence. (Francis, 1990). Traditionally, of course, the sphere of social influence that students have been privy to has, to varying extents, been somewhat limited by physical factors such as their geographical location. Now, however, with global access facilitated by ICT such factors pose far fewer barriers to influences from other societies and cultures. It was felt, therefore, that through the appropriate deployment of networked ICT social influence could be significantly widened and then, as a consequence, effects that this may have upon moral reasoning might then be investigated and evaluated.

In order, therefore, to evaluate how collaborative learning may or may not affect moral reasoning skills, the authors have designed a multi-institution study that uses Blackboard, a collaborative management tool, in support of the learning experience. This study involves students in three universities: University of Limerick in Ireland, De Montfort University in England and Sacred Heart University in the USA. First, the authors will describe the implementation of virtual groups that comprise students from the three institutions as well as evaluating their use of collaborative learning management tool in their discussion and analysis of an ethical dilemma. The system to be used in this experiment comprises an integrated set of tools: publishing tools that allow the course instructor to publish teaching materials, communication tools such as discussion boards, chat rooms and whiteboards to allow for asynchronous or synchronous student/student and instructor/student communication and statistical tools to gather data on student activity.

They will then provide some analysis of the development of moral reasoning by discussing the results of pre- and post testing students using the Moral Judgment Test (MJT) (Lind, 2000).

The MJT is one of a number of tools that have been designed to measure moral reasoning. There were a number of reasons for selecting this particular tool. The Moral Judgment Test was originally designed nearly twenty years ago. In that time is has been used in the study of educational interventions with over 40,000 subjects of all ages and from a variety of different cultural and educational backgrounds. As a result of this extensive use it has been possible to validate this tool. The MJT has been shown to be theoretically and cross-culturally valid.

The MJT was developed to assess the ability to make decisions and judgments that are moral. The test owes its inception to the theories of Kohlberg, (1964) who developed a scale of moral judgment competence based of Piagetian principles of learning. The MJT focuses on ethical discourse as a core moral ability used to solve ethical dilemmas and it measures not only an individual’s ability to argue a specific moral point but also to appreciate opposing arguments. The MJT has also been found to have applications in measuring the effects of educational intervention in a learner’s moral reasoning development. Validation studies of this tool not only supported the cross-cultural validity of the MJT but also the universal validity of core assumptions of cognitive-developmental theory of moral behavior and development.

The authors will also investigate if there are any patterns of learning distinguishable between the different groups in the three institutions by analysing the patterns of moral reasoning evident in the threaded Blackboard discussions with those that occurred in non-virtual, face-to-face groups. Because of the large sample space (180 students from the three institutions), the authors will try to set up some virtual groups that are single-sexed, and others that are culturally homogeneous. These additional data points will hopefully give insight into differences, if any, that gender and ethnic background bring to collaborative group work and moral reasoning

The results of this research will be of great value in informing future practice in the learning and teaching of computer ethics and professional issues.


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