Effect of Ethical Rules and Education of Ethics

A mini survey was conducted for a preliminary feel of the effect of ethics in
the workplace and the role of education. The participants were part-time final
year students for an undergraduate award in computing at Hong Kong Polytechnic
University, ages ranging from early 20s to early 40s, in regular full-time
positions in the computer industry, with titles ranging from help desk
consultant to manager of installation. The survey was carried out at the
beginning and at the end of a compulsory course that includes topics of ethics
and professionalism. The same questionnaire was used in two consecutive
academic years: 2006/07 (71 students) and 2007/08 (90 students). The responses
by students are fairly consistent between the 2006/07 cohort and the 2007/08
cohort. Figure 1 summarizes the data obtained.

Analysis of the data obtained indicates that:

1. Before attending the course, the absolute majority of students claimed that they
had never heard or were never aware of computer ethics, and less than 10 percent
of these students claimed that they had heard or were aware of computer ethics.

2. After attending the course, more than 90 percent of students claimed that they
understood computer ethics. This clearly shows that there is an increase in
students’ awareness of computer ethics after attending the course, and supports the
argument that education can play an effective role.

The data indicate that before attending the course, of the students who had never
heard or were aware of computer ethics, more than 60 percent claimed that they were
not sure if they carried out their work ethically and, conversely, about 30 percent
claimed that they thought they carried out their work ethically. This appears to
support the argument that proper introduction is necessary, thus confirming that
teaching ethics is necessary. The response, by about 30 percent of students, a
relatively significant number, reflects exactly a common phenomenon; when people are
asked to explain why they think certain behavior or policy is wrong, they have
difficulty articulating their reasons. When they express moral opinions, sometimes
they are simply reacting as they think most people in their society react. Many who
have strong moral beliefs have only a vague sense why the behavior is unfair or
harmful. That is, people cannot give good reasons for believing what they do. This
is why we need ethical analysis, and in turn, ethical theories.

The data also indicate that after attending the course, of the students who claimed
that they understood computer ethics, 70 percent claimed to carry out their work
according to ethical rules but 20 percent ignored ethical principles in conducting
their work. This supports the argument that ethical rules are necessary, but not sufficient.

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