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Ethics And Empowerment: An Ethics Module For Introduction To Computers

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.468.1 - 6.468.13

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Paper Authors

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William Frey

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Jose Cruz

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1520

Ethics and Empowerment: An Ethics Module for Introduction to Computers

José A. Cruz, William J. Frey University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez

I. Introduction

We intend to explore a different dimension of practical and professional ethics, one that we can characterize as more positive. The dominant view of ethics is that it functions as a limit to power in that it establishes barriers beyond which we cannot go. (A colleague of our talks of la etica como un baden, ethics as a speed bump, an obstacle that we have to get around in pursuit of something more important.) In this paper, we want to do several things: (1) argue that ethics instruction actually empowers students in very interesting and fundamental ways; (2) delineate some of the skills that must be developed to become empowered ethically; (3) present a successful classroom exercise used to initiate this process; (4) discuss more generally other exercises that might promote ethical-empowerment; (5) raise the problem of how to go about assessing strategies, activities, and materials to ensure a continual process of improvement toward ethical empowerment.

The first task is to distinguish ethical-empowerment from more familiar forms of empowerment. Three examples (taken from the cases developed through our ethics initiative at UPRM) will facilitate this.

Case #1: A chemistry student, working in a computer lab at the university, downloads the Anarchist’s Cookbook from the Internet. He saves it in his designated storage area. A systems administrator, who routinely scans student files for pornographic pictures (students downloading pornographic pictures crowd out other students with more legitimate purposes), finds the Cookbook in the student’s files. What is the student doing with this information: satisfying his curiosity or planning for something more sinister?

Case #2: A student takes a computer systems class in which she learns how to deal with computer viruses. Using what she has learned, she creates her own virus and contemplates releasing it into the University system. Her plan is well intentioned enough: she wants to test the University’s virus detection system. If the system picks up the virus, then this proves that it is sound. If not, then the virus will enter the system but since it is fairly harmless—or so she believes—it will eventually be detected without doing any harm, dramatizing to the University

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Frey, W., & Cruz, J. (2001, June), Ethics And Empowerment: An Ethics Module For Introduction To Computers Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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