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CS109: Ethical Foundations of Computer Science

Spring 2018

Basic Information

Welcome! This course strives to provide an ethical understanding within the framework of the computer science field. Given that computer science is now affecting many other fields as well as everyday life for most Americans, it is our responsibility to consider our ethical responsiblities as we have an impact on the world and society.

The main goal of this course is to learn to reason about the effects of technology and to understand the ethical and real-world consequences of that technology. This course will emphasize direct participation and discussion using case studies to illustrate ethical topics.

This course does carry the Ethics and Leadership flag, which means that it is designed to equip you with skills that are necessary for making ethical decisions in your adult and professional life.

Class Information:

Office hours will begin during the week of 1/22.

Instructor: Alison N. Norman
Email: ans@cs.utexas.edu
Office Hours and Location: Tuesday 1p-2p in GDC 2.104
Instructor: Sarah Abraham
Email: theshark@cs.utexas.edu
Office Hours and Location: Tuesday 1p-2p in GDC 2.104

Lecture Meeting Time and Location: GSB (Graduate School of Business) 2.124 Tuesday 2p-3p

Turn off cell phones, laptops, and other digital devices during lecture and place them out of sight. Failure to do so results in loss of iClicker participation points.

Web page: http://www.cs.utexas.edu/~ans/classes/cs109/index.html
The website is a very important piece of this course and you should familiarize yourself with its content. This handout and all other information for the course will be available on the site.

Prerequisites: Must be a CS or pre-CS major.

Textbooks: There is no required textbook for this course.

Clickers: An iClicker is required for this course and must be brought to every lecture as participation on iClicker questions is part of your course grade. For this class, an iClicker is sufficient. However, an iClicker+ or an iClicker2 will also work.

Register your iClicker at https://www.iclicker.com/remote-registration-form-for-classic by providing:

Even if you already have an iClicker and registered it to your EID in the past, you must re-register for this semester.

If you do not know the serial number for your iClicker but have registered it previously, you can use the Remote ID Lookup Tool from iClicker. If you have not registered it previously, take your iClicker to the ITS office in FAC to retrieve the ID. (Be sure to write it down!)


Discussion: The class discussion board is on Piazza. You may sign up at this link: http://piazza.com/utexas/spring2018/cs109. (Note that the course is listed as "CS109".)

We will post course-related announcements and information on the board. You must read the discussion board at least once per day, and you should post course-related questions and responses there. We expect you to make good use of the discussion group when you have questions or problems.

You are responsible for any and all information posted to Piazza by any of the course staff.

Email to you: In this course, email will be used as a means of communication with students. You are responsible for regularly checking both your CS email and your email officially registered with UT for class work and announcements. Your CS address may be forwarded to another account (see http://apps.cs.utexas.edu/udb/update/).

Email to the Instructor or TAs: Emails to course staff should begin with "CS109:" in the subject line, followed by a brief description of the purpose of your email. If you follow this rule, we will be better able to address your questions in a timely manner. If you do not, a response to your email may be delayed indefinitely.

Facebook, text message, twitter, calling a mobile phone, or other forms of informal communication: None of these should ever be used to communicate with course staff regarding 109 material.


Course Structure: Lectures will introduce ethical concepts through description and examples. A key component of this course is the active participation of students. While we will lead you through the main concepts and provide you with details relevant for understanding and applying those concepts, you have to provide the "active learning" component. By active learning, we mean you must do things, think about things, ask questions---basically whatever it takes for you to be engaged. The format is informal; questions are welcome all the time.

Assignment/Lecture Schedule: A schedule of lecture topics, reading assignments, and assignments is available online, via the class web page. The schedule page contains links to lecture slides and assignments. All assignments are to be completed before class.

The schedule is subject to change, so please check it throughout the semester.

Professionalism: Professional conduct is built upon the idea of mutual respect. Such conduct entails (but is not necessarily limited to):

Professional conduct is expected in this course.


Participation: To receive credit for participation, you must:

You are required to attend class, and you are responsible for knowing or learning any material presented in class. If you must miss class, you are not required to inform the instructor, but you are responsible for learning any material you missed. The instructor posts detailed notes for each class on the course web site, but classes are interactive, so the actual discussion may depart from the notes. The best way to know what actually happened in a class is to be there and participate; if you must miss a class, you should study the notes carefully and perhaps talk to your colleagues about the technical topics discussed and what points were particularly emphasized.

Use of laptops, phones, or other digital devices during lecture results in the forfeiture of participation points.

Weekly Blog Posts: Each week, you will work with your group to write a blog post responding to and elaborating on the past class's topic and case studies. Information about the requirements for the blog and its posts will be available from the course schedule.

Blog posts will be submitted through Canvas by submitting a direct link to the post to the relevant assignment. All blog posts are due before the next class begins.

Case Study Presentation: In each class, we will introduce a topic and a case study on that topic. At the beginning of the next class, a group of students will present a deeper analysis and a reaction to that case study. We will generate the groups automatically, and each group with be randomly assigned a case study.

Group Participation:

Group participation will be evaluated by the course faculty and through evaluations provided by your fellow group members.

Consistent failure to deliver as a teammate is grounds for early failure from this course. Students who about whom the faculty receive multiple complaints or who are observed not contributing will report directly to the professors as part of their "parole." If their performance improves and remains satisfactory, they will not be docked grade-wise on assignments. If performance does not improve and is not satisfactory, they will not receive credit for the assignments.

Grading: Grades are essential to insuring that your degree has the value that it deserves. As a result, we have a grading system that has two essential properties:

These class components are used to determine your final average in the following manner:

Component Type Percentage Description
Participation 50% Determined by class participation, responses to questions with the iClicker, and group participation. Missing more than two classes will disqualify you from recieving full participation credit.
Weekly Blog Posts 20% Approximately fourteen blog posts responding to case studies, to be completed in your groups.
Presentation of a Case Study 30% Group presentation of an in-depth look at and response to a case study. 7-10 minutes.

Grade will be recorded in the gradebook on Canvas. The course uses the plus/minus grading scale.

If you have questions or concerns about your grade, contact us during office hours or by email.

Grade Changes: If you believe your work was graded incorrectly, you may submit a complaint via email. You must submit your complaint within one week of the date on which we first attempted to return the graded work to you. For assignments where your feedback is given electronically, the deadline is one week from the time the grade became available on Canvas. Your complaint must contain supporting evidence and arguments which explain why your work was graded incorrectly. (For example, it is not sufficient to submit a note that says "regrade my blog post".) Grade change requests that do not meet these requirements will not be considered. Note that we only unmute assignments on Canvas when all grades are entered. If an assignment is unmuted and you do not have a grade at all, you should be worried and submit a grade change request following the above guidelines.

Regrade requests are not given priority over any current grading, and so a response to your request may be delayed.

Note that assigned grades are not the starting point of a negotiation. This isn't a weekend bazaar---unless we have made a mistake in grading your work (i.e., you have a correct answer that was marked wrong, or your score was added incorrectly), your grade is final.

Collaboration and Cheating

You are encouraged to discuss the case studies and your responses to them with your colleagues. You are welcome to use existing existing resources to further your understanding and sharpen your thoughts. Such activities qualify under approved collaboration practices and you are welcome to take advantage of them. If you are unsure about whether a particular source of external information is permitted, contact the instructor before looking at it.

The weekly blog posts and the group presentations must include work (except clearly noted outside links) of only the group members. Materials from the web should only be used for educational purposes. For example, you can read about the topics, but you must not copy any material from the web or be looking at any of the material from the web when writing anything you submit. If you discuss an assignment with another student or read material from the web, you should employ the following technique: after a discussion with another student or reading external material you should do something that has nothing to do with the course for at least half an hour before resuming your work.

Students who violate University rules on scholastic dishonesty are subject to disciplinary penalties, including the possibility of failure in the course and/or dismissal from the University. Because such dishonesty harms the individual, all students, and the integrity of the University, policies on scholastic dishonesty will be strictly enforced. The penalty for cheating on an exam, quiz, or assignment in this course is an F in the course and a referral to the Dean of Students office.

It is generally okay to verbally discuss the assignments. Three guidelines will help you keep on the right side of the line.

  1. First, other than the instructors, it is never okay to look at the written work of another person or show another person your written work until after all grading on an assignment is completed. This includes looking at paper print-outs. The moment you start looking at another student's (or group's) assignment you have crossed the line into cheating. It should go without saying that copying other people's work is strictly prohibited. You also may not look at any course project material relating to any project similar to or the same as this course's class projects. For example, you may not look at the work done by a student in past years' courses, and you may not look at similar course projects at other universities.
  2. Second, while you are discussing an assignment with another student, you must not have a writing implement, keyboard, or recording device in hand. Similarly, you should not read from your own work. After discussing a problem with another student, go watch The Bachelor for a half hour before going back to work on the assignment. If you can't remember what the person said after a half hour, you didn't really understand it.
  3. Third, everyone in the class is expected to take appropriate measures for protecting one's work. For example, you should protect your files and printouts from unauthorized access.

Note that these guidelines are necessarily generalizations and cannot account for all circumstances. Intellectual dishonesty can end your career, and it is your responsibility to stay on the right side of the line.

Examples of cheating include: looking at someone else's writeup, writing your solution while talking to someone else about it, talking another student through the assignment, and allowing others to look at your assignment If you have any doubts about what is allowed, ask the instructor.

Additionally, if you are repeating the course you may NOT reuse assignments. All submitted work must be new and original.

Plagiarism detection software will be used on various assignments to find students who have copied from one another. Anything you submit must be yours, and yours alone.

Finally, the materials used in this class, including, but not limited to, lecture slides and assignments, are copyright protected works. Any unauthorized copying of the class materials is a violation of federal law and may result in disciplinary actions being taken against the student or other legal action against an outside entity. Additionally, the sharing of class materials without the specific, express approval of the instructor may be a violation of the University's Student Honor Code and an act of academic dishonesty, which could result in further disciplinary action. This includes, among other things, uploading class materials to websites for the purpose of sharing those materials with other current or future students.

Other Stuff

Religious Holy Days: A student who is absent from an examination or cannot meet an assignment deadline due to the observance of a religious holy day may take the exam on an alternate day or submit the assignment up to 24 hours late without penalty, if proper notice of the planned absence has been given. Notice must be given at least 14 days prior to the classes which will be missed. For religious holy days that fall within the first 2 weeks of the semester, notice should be given on the first day of the semester. Notice must be personally delivered to the instructor and signed and dated by the instructor, or sent certified mail. Email notification will be accepted if received, but a student submitting email notification must receive email confirmation from the instructor.

Students with Disabilities: The University of Texas at Austin provides upon request appropriate academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. For more information, contact the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Services for Students with Disabilities at 471-6259, 471-4641 TTY. Students requesting accommodations for disabilities must notify the instructor by the 12th class day.

Final Note

This syllabus is a plan of action for the semester. It is NOT a contract and is subject to change. As the instructors, we reserve the right to make additions, deletions, and modifications to the syllabus and the course requirements with reasonable notification to the students enrolled in the course. You are responsible for any changes announced in class or on the course website.

Acknowledgments and Copyright

In the preparation of this course, we used materials from Jenny Brown and Glenn Downing.

Copyright Notice: These course materials, including, but not limited to, lecture notes and assignments are part of a course on ethics in computer science. You must ask me permission to use these materials.

We do not grant to you the right to publish these materials for profit in any form.