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Professional and Ethical Issues of Software Engineering Curricula Experiences from a Swedish Academic Context

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The increasing dependence on computers for critical infras- tructures essential for the functioning of a society and its economy has given rise to host of ethical, social, and legal issues. The ability to make sound ethical decisions is thus an important part of Computing and Software engineer's professional skills. This paper argues for the significance of teaching professional, social and ethical issues in Software Engineering in a Swedish context and practice. Examples are presented of teaching materials and experiences from the course Professional Ethics in Science and Engineering at Malardalen University, and the PIFF project for support of Software Engineering Master Theses running at Malardalen University, Blekinge Institute of Technology and Lund Uni- versity.
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Professional and Ethical Issues of Software Engineering
Curricula
Experiences from a Swedish Academic Context
Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic
School of Innovation, Design and Engineering
Mälardalen University, Sweden
gordana.dodig-crnkovic@mdh.se
Robert Feldt
Blekinge Institute of Technology
Ronneby, Sweden
rfd@bth.se
ABSTRACT
The increasing dependence on computers for critical infras-
tructures essential for the functioning of a society and its
economy has given rise to host of ethical, social, and legal
issues. The ability to make sound ethical decisions is thus
an important part of Computing and Software engineer’s
professional skills. This paper argues for the significance of
teaching professional, social and ethical issues in Software
Engineering in a Swedish context and practice. Examples
are presented of teaching materials and experiences from
the course Professional Ethics in Science and Engineering at
M¨
alardalen University, and the PIFF project for support of
Software Engineering Master Theses running at M¨
alardalen
University, Blekinge Institute of Technology and Lund Uni-
versity.
Keywords
Ethical issues, Professional issues, Software Engineering, Mas-
ter thesis
1. INTRODUCTION AND PROFESSIONAL
PRACTICE
As has been noted by for example [15] engineering is a
multi-faceted, real-world endeavor with ethical dimensions:
Engineering is an inherently risky activity. In
order to underscore this fact and help in explor-
ing its ethical implications, we suggest that en-
gineering should be viewed as an experimental
process. It is not, of course, an experiment con-
ducted solely in a laboratory under controlled
conditions. Rather, it is an experiment on a so-
cial scale involving human subjects.
The intense media coverage of disasters such as the explo-
sion of Ariane V and the radiation overdoses in Therac-25
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computerized linear accelerator for cancer treatment has in-
creased the interest in engineering ethics [30]. Major tech-
nical disasters are extremely costly but fortunately happen
rarely. The judgment made by an engineer about what risks
are acceptable is to a high degree an ethical one.
Professional activities during the design, development, anal-
ysis, specification, certification, maintenance and evaluation
of computer systems have a significant real-world impact.
To ensure that those efforts will be for the general good,
professionals must commit to making Computing in general
and Software Engineering in particular beneficial and re-
spected professions, promoting an ethical approach to their
professional practice.
Computing Curricula 2001, The Joint Task Force of IEEE
Computer Society and Association for Computing Machin-
ery (ACM), emphasizes strongly professional issues, making
it a part of a core curriculum for Computing; see [20] and
its currently latest version [21].
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technol-
ogy (ABET) Engineering Criteria [1] affirm that ‘Engineer-
ing programs must demonstrate that their graduates have
an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.’
ABET strongly encourages engineering schools to provide
students with tools to make ethically prudent decisions: ‘En-
gineering programs must demonstrate that their graduates
have the broad education necessary to understand the im-
pact of engineering solutions in a global and societal con-
text.’
Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs
in Software Engineering [22] indicate the importance of ‘un-
derstanding and appreciation of professional issues related to
ethics and professional conduct, economics, and the societal
needs.’ Further professionalism and ethics are recommended
as a part of a subject ‘Professional Software Engineering
Practice’ in which students will gain ability to make appro-
priate decisions based on ethical codes and ethical principles,
have concerns for safety and security requirements, human
and personal rights, be aware of and follow the laws and
standards, and be able to understand the effects of engineer-
ing decisions on the society, environment and individuals.
It is thus evident that professionalism and ethical concerns
are important parts of any successful Computing and Soft-
ware Engineering curriculum. However, they are still often
overlooked and there is a lack of concrete advice and expe-
rience reported on how to incorporate them in educational
practice. This paper address these shortcomings based on
experiences from Swedish Software Engineering education.
2. EDUCATION IN PROFESSIONALISM &
ETHICS
In spite of the clear policy statements and guidelines, Pro-
fessionalism and Ethics are seldom included in Software En-
gineering undergraduate and graduate curricula. In Swe-
den, several universities offer courses in Professional Ethics
for students in Computing disciplines. Known examples are
The Royal Institute of Technology with courses in Engi-
neering Ethics and M¨
alardalen University with a course in
Professional Ethics in Science and Engineering, since 2003.
Starting in 2005, the Swedish Link¨
oping University, the Nor-
wegian University of Science and Technology NTNU, and
Utrecht University Netherlands jointly offer an Erasmus Mundus
Master’s programme in Applied Ethics (MAE), which among
others offers courses in Computing Ethics.
During the educational and training session at ICSE 2005
[6] there was an interesting discussion whether education
and training in Ethics in Software Engineering curricula is
necessary, or whether this without any doubt important is-
sue can be learned in some other ways; in secondary schools,
at home, or via public information.
We argue that training and education in professionalism
and Ethics should be a compulsory part of Software Engi-
neering curricula as many important engineering decisions
are based on both engineering and ethical principles. Com-
mon ethical concerns specific to Software Engineering and
Computer Science include [20]:
Social context of Computing
Methods and tools of analysis of ethical argument
Professional and ethical responsibilities
Risks and liabilities of safety-critical systems
Intellectual property
Privacy and civil liberties
Social implications of the Internet
Computer crime
Philosophical foundations of Ethics
Following the above we have in 2003 developed a course
‘Professional Ethics in Science’ as a part of the Computer
Science and Software Engineering Curriculum at M¨
alardalen
University. A short overview of this course will be given
along with our experiences of its impact on students and
its relevance for the industry. We will complement this ex-
perience with information on PIFF, an ongoing educational
development project to develop web-based support for mas-
ter theses in Software Engineering, and how ethical concerns
are being addressed there.
3. TYPICAL ISSUES OF COMPUTER AND
SOFTWARE ENGINEERING ETHICS
According to Moor, Computer Ethics should be defined
as the analysis of the nature and social impact of computer
technology and the formulation and justification of policies
for the ethical use of such technology [33]. The social impor-
tance of the computer as a revolutionary machine together
with its specific features do give rise to new ethical prob-
lems and legitimize the introduction of the field of Com-
puter Ethics. Following are unique features of computing
technology:
Logical malleability. Computers are logically malleable
in that they can simulate any activity that can be charac-
terized in terms of inputs, outputs, and connecting logical
operations [33]. Computers are therefore used as tools for
representation, modeling and simulation and they are a ma-
terialization of our conceptual knowledge of the world. For
our epoch they are The Revolutionary Machine in the same
sense as the steam engine was for the industrial era.
Speed and the simplicity of handling. Large amounts
of data are easily manipulated (as if they are greased [34])
which is connected with ethical problems of privacy and se-
curity. Related are also Copyright issues. Images, text (in-
cluding program code), films and music can be easily copied
and used without attribution to the author or out of con-
text. This causes the ongoing discussion about intellectual
property.
Storage of huge amounts of data. The ease with
which data are saved makes the use of surveillance, moni-
toring and spyware methods really easy from the technical
point of view.
Uncertainty of identity. Present day vague identities
make possible stealing other person’s identity, forging of a
message, or sending a message anonymously like ‘spam’ for
example. There is an ongoing ethical debate about the pros
and cons of anonymity.
Global character. Computer communication does not
stop at national borders. What is considered legal in one
country might be forbidden in another. Software devel-
opment projects often include developers from several na-
tions, e.g. open-source software development and outsourc-
ing trends in large engineering companies.
Openness and availability. Computer networks make
it easy for the user to come across information, even in cases
of pornography, gambling, or sites with propaganda, super-
stition, or other disinformation which might be difficult to
handle for certain groups of users. Cyberstalking is an ex-
ample mentioned in Tavani [39].
Power mediation. Computing is still a well-educated-
younger-male-dominated field. This domination can be seen
as an inequity. The related ethical questions are the power
distribution, equal opportunities, equity, fairness, justice and
digital divide.
Ethical problems arise most often when there are differ-
ences of judgment or expectations about what constitutes
the true state of affairs or a proper course of action. The
engineer may be faced with contrary opinions from within
the firm, from the client, from other firms within the in-
dustry, or from government. An individual makes ethical
decisions in his/her capacity as a member of various groups.
In order to make ethical decisions, an engineer interacts in
many directions and within many different contexts, each
of which can show the actual situation in a different light,
see Figure 1. For example, solving the problem on the re-
lation individual/colleagues/management could lead to cer-
tain choices, which e.g. do not necessarily coincide with
the views of his/her own family or friends, or the clients,
authorities, societies or other industries.
When faced with ethical dilemmas, a professional must be
able to make rational and well-justified decisions. Courses in
Figure 1: Contexts of Professional Ethics.
Ethics can support professionals by offering tools and meth-
ods helpful in such situations.
The basic principles of Medical Ethics, Legal Ethics, and
Computer Ethics are the same. However, new circumstances
related to the computer do raise new questions about how
these principles are to be understood and applied. The con-
cept of policy vacuums designated thus by Moor [33] and
further discussed in [26] and [39] denotes our lack of policies
in completely new and unforeseen circumstances. A good ex-
ample is lack of adequate policies in the world where critical
infrastructures essentially depend on computers [36], which
is a new phenomenon. Another example is virtual economy
- trade with real money of objects in virtual worlds. Tavani
[39] concludes his article on the uniqueness debate stating
that the Computer Ethics issues are not only philosophi-
cally interesting and unique but are exceptionally and in-
creasingly important and thus deserve our careful attention.
This applies equally to Information and Software Engineer-
ing Ethics.
4. CODES OF ETHICS
Because of the fundamental impact computing has on our
lives, it is necessary to integrate computing technology and
human values in such a way that the technology protects and
advances human values. How can we work to ensure that
computing and software technology advances human values?
One way to establish an integrated value system is based on
acceptance of the code of ethics.
Codes of Ethics express the consensus of the profession on
ethical issues. At the same time they are a means of educat-
ing the general public about the ethical norms and values of
the profession. An essential characteristic of a profession is
therefore the need for its members to conform to its code of
ethics.
Professional societies in science and engineering publish
their ethical codes or guidelines. See references [2, 3, 19, 23,
24, 25, 37, 40] to ethical codes of societies of professional
engineers and scientists. These codes differ in their content,
but the topics and the general ethical standards they artic-
ulate are similar.
Having a code of ethics allows an engineer to argue not
merely as an ordinary moral agent, but in the first place as a
professional. Engineers (or doctors, or clergy, etc.) can say
‘As a professional, I cannot ethically put business concerns
ahead of professional ethics.’ [8].
Harris, Pritchard, and Rabins [16] summarize Stephen
Unger’s analysis of the possible functions of a code of ethics:
First, it can serve as a collective recognition by
members of a profession of its responsibilities.
Second, it can help create an environment in
which ethical behavior is the norm. Third, it
can serve as a guide or reminder in specific sit-
uations. Fourth, the process of developing and
modifying a code of ethics can be valuable for a
profession. Fifth, a code can serve as an educa-
tional tool, providing a focal point for discussion
in classes and professional meetings. Finally, a
code can indicate to others that the profession
is seriously concerned with responsible, profes-
sional conduct.
Along with Codes of Ethics, case studies are necessary,
since the two are strongly interdependent. Without guiding
principles, case studies are difficult to evaluate and analyze;
without concrete examples, codes of ethics are incomprehen-
sible. The best way to use these codes is to apply them to
a variety of situations and study the results, see [25].
5. WHY STUDY PROFESSIONAL ETHICS
To sum up, what is the point in studying Ethics for an
engineer? One thing is sure: A Professional Ethics course
is not about preaching virtue so that students will adopt
a certain pre-established set of beliefs. Rather, it aims to
increase the ability of students as future engineers and man-
agers to first recognize and then responsibly confront moral
issues raised by technological activity. The goal is to develop
moral autonomy, i.e. the skill and habit of thinking ratio-
nally about ethical issues. For the role of computer ethics in
the Computer Science Curriculum, see Bynum [7] and Moor
[33]. In sum, we learn Ethics in order to:
Deal with computing as a service to other human be-
ings [15]
Sensitize students to computer ethics issues
Convey a sense of professional responsibility not cov-
ered in other courses
Provide tools and methods for analyzing cases
Present practice in applying the tools and methods to
actual or realistic cases
Develop in the student good judgment and helpful in-
tuitions for ethical autonomy
The above topics are not typically addressed outside the
Computing Curricula/Software Engineering education. As
pointed out previously, a discussion of general ethical ques-
tions is definitely not enough to enable an engineer to iden-
tify the concrete ethical questions within the specific field of
engineering. The study must be field-specific and based on
concrete cases.
6. PROFESSIONAL ETHICS IN COURSES
AT MDH
Following the lines of reasoning presented in this arti-
cle, we have developed a course in Professional Ethics at
M¨
alardalen University, intended primarily for Computer Sci-
ence and Software Engineering students [32]. The course is
a combined undergraduate and PhD level course. The dif-
ference between the levels was in the final paper which for
doctoral students was a research paper and for undergradu-
ates was a simple essay.
The emphasis of the course is on cultivating sensibility
to ethical problems, increasing of moral autonomy, ethical
pluralism and critical thinking, see Table 1.
The course was inspired in its structure (general introduc-
tion, specific topics, practical exercises and discussions) by
Lawrence Hinman’s courses at the University of San Diego
[29] and gives an insight into the ethical problems impor-
tant for professionals in Engineering and Science. It forms
a framework in which professional and ethical issues can be
analyzed and discussed, and builds up an awareness of vari-
ous views of ethical issues as well as the professional ethical
responsibilities.
The topics include, among others, the social context of a
profession and conflicts between loyalties to different princi-
ples (safety and economy, precautionary principle and envi-
ronmental impact, integrity, privacy, ownership, etc.). Fun-
damental moral theories are presented as the introductory
part of the course.
In a seminar form we discuss Codes of Ethics (IEEE/ACM
Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Prac-
tice, [3, 19, 23], Responsible Conduct of Research [40]), and
examine a series of case studies, developing critical thinking
and argumentation.
The course is delivered through a combination of lectures,
guest lectures, classroom discussions with role play, semi-
nars and essays. For more details on the Professional Ethics
Course at M¨
alardalen University, see [32].
Our five years of experiences (2003 - 2008) with this course
have been very positive. Students have participated actively
in discussions, case studies and research on chosen topics.
Even predominantly technically-minded students were able
to assimilate and use philosophical concepts presented in the
introductory theoretical part of the course. The examina-
tion forms for the course were the writing of a research pa-
per on an ethical topic of interest and an oral presentation
of a chosen topic (such as safety and security, intellectual
property, environmental ethics, privacy etc.) followed by an
in-class discussion led by the students responsible for the
actual presentation. Course evaluation results are given at
[32] and show that students experienced the course as useful
and relevant for their future professional activities. Parts of
the course and specific lectures have also been included in
other courses and programmes at the university.
As a consequence of the increased interest in ethical issues,
several Master Thesis works at the Department of Com-
puter Science and Engineering have been dedicated to ethi-
cal problems such as privacy, surveillance and safety critical
software; see [17, 4, 35]. Moreover, two of the industrial PhD
students, inspired by the Professional Ethics course have in-
cluded specific chapters on ethical aspects in their PhD [27]
and Licentiate Theses [28]. They have related the technolog-
ical issues such as product integration and component-based
design to stakeholders’ attitudes and decisions based on eth-
ical premises of the engineering in particular activities in the
software development process.
Ethics course students published a number of articles in
international journals [12, 11] and at conferences such as
CEPE [10], CAP, SCAI and ETHICOMP [13, 9] which got
interest of both philosophy and engineering communities for
ethical issues related to Computing and Software Engineer-
ing.
Besides Professional Ethics, we have developed Comput-
ing and Philosophy Course (CAP), an international distance
advanced level course in collaboration with distinguished lec-
turers from University of Illinois, Springfield, USA and sev-
eral European universities. One of the important aspects
addressed in CAP course is Ethics, [31]. Several of papers
in Ethics from previous CAP course have been published on
philosophy and on computing conferences.
7. PIFF PROJECT FOR SOFTWARE ENGI-
NEERING MASTER THESIS SUPPORT
Within the framework of the educational development project
PIFF [5] for support of Software Engineering diploma work,
running at three Swedish universities one of the aspects
that are included concern Software Engineering Ethics [32].
Swedish Master Thesis projects are typically capstone projects
carried out by students individually or in groups of two at
the end of their educational programs. The most common
form is a six month project carried out either with a research
group at the university or with an industrial company.
The PIFF project (PIFF is an acronym of the Swedish
project title which can be translated to English as ‘Soft-
ware Engineering Master Theses for Industry and Academic
Success’) is a two-year educational development project sup-
ported by the ‘National Board for the Development of Higher
Education’ (NSHU). It was started in late 2007 by four re-
searchers and teachers involved in the master theses projects
at M¨
alardalen University, Blekinge Institute of Technology
and Lund University. The main aim is to increase the value
of the master thesis project for the students, but also for
the other main stakeholders: companies in industry which
are involved in or affected by the theses projects, and uni-
versities and research groups who help the students or judge
the results. The concrete goal is to develop resources that
can support the formulation, execution and quality grad-
ing of master thesis projects. These resources are typically
guidelines, templates and process descriptions to be used in
different stages of a master thesis project.
In the initial phases of the project we have studied how
different stakeholders from academia and industry view the
Master thesis [18]. The results were that the different stake-
holders have very different views and thus need different
types of support and information when starting up and dur-
ing a thesis project. The paper also outlined a support
framework to give this role-specific support. We have also
investigated if current master thesis courses and support ma-
terial help the students develop generic skills useful for their
future professional activities [14]. Results showed that a ma-
jority of students thought it important for their future ca-
reers to develop generic skills, such as critical thinking which
is reasoning based on value systems and ability of making
proper judgment - typical of ethical discourse. However,
very few of the surveyed students thought their university
Table 1: Professional Ethics Course Syllabus (L = Lecture, WS = Workshop)
L1 Getting Started, Course Preliminaries, Identifying Moral Issues
L2 Methods and tools of analysis of ethical argument, Philosophical Foundations of Ethics, Ethical Relativism,
Absolutism and Pluralism
L3 The Ethics of Conscience, Ethical Egoism, The Ethics of Duty, The Ethics of Respect
L4 Utilitarianism, The Ethics of Rights, The Ethics of Justice
L5 The Ethics of Character, Ethics and Gender
L6 Safety, Security (Guest lecture)
L7 Privacy and Civil Liberties, In-class activity: case studies
L8 Environmental ethics, In-class activity: case studies
L9 Social context of profession
WS1 Professional and ethical responsibilities: codes of ethics
L10 Risks in Engineering and Science, Risks and liabilities of safety-critical systems, Precautionary Principle
L11 Industrial experiences (Guest lecture)
WS2 Intellectual property, Internet, Computer Crime - Case studies
WS3 Oral presentations of students projects/papers
WS4 Course wrap-up and discussion
supported the development of generic skills in a good way.
Even though the list of generic skills that the study was
based on was taken from official lists developed within the
Bologna program of the European Union, they did not ex-
plicitly consider ethical issues.
Based on the results from these earlier phases the PIFF
project is now developing two main sets of resources for Soft-
ware Engineering Master theses support. One is a set of
rubrics to support the judgment of quality of different phases
of a Master thesis project. The rubrics cover the proposal
for a thesis, the process of conducting the thesis project, the
thesis report itself, as well as the oral presentation of the
work. Each of these four rubrics state quality criteria and
different levels of quality for each criterion.
The other set of resources developed within PIFF is a web-
based support tool for knowledge exchange between academia,
industry and research during diploma work, supporting both
a student and an advisor in the different phases (planning,
execution and grading/assessment). The portal contains
‘snippets’ relating to different parts of a Master thesis project.
A snippet has general information and guidelines, a check-
list, links to further information, and sometimes templates
to support the student in this aspect of her thesis work.
Some of the snippets will also have short videos where a
teacher or student goes through the main aspects of the
snippet for the student. These videos are important since
not all Master thesis courses have specific lecture elements
or room in the schedule for covering all aspects in the class;
the videos are an inexpensive and simple way to give sup-
port to all students and other thesis stakeholders without
incurring additional costs.
The results from the early phases of PIFF showed that
there was little to no awareness of or support for ethical is-
sues within the Master thesis projects. This is surprising
since the importance of ethical concerns can be expected
to be more evident in practical projects closer to reality.
As argued in [6], it is necessary to integrate the study of
Ethics into professional Software Engineering education us-
ing a case-based approach (Burkholder), practical methods
for ethical reasoning (Covey) and by presenting integration
models (Gotterbarn). This should be all the more natural
within the context of a practical and/or applied diploma
project. We have thus developed specific support for ethical
concerns and we are adding an ethical concerns criteria to
our examination rubrics. In the following we describe these
in more detail.
8. ETHICS SUPPORT IN SOFTWARE EN-
GINEERING MASTER THESIS
We apply the integrative approach of Burkholder et al in
the PIFF project, making ethical deliberation part of the
Software Engineering Master Thesis work [6]. During the
thesis work, a student will meet a number of professional
ethical questions and especially in thesis work with empirical
research such as surveys, case studies, field studies, metrics
and experiments, ethical aspects will be important to recog-
nize and deal with, from informed consent to confidentiality
and privacy, see Singer and Vinson [38].
Our snippet for support of ethical concerns in the the-
sis project covers two major areas: student work ethics and
ethics of the research itself. The student work ethics fo-
cus on the professional conduct of the student during the
project and aims to prepare students for their professional
career. This is considered very important by industrial the-
sis advisors and contact persons and they use it as one of the
main criteria in judging whether a thesis student would also
make a good future employee. For the student work ethics
the PIFF snippet describes that the student will need to
exhibit: character (such as integrity, dependability, respon-
sibility etc.), punctuality (respecting schedules and dead-
lines etc.), attitude (realistic expectations etc.), social and
teamwork skills (cooperativeness), communication (verbal
and non-verbal skills), working and organizational skills (pri-
oritization and stress management, flexibility), cooperation
(leadership skills, criticism and conflict), and respect (cul-
tural and other diversity, harassment issues etc). Super-
visors are encouraged to include a discussion about these
issues when starting up a thesis project and some aspects
are covered by criteria in the thesis process rubric the su-
pervisor uses to judge the quality of the work of the student.
The ‘Timeliness’ criterion covers punctuality, while the ‘Bal-
ance’ criterion covers teamwork, organization and coopera-
tion skills. Communication skills are partly covered by the
presentation rubric. A selection of relevant quality crtieria
are shown in Table 2. We are also developing a video to
Table 2: Selection of Quality Criteria from Thesis Rubrics that relate to Ethics and Professional Issues
Criteria Superior Good Fair Minimal
Timeliness (Project) Student(s) have kept
continuous contact
during the work
and have been on
time both to meet-
ings and in sending
deliverables.
Student(s) have
mostly sent deliv-
erables on agreed
dates. With only a
few exceptions stu-
dent(s) have been on
time to meetings and
reported continously
on their progress.
Student(s) have been
late to meetings or in
sending deliverables
in a way that have
hampered the pro-
cess. The advisor
had to prompt the
students with ques-
tions about the sta-
tus of the work.
Student(s) have a
serious problem with
keeping agreed to
meeting and dead-
lines. Advisor have
not been able to
get a picture of the
status of the work
during the project.
Balance (Project) A well-balanced
collaboration where
both students have
a good grasp of all
parts of the work.
A balanced collab-
oration where both
students have a
grasp of the whole
work even though
they have focused
on sligthly different
parts.
A collaboration
where both students
have contributed
equally to the work
even if they have
worked more inde-
pendetly on different
parts.
An imbalanced col-
laboration where one
student have con-
tributed more than
the other. Stronger
students name: X
Ethical issues (Thesis) Ethical issues anal-
ysed and discussed in
report and have been
fully addressed in de-
sign and execution of
research.
Ethical issues ad-
dressed in research
but only partly anal-
ysed and discussed
in thesis.
Ethical isssues only
partly addressed in
research and discus-
sion is lacking.
Ethical issues not
considered at all.
summarize for the students what a professional work ethic
means in practice for their thesis project. Over time this
will be complemented with concrete examples of how ethi-
cal concerns have been addressed in different, previous thesis
projects.
The other aspect we cover is ethics of the research work
itself. Even though thesis project does not always strictly
qualify as research, in practice it is often indistinguishable
from academic research, and thus has clear ethical implica-
tions. Furthermore, since the thesis work is learning for
research, it must be preparing for future professional re-
search activity in which ethical concerns are fundamental.
Our snippet discusses: the precautionary principle, envi-
ronmental impact of research, privacy issues and security
issues in general, as well as safety aspects. Furthermore, it
presents examples of specific ethical rights and how they can
be assured in practice. Some examples are: ensuring prior
consent by participants/subjects of the research signing an
informed consent form, with restriction of access to data col-
lected during the research to ensure privacy and anonymity,
considering the social and long-term impact of the research
through discussion in the thesis, etc.
Many of the ethical concerns for the research are covered
by the issue of informed consent. Since studying Software
Engineering methods, tools and processes is common in mas-
ter thesis projects, ensuring that students have their study
subjects sign an informed consent form is a good way to
ensure the awareness, discussion and practical decisions on
ethical issues. We have thus developed a template informed
consent form which outlines the different aspects the stu-
dent should consider and detail, before presenting them to
the subjects (see Appendix A). By requiring that they de-
velop, by filling in the different sections of the template with
the specifics of their study, and then get all subjects to sign
a form, ethical considerations are naturally integrated in the
master thesis course. As a final element, the thesis report
rubric contains criteria to evaluate if ethical concerns have
been taken into account and properly discussed in the thesis.
The above thesis support elements create the awareness
and discussion among stakeholders around professional con-
duct and ethical issues and help to develop an ability of
sound ethical judgment by a student. We are currently eval-
uating the effectiveness of our approach including the views
of different stakeholders.
9. CONCLUSIONS
The aim of including ethics in science and engineering
curricula is to increase the ability of future professionals to
recognize and address ethical problems, to accept different
ethical perspectives and allow for ethical pluralism. Ethics
courses develop the skill and habit of thinking rationally
about ethical issues and in that way prepare students for
the challenges of their future profession.
Experiences from the Professional Ethics in Science and
Engineering and related courses at M¨
alardalen University
are encouraging. An overall impression is that the course
participants discovered a very important factor that influ-
ences their professional judgments and decision making, the
engineering ethical aspect. With all the positive experiences
we have, we are definitely intended to continue giving the
courses in the future, convinced in their indispensability for
educating future engineering professionals in general, and es-
pecially Software Engineering professionals, who are among
those engineers who are going to meet the largest variety of
ethical issues of all Computing professionals.
One of the steps of establishing the culture of ethical
thinking is through Master Thesis works done by students
in Computing on specific Engineering Ethics issues as well
as the inclusion of ethical discussion in PhD theses.
Even higher impact is expected from the PIFF project,
which will, through a web based support tool, including an
informed consent template and evaluation criteria for the
quality judgment of theses and thesis projects, regularly sup-
port Software Engineering students at M¨
alardalen Univer-
sity, Blekinge Institute of Technology and Lund University
in thinking through ethical issues in their diploma work.
10. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The authors would like to thank Keith Miller, Martin H¨
ost
and Frank L¨
uders for reading the manuscript and offering
valuable suggestions.
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APPENDIX
A. TEMPLATE FOR INFORMED CONSENT
FORM
For participants in research projects involving human sub-
jects.
Title of project: X
Investigators: Y
Before agreeing to participate in this research study, it
is important that you read the following explanation. This
statement describes the purpose, procedures, benefits, risks,
and precautions of the program. Also described are the al-
ternative procedures available to you, as well as your right
to withdraw from the study at any time.
[Note to student: Text in square brackets is instructions
for you on what you need to write and clarify in the different
sections. When you write you should ensure that you cover
all the underlined concepts.]
A.1 Purpose of this Research/Project
[Subjects will be informed in clear, concise language about
the nature of the study and the purpose for conducting the
research. The total number of subjects involved and a brief
description of the subject group will be given.]
A.2 Procedures
[The research procedures that involve human subjects will
be explained so that the subjects will be fully informed
about their role, what activities or functions they will be
expected to perform, for how long, the number of times
they are expected to appear and over what period of time.
They must be told where the research will take place, what
instrumentation is to be used, if any, and conditions in-
volved. At the end of this section, the subjects must have a
clear understanding of what will be expected of them.]
A.3 Risks
[Any risks or discomforts to the research subject must be
fully disclosed. Risks may range from physical danger such
as injury to emotional distress, consequences of disclosing
personal and private opinion etc. Safeguards that are to be
employed to reduce or minimize the risks will be described.]
A.4 Benefits
[The tangible or intangible benefits, if any, to the subjects
who participate must be described. If no benefits accrue to
the subjects, what are the larger societal benefits for con-
ducting the research? After analysing and comparing the
risks and the benefits it must be clear that the benefits are
greater than the risks.]
A.5 Anonymity and Confidentiality
[The extent to which subjects will be identifiable must
be explained. If anonymity is promised (individuals cannot
be identified), you need to explain how that will be accom-
plished. If confidentiality is promised (individuals can be
identified, but the researchers promise not to reveal that in-
formation), you must explain how that will be accomplished.
Social security numbers should not be used as identifiers in
place of names. You may also say, ‘at no time will the re-
searchers release the results of the study to anyone other
than individuals working on the project without your writ-
ten consent’.]
[If taping (video or audio) is to occur, the subjects must
be informed. You must state how the tapes will be se-
cured and stored, under whose supervision, who will score
or transcribe, who will have access and when they will be
destroyed.]
A.6 Compensation
[There is no requirement that subjects are compensated,
but if they are, they must be fully informed. If no compen-
sation is to be earned, subjects must be so informed.]
A.7 Freedom to Withdraw
Subjects are free to withdraw from a study at any time
without penalty. If they choose to withdraw, they will be
compensated for the portion of the time of the study (if
financial compensation is involved). If they choose to with-
draw, they will not be penalized
Subjects are free not to answer any questions or respond
to experimental situations that they choose without penalty.
There may be circumstances under which the investigator
may determine that a subject should not continue as a sub-
ject. The subject must be compensated for the portion of
the project completed.
A.8 Subject’s Responsibilities
I voluntarily agree to participate in this study. I have the
following responsibilities:
[List responsibilities]
A.9 Subject’s Permission
I have read the Consent Form and conditions of this project.
I have had all my questions answered. I hereby acknowledge
the above and give my voluntary consent:
Subject signature
Investigator(s) signature
Faculty advisor(s) signature
[NOTE: Subjects must be given a complete copy (or du-
plicate original) of the signed Informed Consent.]
... Figura 1: Contextos de Ética profesional. Imagen adaptada de (Dodig-Crnkovic & Feldt, 2009) En el desarrollo de software hay dos tipos distintos de responsabilidad profesional: la social y la técnica. Responsabilidad social implica la consideración del impacto de los artefactos de software y productos informáticos en la sociedad en general. ...
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