to grips with the complexity of considering a problem in the context of the
wider world where it takes place.
These materials include both a story
frame to introduce the stories to students and a pedagogy guide to help
instructors. The stories we have collected for the course (and, no doubt,
many others) are engaging enough to
spark energetic debate about ethical
questions on their own and reward
sustained scrutiny along ethical lines
with several layers of productive challenge beyond an initial encounter.
Once the problems illustrated by the
narrative are described and conceptualized, the full ethical implications
and challenges can be understood by
“re-embedding” the problem back
into its narrative context. The students
should then consider how the world of
the story created the conditions for
both the external problems and the internal struggles addressed by the related characters.
The story frame furnishes the students with light guidelines, preparing
them to pay attention to particular issues without instructing them how to
answer, or even ask, ethical questions.
The story frame thus leaves room for
the students to discover the questions
for themselves and grapple with the
challenge of identifying and naming
the problems at hand. This choice not
only helps preserve the excitement of
discovery that comes with reading good
fiction but also requires the students to
undertake these tasks on their own.
While their own initial attempts to
frame, define, and address ethical
problems are likely inadequate, their
attempts to do so both individually and
collectively are an essential part of the
learning in an ethics course, as the real-world problems they encounter will not
come with a set of pre-formulated
guidelines to steer them toward the
nominal best answer.
The pedagogy guide, in addition to
offering generalized tips for stimulating
and sustaining productive discussion
about fiction and ethics, also points the
instructor toward relevant themes, details, and patterns in the text. These details and patterns do not, by themselves,
constitute an “answer” to any of the core
ethical questions raised by the stories.
As a list of facts, they are not especially
helpful for students grappling with the
regulated gig economy that depends
so heavily on IT innovations. And Mi-
chael Burstein’s “Teleabsence” ex-
plores how technological innovations
designed to address social inequality
can in fact exacerbate it while raising
probing questions about the powers
and limits of how one might redefine
oneself on the Internet. Although the
reading list has changed with each it-
eration, these stories and others like
them have formed the backbone of
each version of the course.
In each such iteration, our students
have emerged from the semester’s reading inspired, troubled, and invigorated
by the new perspectives they have gained
on their future work.
The assignments in the course help
develop their capacity for attention and
critical thought in a manner intended to
serve them well throughout their professional lives. By working descriptively
with three different ethical theories,
they develop a rich critical vocabulary for
recognizing ethically fraught situations
as they arise. The questions given to the
students for a particular story are deliberately open-ended, requiring them to
identify and formulate the problem
from the ground up, an approach that
addresses a practical gap created when
they are taught using only case studies.
This open-endedness also fosters a wider range of responses than a more closely tailored set of questions, thus creating
a more varied class discussion.
Through the multiple writing assignments, the students not only become aware of a range of potential
ethical challenges in their work in
computer science but also alert to the
variety of ways these problems might
initially emerge. They are thus able to
identify potential ethical risks in a given technology or model or in a company’s and the public’s use of the technology or model. They are better
prepared to articulate their arguments
for why a given approach is the most
(or least) ethical choice and see past
incomplete or specious defenses of
potentially unethical projects.
Example Story Materials
Here, we include an example of the
pedagogical materials we have developed to capitalize on the lively accessibility of the fiction-reading experience
while also helping the students come
makes the key
use more vivid and
engaging and the