Doing Ethics Technique

Topics: Ethics, Business ethics, Web accessibility Pages: 13 (4057 words) Published: May 8, 2012

vol. 10 no. 2

May 2003

DOING ETHICS: A UNIVERSAL TECHNIQUE IN AN ACCESSIBILITY CONTEXT Christopher R. Simpson1, Liddy Nevile2, Oliver K. Burmeister3 1

Adjunct Teaching Fellow, School of Information Technology, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, E-mail:; 2



Swinburne Computer-Human Interaction Laboratory, School of Information Technology, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, E-mail:;

Thinking ethically is difficult without a background in moral philosophy. Asking people to embrace ethics without offering practical explanation of the efficacy of so doing, is a thankless task. A technique that people can follow easily, that helps them value ethical behaviour is needed. Illustrations of such a procedure show how professional scenarios are used in the domain of web accessibility. Scenario design and extensions to the technique are considered.

Keywords Ethics; Accessibility; Case-studies; Dilemma resolution, IT. INTRODUCTION Whether a student, a retiree or in professional practice, today one confronts many situations where it would be helpful to have a particular way of sifting through issues to determine appropriate courses of action. Gordon Preece (2002) writing on a recent topical issue put it this way: 'The womb is like an ethical war-zone. Embryonic stem-cell research, deaf lesbians choosing deaf-babies, IVF embryos chosen and conceived to save existing children, single and lesbian women accessing IVF. Hardly a day goes by without a new ethical dilemma. The pace of technological change and precedent makes it almost impossible to keep up. ' This paper gives the background that gave rise to this technique, the process itself, and then makes use of exemplary scenarios to illustrate how the procedure can be useful to practitioners. One scenario illustrates the approach, while a second illustrates the value in designing appropriate scenarios. The paper ends with suggestions of how the technique, first used in a student context, can be extended to suit professionals from different disciplines as multi-disciplinary teams engage in activities such as building websites. BACKGROUND At Swinburne University of Technology, 'Professional Issues in Information Technology’ (PIIT) is taught to all final year IT students. It can be taken by students from other faculties as an elective, although students without industrial experience are strongly discouraged from taking the subject. Over the past 12 years, as the subject has evolved, the focus has been to explore real cases that will confront young (and not so young) professionals in the workplace. This is achieved by having about half the lectures led by industry speakers, as well as through tutorial work, debate and discussion that explore cases collected over the years, and draw heavily on the Industry Based Learning (IBL) experiences of the students. Students have often expressed difficulty in thinking through ethical situations. PIIT is usually the only subject requiring this in their computing courses. Despite their lack of familiarity with this type of work, almost all students, after finishing the subject, rate it as one of the most valuable to their professional development and one of the most enjoyable in their course. To overcome students' initial difficulties, a simple approach to scenario analysis has been developed. Formative feedback during the semester from tutors has often involved answering student queries in terms of this process, getting them to think through pertinent issues. Similarly, summative assessment has shown that critical thinking and meaningful consideration of multiple alternate solutions to derive a best fit, most frequently occur when this approach is adopted by students. Although the technique was developed for student use, it is not limited to this context. In the view of the authors, it is widely applicable. To...
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