Oregon State University

CS 391: Social and Ethical Issues in Computer Science

Oregon State University, College of Engineering


About this Course


Official: In-depth exploration of the social, psychological, political, and ethical issues surrounding the computer industry and the evolving information society. (Bacc Core Course, 3 credits). Prerequisites CS 101 or computer literacy. This syllabus is for the online section and some on-campus sections.

This course fulfills the synthesis requirement for Science, Technology, and Society (STS)

For people working in the advanced field of Computer Science, technological progress seems painfully slow. And yet, there are many who argue that the forces of technology are already too strong and changing the face of the earth too fast for society to cope. Given this polarity of thinking, your education demands a pause to confront the social, legal, and ethical issues presented to us by the problems and advances in the field, if we are to be socially responsible producers and consumers of technologies.

Philosophy of Teaching

I prefer to mentor, demonstrate, and share methods rather than mandate the memorizing of information. This approach, along with ample opportunity to explore and practice methods allows creative students to put themselves in a professional mode right away—if they're up for it—and use the freedom to study in a direction that interests them.

Technical challenges are opportunities to find solutions, through exploration, systematic troubleshooting, and group interaction. In group interactions, students have the opportunity to teach others; a highly successful way to learn. I like to engage students by bringing them to the podium to share their own methods. When teaching/learning online, this work happens in the discussion forums; again modeling the way professionals often solve problems.

Course content is presented in a variety of formats to aid a diverse student population. Links to multimedia-rich online tutorials aids the auditory and visual learners. Well-organized and well-designed course materials aid the visual learners and the learners who need only to read to understand new concepts and procedures.

Student Evaluation of Teaching

During the last week of the course you will be asked to evaluate the teaching of this course. Login to the MyOSU Student Online Services area to participate. Instructions are located on the Ecampus website.

Your Feedback is greatly appreciated!

more_horizLogistics and Communications


Online and in person

The following is adapted from Dr. Susan Shaw, Oregon State University

Practice Professionalism

By the time you finish this course and leave the university, you will want to have practiced appropriate ways to communicate in writing so that you appear professional at all times. NACE's Job Outlook 2018 lists attributes employers want to see on new college graduates' resumes. Written Communication Skills is in the top 3! Remember that when you communicate online, you cannot provide eye contact and body language to help explain yourself, so your message may be misunderstood. Sometimes the thread of a message is lost, making readers rely on memory (which is often faulty). And if you need the reader to act on your request, good manners will help you be successful.

Some of the topics we'll cover in this class will evoke negative feelings. So that the sharing of those feelings is met with support and not more negativity, our behavior towards each other will remain civil. We will use our best manners when questioning ideas so that all students (as well as the instructor and teaching assistants) feel safe and not alienated or bullied. This is the way of the world...without manners, the world descends into chaos.

If you feel you are being harassed or bullied in this course, please report it to the instructor immediately. Describe the situation and provide links to the locations of the harassment so the instructor can address it.

Any students who do not follow the guidelines above will be dealt with in the following ways:

  1. A private message from the instructor asking for a behavior change.
  2. Reporting to the Student Conduct office
    (OSU Bullying Policy)
  3. Reporting to the Equal Opportunity office
    (OSU Student Conduct Reporting)

assessmentOutcomes and Materials


No printed textbook purchase is required. Readings will be articles available online. Add each of these websites to separate TABS in your browser:

Canvas, textbook, and library in separate browser tabs
  1. Canvas
  2. Online textbook
  3. OSU Valley Library

Software requirements are based on your existing computer.

  1. Chrome browser for Mac, Windows, Linux, or Chromebook users.
  2. OSU Google account for writing and backing up all files.

Measurable Student Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Analyze relationships among science, technology, and society using critical perspectives or examples from historical, political, or economic disciplines.
  2. Analyze the role of science and technology in shaping diverse fields of study over time.
  3. Explain the roles and responsibilities of a computer professional.
  4. Articulate in writing a critical perspective on issues involving science, technology, and society using evidence as support.

Read more about OSU's Learning Goals

view_moduleChapters & Assignments

OSU's definitions and guidelines for quarter credits imply that 90 hours of your time will be needed to attend lectures (or read the required materials), understand the key concepts and laws, participate in discussions, and complete research writing for this 3-credit course (that's 9 hours per week). The 8-week Summer Session will require more time per week because more than one assignment will be due in a week.

Discussions and Case Examinations

Students will explore key concepts and laws and write about them in weekly discussions and case examinations.

Discussions for on-campus students will take place in class and in Canvas. Discussions for online students will take place in Canvas. Case Examinations will be written in Google Slides templates and submitted to Canvas. They will automatically be checked for plagiarism in the Canvas/TurnItIn area. Scoring will be provided via Canvas Rubric where feedback and examples are available for most criterion.

Click on the project names below to read descriptions, scoring criteria, examples, and detailed instructions. All chapters are subject to change so watch the Canvas Announcements for updates.

  1. Prepare to Succeed (17 points) 1.1 Explore course logistics. 1.7 Explore Canvas. 1.9 Discussion: Group Introductions. 1.10 Examine cases of modern learning and course requirements. 1.12 Edit, download, and submit the file. Scoring Criteria.
  2. The Ethical Framework (28 points) 2.1 Performing Ethics = Rational Examination. 2.2 Explore an ethical framework for Computer Science. 2.3 Explore speech and censorship. 2.4 Explore cyberbullying. 2.5 Explore the Media Bias Chart. 2.6 Set up a news feed. 2.7 Discussion: Speech, Censorship, Cyberbullying, and Media Bias. 2.9 Examine a case: Facebook Scandals. Scoring Criteria
  3. Software & Data Development (34 points) 3.1 Explore software development methodologies. 3.2 Explore where data comes from. 3.3 Explore online advertising methods. 3.4 Explore Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). 3.5 Laws and organizations regulating software and data development. 3.6 Expert Talks 3.7 Discussion: Software Development problems. 3.9 Examine a case: software or data failure. Scoring Criteria
  4. Cybersecurity (34 points) 4.1 Explore rights. 4.2 Explore electronic privacy. 4.3 Explore cybersecurity. 4.4 Explore cybersecurity laws and organizations. 4.5 Expert talks. 4.6 Discussion: Rights, Privacy, and Cybersecurity. 4.8 Examine a case: privacy or cybersecurity breach. Scoring Criteria
  5. The Hardware Lifecycle (31.5 points) 5.1 Explore hardware design models. 5.2 Explore raw materials and e-waste. 5.3 Explore workforce, safety, and prosperity. 5.4 Laws related to hardware and the workforce. 5.5 Discussion: social problems related to disruptive technologies. 5.6 Examine a case: timeline of disruptive technologies Scoring Criteria
  6. Infrastructure, Access, and Justice (30 points) 6.1 Explore information technology infrastructure. 6.2 Explore the digital divide. 6.3 Explore mobile justice. 6.4 Explore net neutrality. 6.5 Discussion: access and justice 6.6 Examine a case of lack of access or of mobile justice. Scoring Criteria
  7. Looking at Technology through a Cultural Lens (36 points) 7.1 Explore discrimination and the problems it causes. 7.2 Explore the leaky pipeline. 7.3 Explore bias in Artificial Intelligence. 7.4 Explore USA laws in place to avoid discrimination. 7.5 Discussion: discrimination. 7.6 Examine a case: future employer through a cultural lens. Scoring Criteria
  8. Dilemmas in the Workplace: A look ahead (42.5 points) 8.1 Explore the ACM. 8.2 Expert talks. 8.3 Whistleblowing 8.4 Explore all the topics covered in the course. 8.5 Discussion: ACM and Whistleblowing. 8.7 Examine a case: Ethical Dilemmas in Information Technology. Scoring Criteria
  9. The Future of computing (33 points) 9.1 Explore good intentions. 9.2 Explore the robot economy. 9.3 Explore the crowdsourced and blockchain economies. 9.4 What we'll need to succeed. 9.5 Discussion: the digital economy. 9.6 Examine a case: countries using technology to eradicate poverty. Scoring Criteria
  10. Extra Credit (15 points) See Chapter 10.