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Instructor Guidelines (Hughes Goodearl)

Structure of the assignment

This is a decision making and evaluation exercise that is staged over four significant events in the whistleblowing history of Margaret Goodearl. For each of the four events you would present several alternative decisions and ask the students to evaluate them using the ethics tests. However you might use alternative ways of evaluating the decisions, such as the criteria the De George has proposed for making decisions about whistleblowing. The criteria are described in another exercise.

Students are given some of the background reading for the case from the list of proposed readings below. When they come to class, they are divided into groups. Each group is given the Goodearl introduction reading and the options for that decision. Options for each of the incidents in this exercise are provided in the Exercise Resources section. Their job is to evaluate the options and come to consensus on one of the options (or an option they craft). They do this by using the ethics tests form. It is best if students have some prior experience with the ethics test, but a short version of this exercise can also be used to introduce the tests. Information on how to introduce the ethics tests is given in the teaching with cases section. After 10 minutes to reach a decision, each group is asked to report on their decision to the class and justify it in terms of the tests.

Each group is then given the second incident (Lisa Lightner) and decision options and asked to evaluate those for 10 minutes. Reports are made to the class, and then the groups move on to the third and fourth incident.

Integrating the exercise into a class

This is a very flexible exercise. Instead of running it as described above, you can split the class into 4 or 8 groups and give some groups only the first incident, others the first and second, others the first three, and other all four. You might then choose a set of options that would be the same for all groups so that you can compare decisions as Goodearl is further along in her ordeal. Alternatively, you might have students read one or all of the incidents and come to class with their answers already laid out in the ethics tests grid. Or you could assign groups to defend the different answers in a set of options and have them debate their disagreement based on the ethics tests.

The goals you might have for this exercise can be flexible too. Some version of this exercise could be used to cover whistleblowing issues (particularly if background reading on whistleblowing is integrated). Or it could be used to introduce basic ethical theories based in the ethics tests. For this, background reading in the ethical theories is important, and it is available in most computer ethics texts. Or your primary goal might be to help students learn to disagree, in which case some reading about ethical dissent (in the whistleblowing links below) and structured disagreement (like being assigned to defend different options) would be an appropriate structure.

To integrate this exercise into a software engineering course or other computer science course, it will likely need to be truncated by using only one decision point (but this could be the AMRAAM with all the other incidents as background reading done outside of class). After decisions are reported and evaluated, you might then connect the incidents to the course material in terms of design safety issues given the fallibility of components in a system.

Time required

A very short version of this could be done in 15 minutes of class time if students bring their evaluations already prepared to class. For this very short version, students might better use De George's criteria for the permissibility or obligation to blow the whistle. These require less explanation and background than the ethics tests.

The full version of the exercise will take at least a one hour class (depending on the number of groups reporting) but more comfortably an hour and a half class with some room for wrap-up at the end. If you are using this exercise to teach the ethics tests, then you will need to take time to explain these and provide background reading for them. In this case, you might devote a week to this exercise, interspersed with lecture on ethical theory and critique of the proposed solutions based on the theories.

Introducing the exercise

Unless you are using this exercise to teach the ethics tests, it is good for students to have some background in them already. Students should be focused on evaluating the options, rather than on judging the behavior of other characters in the cases (e.g. condemning Don LaRue). As always, it is a good idea for students to know explicitly what your goals are.

Making and grading assignments

This exercise can be designed so that there is no grading of assignments, but only in-class activity to help see the ethical issues. However, students might bring to class short reports choosing an alternative and then turn these in for a grade. Grading could be based on their understanding of the issues of whistleblowing or of the ethical tests and theories (depending on your goal). Longer papers could also be assigned asking students to evaluate the actions of Goodearl.

As always, it is a good idea to have a grading rubric designed ahead of time for graded assignments. When designing your grading rubrics for the papers remember to keep in mind what specific items you want them to use in the paper. Possibilities include: each of the ethical tests to evaluate a decision, evaluation of the tests themselves, constructing new alternatives.

Possible difficulties

If your goal is to have students see how their evaluations change over time in various decisions, then you need to try to pace things so that the change is evident. This may involve cutting the reporting portion, and having student discuss the change in their attitudes at the end of the experience.

As always, it is important to focus students on evaluating the decision they would recommend rather than on looking for who to blame.