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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

New Teaching Modules on Data Ethics and Cybersecurity Ethics



Resources for students and practitioners

Irina Raicu

Irina Raicu is the director of the Internet Ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.  Views are her own.

A few years ago, after a really interesting event in which panelists discussed the connection between “privacy by design” and engineering ethics, several of us at the Center wondered whether we could keep that conversation going—and bring it to more software engineering students and practitioners. As a follow-up, we published a concise module titled “An Introduction to Software Engineering Ethics.” The module, which contains a reading, homework assignments, and case studies, is authored by Professor Shannon Vallor—a well-known tech ethicist who has long served on the steering committee of the ethics center, and who regularly teaches a graduate course in ethics in Santa Clara University's School of Engineering.

The module was designed for use in introductory software engineering courses, not in a separate ethics course. We were taking a leap of faith, hoping that engineering professors would take it upon themselves, and feel comfortable enough, to lead those conversations. We believed that they were actually in the best position to do so.

To date, more than 100 instructors in colleges and universities around the US and in 16 other countries have requested (and gotten) permission to use the module in their courses, in whole or in part, according to their needs.

Encouraged by that, and in the context of many ethical dilemmas that are growing ever more urgent in other fields that could benefit from similar conversations among students and practitioners, we’ve now published two additional modules: “An Introduction to Data Ethics” and “An Introduction to Cybersecurity Ethics.” Both of them are, once again, authored by Shannon Vallor. Like the initial one, they don’t purport to be all-encompassing, or to be the first such resources in their fields. They are intended to be practical, challenging, relevant conversation starters—rooted in a concise overview of ethics as the topic arises in those two important areas. They, too, feature relevant case studies, as well as readings lists that lead to additional resources for those who want to go even deeper into the subjects. Like the initial module, they are now available on our website, free for anybody to use (in classrooms and, maybe, in the onboarding of new employees?)

We are grateful to Accenture Labs, which funded the work on the data ethics and cybersecurity ethics modules—and in particular to Steven Tiell, who was integral to the development of that relationship. (Accenture also offers additional materials on data ethics; see We are also grateful to assistant professor Anna Lauren Hoffmann, of the University of Washington, who provided key feedback during the drafting of the data ethics module.

If you are a student, professor, or practitioner in the fields of cybersecurity or data science/analysis, we hope that you will take a look at our materials, offer feedback, and—better yet—put them to use in your work.

And if you’ll be attending RSA this year, look for the Learning Lab on Ethical Dilemmas in Cybersecurity!

Photo by Justin Baeder, used, without modification, under a Creative Commons license.

Feb 26, 2018

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