General Course Info

[Schedule] [Logistics] [Assignments] [Final Evasion Points]

In this class, you will learn about:

  1. Ethics. What do "right" and "wrong" mean anyway? How is "ethical" different from "legal"? We'll learn about several philosophical approaches to ethics including utilitarianism, Kantianism, stakeholder analysis, and virtue ethics. The goal is for students to be able to address ethical dilemmas with reasoned arguments, grounded in a combination of these ethical theories.
  2. Professional Ethics. What special responsibilities do we have as computing professionals? What do the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and ACM Code of Ethics say, and how can we use these in our daily practice?
  3. Computing and Society. In what ways does computer technology impact society? We'll talk about a host of issues including privacy, intellectual property, and freedom of speech.
  4. Argumentation. How do you construct a well-reasoned argument? Whatever you go on to do in your professional career, your success will arguably depend more on your oral and written communication skills than on your technical skills. This class is one of your few and precious opportunities to work to improve those skills within the context of computing.
All students are expected to adhere to the Georgia Tech Honor Code.

Syllabus tentative, final changes will be made by a week before the class. All readings should be done before the lecture unless otherwise marked.

Week Dates Topic Reading Assignments Due
1 May 12 Intro
  1. Pols have a #fakefollower problem
  2. A Robot Committed A Crime: Now What?
  3. If a Self-Driving Car Gets into an Accident Who,-- or What--Is Liable?
We will read and discuss the articles in class. You don't need to have read ahead of time.
May 14 Reading Arguments

WA Chapter 1-2

2 May 19 Responding to Alternate Views & Net Neutrality
  1. Net Neutrality on Wikipedia
  2. Facebook and
  3. Zuckerberg's Argument
  4. WA Chapter 7
May 21 Ethical Theories EIA Chapter 2 Homework 1: Reading Arguments
3 May 26 Ethical Theories Virtue Ethics
May 28 Ethical Theories Superhuman Ethics
4 Jun 2 Argument Structure WA Chapter 3-4
Jun 4 Citations and Research WA Chapters 15, 16, and 17 Homework 2: Applying Ethical Frameworks
5 Jun 9 Evidence WA Chapter 5
Jun 11 Professional Ethics
  1. EIA Chapter 9
  2. Using the New ACM Code of Ethics in Decision Making by Ronald E. Anderson, Deborah G. Johnson, Donald Gotterbarn, and Judith Perrolle
    (see GT Library Meta-Database for off-campus access)
6 Jun 16 Exam Midterm
Jun 18 Professional Ethics (con't)
  1. Therac-25 on Wikipedia
  2. EIA Section 8.5 on the Therac-25
  3. Turkopticon (Posted in T-Square Resources)
7 Jun 23 Intellectual Property EIA Sections 4.1-4.6 Homework 3: Term Paper Proposals
Jun 25 Intellectual Property EIA Sections 4.1-4.6
8 Jun 30 E-Waste On T-Square:
  1. Widmer et al. "Global Perspectives on E-Waste" Section 1
  2. Irving et al. "Falling Through the Net: A Survey of the 'Have Nots' in Rural and Urban America"
Jul 2 The Digital Divide EIA 10.5
7 Myths Of The Digital Divide
Homework 4: Term Paper Outline
9 Jul 7 Networked Communication & Freedom of Expression EIA Chapter 3
Jul 9 Visual Argument and Ethics
  1. Visual & Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Decision Making by Edward Tufte ($7 on Amazon)
  2. Representation and Misrepresentation: Tufte and the Morton Thiokol Engineers on the Challenger by Wade Robison, Roger Boisjoly, David Hoeker, and Stefan Young
  3. (Optional) Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident
10 Jul 14 Term Paper Peer-Review Bring TWO copies of the most recent draft of your term paper to class.
Jul 16 Privacy
11 Jul 21 Privacy and Government EIA Chapter 6
Jul 23 Presentations Last Day of Class Term Paper

Course Logistics


Component Weight
Attendance & Class Participation 20%
HW Assignments 30%
Midterm 15%
Term Paper 25%
Final Exam 10%
**Note: Term paper proposal & outlines count as HW Assignments

Required Textbooks

Two textbooks are required for this course:

  1. Ethics for the Information Age (6th Edition) By Michael J. Quinn (EIA)
  2. Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric with Readings (9th Edition) By John D. Ramage (WA)
Note the editions! These are both fairly new.

There will be additional articles available online and through electronic reserve. See T-Square under "Resources" for up-to-date information on how to access articles if they are not posted from this site.

Honor Code

This class abides by the Georgia Tech Honor Code. All assigned work is expected to be individual, except where explicitly written otherwise. You are encouraged to discuss the assignments with your classmates; however, what you hand in should be your own work. A failure to cite referenced work will also be considered a violation of the honor code.

Attendance & Participation

Class attendance is required. If you need to miss class for a legitimate reason, please send me an email at least 1 hour before class. Also note, the exams are strongly based on material that is covered in class, and being there is the best way to know what you need to know. If you do miss a class, please get notes from a classmate. Do not come to class and get on Facebook/play games/etc. If we see this points will be docked from your participation grade.

Final Evasion Points At the beginning of each class I will randomly select a few people from the roster to answer questions on the readings. These questions should be easy if you have read the readings. If the questions are not answered properly then points will be deducted from the final evasion points total. If the class reaches ZERO there will be a final if not then NO FINAL! If I call on a person and they are absent from class and they have not reported it to me ahead of time (> 1 hour before class) then a point will be deducted. Just do the readings and show up to class and everyone will be a happy camper! :).

Your class participation is a large part of your grade. This includes speaking up in class, answering questions, participating in activities and otherwise being an active participant in class and small group discussions. Points will be deducted for not participating in class, and points will be added for meaningful participation in class.


Readings You are expected to complete readings before class on the day for which they are assigned. Occasionally extra readings (particularly current news articles) will be added (no later than the previous class). Syllabus changes and additional readings will be announced in class and on T-Square.

Grading Homework will be graded on a list of criteria (specified on the assignment) such as quality of writing, completeness, insight into technical issues, insight into social issues, etc. You may gain or lose points on each of these criterion separately, which will combine for your total grade. Criteria for each assignment will differ.

Turning in Assignments Assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day they are listed on the syllabus. To turn in assignments, turn in TWO paper copies at the beginning of the class it is due. If you fail to do this points will be deducted. (Though please be sure to maintain an electronic copy as well.) If you are missing class on the day an assignment is due, email the instructor. If your absence is unexcused, points will be deducted for not handing in a paper copy.

ESL If English is not your first language, you may request to not be graded on your writing itself (as opposed to the content) for a particular individual assignment, including the term paper. This means you won't be penalized for bad writing, but you also won't get credit for good writing. To take advantage of this option, you must come see me ahead of time and then mark "ESL" (English as a Second Language) on the first page of your assignment/paper. This option is not available for group assignments. I still of course expect you to try to write in correct English, and will do my best to offer useful feedback on your writing.

Late Policy

Assignments are due at the start of class on the day they are due. Over the course of the term, you have two "late days" (24 hour periods) where work may be late with no explanation needed. Once you have used up your late days, late assignments will be penalized at a rate of 10% per day. Assignments more than 5 days late will not be accepted.


Assignments and ideas on this syllabus build on those from everyone who has taught it before, especially Amy Bruckman, Irfan Essa, and Casey Fiesler. The template for this website was originally designed by Alex Godwin.