Syllabus: CS 3111 Computer Ethics

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Course Content and Objectives

After completing CS core and elective courses, UMD students have a solid technological foundation on which to complete their degrees and build successful careers. This course is intended to give students a chance to reflect on the humanitarian, social, and professional impact of computer technology by focusing on ethical issues faced by and brought about by computing professionals, including those related to networking and the internet, intellectual property, privacy, security, reliability, and liability. We will also focus on issues raised by the possible emergence in the future of highly intelligent machines.

We will consider these matters through reading, video/multimedia, writing, discussion, and presentation. Students must have completed an upper-division writing course before taking this course.

This course addresses these Student Learning Outcomes (campus-wide):

This course addresses these Liberal Education Humanities Outcomes (campus-wide):

This course addresses these outcomes in computer science education specified by the UMD Department of Computer Science and aligned with the standards put forth by the ABET accrediting board:

Current Events

Ethical issues in technology are often at the center of the news media coverage of current events. The instructor will point out relevant news items on a regular basis and solicit discussion from the class. Although the course has a lecture setting, class participation will be expected, and students should apply what they learn through readings and lectures by looking at current events through an ethical lens. Besides participating verbally in class discussion, students can earn credit toward the participation requirement by suggesting current events for discussion. Here are some of the News Items that were discussed in the course in 2018, and here are Older News Stories from 2017.

Course Organization

We will meet in a small lecture setting on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when new material will be presented and discussed. Accompanying readings from the text and web sources will be indicated on the course term schedule. The midterm exams and the final exam will also be given in the small lecture setting. During the last 4 weeks, lecture class periods will be devoted to student presentations.

On most Wednesdays the class will engage in in-class writing assignments.


Midterm exams will cover all lecture and reading material, news events that are covered in class, and multimedia content. The final exam will cover student presentations. Coverage and topics will be given on the course web page well before the time of the exam.

Exams must be taken on the hour they are scheduled. They will not be given early, and can be made up only if documented evidence of medical emergency or death in the family is presented before the time of the exam.

Writing Assignments

Thirteen of the Wednesdays will be devoted to in-class writing assignments. More Info

Student Presentations

Student presentations will occur during the last four weeks of class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A list of presentation topics will be compiled from which to choose. Guidance concerning presentation format and style will also be provided.
More Info

Classroom Participation

This course is unique among computer science offerings in that it is conducted like a philosophy course. Indeed, ethics is an area of philosophy. Philosophy does not take place in a vacuum, but in a setting marked by civilized dialog, point and counterpoint, example and counterexample. While we will not shy away from spirited debate, we will focus on issues only.

At the conclusion of the term, the quality of each student's classroom participation will be assessed as either weak, satisfactory, or strong.

Note also:

Grading Basis

Grades will be based on the total points earned on exams, writings, and presentations. These points are broken down as follows:

item number points each total
Midterm Exam 2 100 200
Final Exam 1 50 50
Writing Assignment 13 20 260
Presentation/Report 1 100 100
Grand Total 610

The final grades will be based on the 610 point total with the following cutoffs:

% of Points Achieved Grade Earned
90 A
87 A-
83 B+
80 B
77 B-
73 C+
70 C
67 C-
63 D+
60 D


All writing assignments, presentations, and exam takings are individual, with no collaboration allowed.

Term Schedule


Writer's Workshop

UMD offers free writing support from graduate student or faculty writing consultants to all members of the campus community at the Writers' Workshop. The consultants will work with you on any writing project at any stage in the writing process. To make an appointment, visit or stop by the Workshop's front desk; walk-ins are also welcome if a consultant is available. The Workshop is located in the Learning Commons on the second floor of the Kathryn A. Martin Library. Look for the wall covered with quotations about writing.

Last Word

All excellent things are as difficult as they are rare. -- Benedict Spinoza

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Page Author: Tim Colburn
Last Modified: Tuesday, 15-Jan-2019 14:35:00 CST
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