Student perceptions of ethics and professionalism in computer science: Does age, gender, or experience matter?

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UNI ScholarWorks, University of Northern Iowa, Rod Library

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Bohy, James Stuart
thesis / dissertation description
This work explores several factors that impact ethics education in undergraduate computer science, including: the overall understanding of ethics material, any differences between male and female subjects, any differences between traditional age and non-traditional age subjects, and any differences in experience level. Instruments (attitudinal surveys and reflective scenarios) were distributed to four institutions in the Midwest; 74 out of 170 were returned. Female subjects demonstrated a markedly better ability to distinguish between ethical and unethical behavior in the scenarios (especially in areas where the distinctions were less obvious) and produced higher quality written justifications. There were only 4 attitudinal survey items where differences were found between the genders, each attributable to the different sizes of the groups (though the split, 63% male and 37% female, is fairly consistent with current computer science enrollment data). Based on attitudinal survey responses, nontraditional students demonstrated a clearer understanding of the relationship between academic honesty and ethics than did traditional age students. Other differences existed, but were primarily due to the vastly different group sizes (84% traditional age, 16% nontraditional age). In the qualitative data, the two groups responded similarly to all but one scenario; the writing of the nontraditional students tended to be of more consistent quality. Among the experience levels, differences were found on several survey items and in the response patterns on all of the scenario data. The same general trend evidenced itself in both cases; freshmen (those who have taken/completed less than 3 courses) displayed a greater ability to correctly distinguish ethical and unethical acts, and responded to the acts more clearly and concisely than their more experienced counterparts. The pattern declines steadily through the juniors (7 to 9 courses) and rebounds slightly for seniors (10 or more courses).