By Stewart A. Denenberg, Technology and Society
---- — Modest gentleman and scholar that I am, I don't enjoy writing about myself but a situation has arisen whereby I can possibly benefit others by doing so and therefore I, in this column, shall. A few months ago I was invited to teach “Ethics and the Information Age” for the Computer Science Department this semester due to a temporary shortage of faculty for the fall semester. After carefully analyzing the pros and cons of such an endeavor, I acquiesced to the request thinking that it should be fairly easy to fit into my retirement schedule and might even result in some ideas for future columns here. How wrong and right I was! Since developing this course in ’90s and teaching it until I retired fully in 2007, I figured it should be a piece of cake and a lot of fun doing this again. The course has two main goals: The first goal is to enhance the students' awareness of the ethical issues raised by the presence of computers in society and how they relate to their future role as computer professionals; the second goal (just as important as the first) is to develop and improve their writing skills. The latter goal is essentially a lifelong process but as the proverb notes: the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. What I did not take fully into account was that teaching a college course is more than standing in front of class and delivering content. I have kept up with the evolving content of the technology and society field largely through the research for this column but what I temporarily forgot is that in a college course the instructor is, with some excellent support staff, the producer, the director, the stage manager and the main actor in the creation of a course. The stage manager function includes setting up the teaching environment. The teaching environment includes the classroom which holds not only the students but the equipment to deliver the media for the course. The media includes computers and their associated software as well as audio/visual equipment like TV and Overhead projector and, if one is especially lucky it has all been integrated into a “smart classroom” which provide not only computers connected to the Internet but overhead projectors and blackboards have replaced by computer-controlled projectors and smart boards much like the ones you see on TV when election results are broadcast. hen there are the lower level details like getting keys to all the rooms on campus you will be using, learning how the local phone system works as well as the photocopier which has most of the attributes of a media lab (Fortunately, I did not have to apply for a parking tag as I have continued to visit campus since retirement). OK, I hope you get the picture. As part of the setting up of the teaching environment, after reviewing the pros and cons of the college's websites, Google Plus, Facebook, and the Computer Science Department's Wiki, I decided to make the tec-soc website that I use for this column do double duty for the course as well. If you go there you will notice you have a choice between “Columns” (what you are reading right now) or “CSC 372” which is the college’s designation for the course. I have also launched a class discussion blog at http://csc372.blogspot.com/ . The purpose of this blog is pretty broad. Students may use it to just chat with each other outside of class (circumspectly, as it's visible to all); for example: "Does anyone have any idea about what DrD wants from us on question 45?" ranging to: "It's too nice a day be indoors, anyone for Frisbee?" I will also pose questions occasionally like: "The results of the last writing assignment were dismal — as it too long, too difficult to read or what?" In any case this apparently simple process was much more difficult and took much longer than I had hoped for and expected. Next time: More travails and vexations of the professed professor and a fuller explanation of how and why to teach ethics to college students.
Dr. Stewart A. Denenberg is an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at Plattsburgh State, retiring recently after 30 years at the institution. Prior to that he has worked as a technical writer, programmer and consultant to the U.S. Navy and private Industry. Please send comments and suggestions to his blog at http://tec-soc.blogspot.com where there is additional text and links. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.