AMITIAE - Saturday 12 April 2014

Teaching Ethics and Morals to Thai University Students: There is an App for it - Ethical Decision Making

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

Ethical Decision Making

One of the tasks that devolved to me a couple of years back was to teach "Ethics & Morals" to Computer Engineering students. I suspect the idea behind that was the saying, "It takes a thief. . ." or at least a thief-taker. I was once a policeman and with several years computer experience behind me, as well a writing on a range of subjects for the Bangkok Post, Database (then) - occasionally touching on security ideas - whoever made the decision to tap me, thought it would be right up my street.

Most of the students I teach have a pretty good idea of right and wrong, but as they approach graduation (and work) some of the lines become blurred. This year I am frantically re-writing some of the materials to deal with revelations by Edward Snowden.

Like the Pelagian Heresy, it seems that with NSA revelations, the wrong gods are in control of the universe and claim to do good by what others see as unnecessary evil. While the Gene Hackman, Will Smith movie, Enemy of the State touched on the idea of out of control government mechanisms, it may be that even the film-makers had no idea how much further the problems go.

Trying to convey several shades of grey to students who are used to black and white, may not always be easy, but this week I was interested to see that Kirk Hanson of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University has developed a free app that may assist some to make better decisions: Ethical Decision Making.

The app is straightforward in its use, although there is a fair amount of text on each panel. After an opening screen, a text suggests ways for those who need to make decisions to start the process. There is a panel that allows the user to type in the names of people and groups who may be affected. This immediately helps in narrowing the focus. Below is more explanation about how to select and evaluate options while using the app.

After this hurdle has been passed, the app takes on a more practical aspect with a series of five "perspectives": Utility, Rights, Justice, Common Good and Virtue. Some of these may seem old-fashioned words, and they are often perverted by those with ulterior motives, but that is not a problem for those making use of this app.

Each perspective has its own panel with an inverted triangle as the main item, below a text explanation. The top of the triangle is green, the (narrower) bottom, red. In the middle of the triangle is a slider. A user may move this up or down, depending on the effect any decision is expected to have. Although the text may be useful from an introductory (or teaching) direction, the main icon makes the process fairly clear.

Ethical Decision Making Ethical Decision Making Ethical Decision Making

  • Utility, for example, asks the user to examine a question in terms of outcome, suggesting happiness or financial effects from the decision.

  • Rights focuses on the respect that decisions may have, not only on the rights of stakeholders, but also in terms of dignity

  • Justice asks users to look at the question in terms of a wide sense of the concepts involved - equality, giving people their due, favoritism, or a real reason for treating an individual differently.

  • Common Good touches on the community effects and contributions to "conditions of social life", as well as the use of shared resources.

  • Virtue asks the user to be introspective in some ways: compassion, selfishness, prudence, irresponsibility; and how would a decision affect the ways someone we respect look at us.

Just reading through the processes of self-judgement applies filters to the way we may think about how we act, so use of the app could act as a brake on rash or unwise decisions. Certain politicians might do well to download this.

Ethical Decision Making Ethical Decision Making Ethical Decision Making

Once perspectives have been examined, and the sliders moved, the app provides a screen for weighting each part: 20 for each (100%). On the final screen if the sliders are not moved and weighting is unchanged, this gives an overall score of 50: "The option is questionable. Modify it or try another option." A button allows the user to start again.

When I moved all sliders to the bottom of the screen (very bad) and left the weighting at 20 for each perspective, the score was zero: the scores did not live up to my values or criteria. I tried again looking at the real question of student grades and the necessity of giving F to some (Fail has to be an option). I may have to go over the app sliders again, adjust the weighting or rethink my decisions in the future.

I will suggest to my students that they download Ethical Decision Making. Simply placing it in front of them may make them think about how they come to decisions and adjust the processes as and when necessary. I will also direct them to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics for some additional perspectives.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to

information Tag information Tag

Back to eXtensions
Back to Home Page