Social, Ethical, and Legal Implications of Computing


Course CS 305 - Social, Ethical, and Legal Implications of Computing
Meetings Thursdays, 4:40 - 6:30, FAB 47
Final Exam Thursday, 5:30 - 7:20*
Instructor Dr. Ellie Harmon
she / her / hers
Office Hours M+T 4:00 - 5:00
FAB 120-15
Or by appointment
Prerequisites College level reading and writing. Upper division standing.
D2L Will be used only for assignment turnin and grade return.

* Please make note of the unusual final exam time now and make plans to attend. The time is scheduled by the registrar and I have no control over it. Although there is no final exam , we will meet during the scheduled time per university policy.

Hello! And Welcome.

I’m looking forward to our course this term, and I hope you are as well. All major course policies are outlined on this webpage. Please note that all materials on the course website – including this policy overview as well as the course schedule – are designed to be a starting point for the course. They are subject to change as the term unfolds, in response to your feedback and my assessment of how things are going. I’ll be seeking out your feedback regularly. Some adjustments are likely. These adjustments may involve altering assignments or adding, removing, or modifying readings. Any changes will be discussed in class and announced via email, so attend class and check your inbox.

Although no longer in a survey form, parts of this syllabus are adapted from the interactive syllabus developed by Dr. Guy McHendry and Dr. Kathy Gonzales, both of Creighton University, and further adapted by Dr. Lindsey Passenger Wieck (St. Mary’s University) and Dr. Angela C. Jenks (UC Irvine). It is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution - Non-Commercial 4.0. Further acknowledgements about the content of specific sections are noted throughout the document.

About Dr. Harmon

I am a Senior Instructor in the Department of Computer Science at Portland State University. I also teach in the Freedom, Privacy, and Technology cluster for University Studies.

I teach courses in introductory computer science, human-computer interaction, and computing & society.

I conduct research about the promises, threats, and impacts of contemporary computing. I’ve studied: labor and the future of work, philanthropy and social change, microbial science, suburban family life, and possibilities for disconnection on the Pacific Crest Trail.

I work to make computer science more broadly accessible, relevant, and welcoming. I am developing a new intro CS class at PSU; I am co-director of CyberPDX, a summer camp for broadening participation in cybersecurity; and I am the faculty advisor for the PSU We in Computer Science (WiCS) student organization.

I use she/her pronouns and I thru-hiked the PCT in 2013.

Course Goals

As per the course catalog, this course covers:

History of computing, social context of computing, professional and ethical responsibilities, risks and liabilities of safety-critical systems, intellectual property, privacy and civil liberties, social implications of the Internet, computer crime, economic issues in computing. The course has two goals: First, the usual goal of learning the material of the course as described in the catalog entry. A higher priority goal is to instill in you an inclination to use that knowledge. The use of the content of this course is optional in the real world and our primary goal is to motivate its use. 1

With only ten meetings, we have a limited amount of time to cover these multiple and complex issues. But, we will do our best!

Specific Learning Outcomes

Upon the successful completion of this course you will be able to2:

  1. Identify the ethical issues that relate to computer science in real situations they may encounter.
  2. Decide whether a given action is ethical as regards computer science professional ethics, and justify that decision.
  3. Look up relevant ethical standards as developed by the ACM.
  4. Prepare and deliver a short (8-10 minute) professional-quality talk on a topic relating to ethical, legal, and social implications of computer science.
  5. Research and write a professional-quality paper about a topic relating to social, legal, and ethical implications of computer science.
  6. Recognize situations in which there may be legal issues as regards computer science and related topics such as intellectual property, and know some legal principles to apply.
  7. State several important impacts of computer science and related fields on contemporary society.
  8. State several examples of important ethical principles as they apply to computer science related situations.

Course Materials


There is no textbook for this course.

Supplementary Readings / Videos

All readings are linked in the course schedule. Full bibliographic detail is provided for all materials, and you should attempt to locate them on your own in the event of a broken link. The failure of any schedule link is not an excuse to skip the assigned reading.

Please note that some links may require that you are on the campus network, or connected through a VPN in order to access the content for free. You will never have to pay for any readings in this class. If you are having trouble accessing one of the readings, please visit my office hours, ask a question in class, or visit the library and ask them how to gain access to the material.

Laptops & Phones & Tablets, Oh My!

This class requires your attention and participation in course discussions and activities. I understand that laptops, etc. can be useful for note taking and looking up information relevant to course discussions; and we will often conduct in-class projects that will be easier with a laptop.

However, I find that they can also be quite the distraction. We all have other things – families, friends, work, classes, YouTube videos, games, etc. – that we might feel compelled to check in on during class.

Therefore, laptops and phones will be allowed in class on a situational and tentative basis. If your digital technology becoms a problem for you or others around you, I may ask you to stop using it either for the rest of a class period, or if it becomes a recurring issue, for the rest of the term.


One credit hour is defined by federal regulations as “One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out‐of‐class student work each week”3.

This is a two-hour course, which means that you should spend approximately four (4) hours on out-of-class work each week. This includes both reading assignments in preparation for class, as well as research, writing, and/or programming assignments as applicable.

Major Assignments

This class involves both individual and group assignments. Below is a brief sketch of the assignments we will complete in this class. All due dates are noted in the course schedule along with links to detailed assignment directions.

Assignment Quantity Points Each Total
Class Participation 10 2 20
Reading Reflections 6 3 18
CA0/1: Topic Pitch / Team Formation 2 2.5 5
CA2: Bibliography 1 10 10
CA3: Presentation I 1 5 5
CA4: Analysis 1 10 15
CA5: Presentation II 1 10 10
CA6: Final Proposal 1 15 15
Intro/Exit Self-Assessments 2 3 6
Total 104

Note that there are 104 points that you can earn in this class, though final grades will be calculated out of 100. You can use these extra points as you see fit, for example, to cover an absence from class.

Due to the fact that there are several extra credit points built in, there will be no excused absences from class or makeup work, barring exceptional circumstances. Please note that any days missed at the start of the term due to late registration fall under this same policy.

Attendance & Participation

Class participation is a major part of your grade. Reflecting on building a classroom where participation is a fundamental part of the learning experience, Emilie Pine explains:

I have tried to realise some of [my] ambitions by making my classroom a safe (and equal) space in which all of my students can take risks. Sometimes it seems that the biggest risk they can imagine is to say something out loud. I know that they are afraid of saying the wrong thing and being laughed at. But I want them to speak despite this fear. Because I worry that if students are quiet about their ideas in class perhaps they will be quiet about other things too. Things they should not be quiet about. If they cannot talk in class, how will they speak out if they get harassed, or discriminated against, or hurt? 4

Participation in this class functions as an invitation to think and take risks with one another as we explore the social and ethical implications of computer science. Acting on the issues that we discuss in this class will require your own participation in future workplace and civic life. The classroom offers an environment in which to practice these skills without your continued employment being at stake. At each meeting, you will be asked to evaluate your own participation in that day’s activities on a small exit slip. Please make sure you turn this in before leaving the classroom! (Note: It should go without saying, but filling out a participation worksheet for another student (or lying about your own participation) is considered a form of academic misconduct.)

Reading Reflections

In order to prepare for our class discussions you will write a brief reading reflection before each class meeting (except presentation days). Each class period (except presentation days) will begin with a 15 minute period of reflective writing. During this time, you will exchange reading reflections with someone else and write a brief response either to their ethical reflection or to one of their questions. This brief period of reflective writing is designed to help you settle in, focus, and prepare for discussion. You may refer to the assigned reading and/or any notes you have while writing; it is not a quiz. If you are late to class, you will miss the opportunity to complete this exercise.

Case Analysis

The major assignment in this course is a quarter-long group project in which you will prepare a case analysis that examines the ethical dilemmas surrounding some aspect of contemporary computing. This assignment will be broken down into several milestones spread throughout the quarter, including two team presentations.

Presentation Feedback

On each presentation day, you will take notes and provide feedback to your classmates on their presentations.


Self-evaluations are used routinely in corporate America as a way of assessing employee performance and making decisions about raises and promotions. As part of the professionalization aspects of this course, you will write a brief self-evaluation for each project milestone.

A week one introductory survey counts for 3 points towards your final grade. It will be graded very simply for effort and completeness.

At the end of the term, you will complete an individual survey for 3 more points in which you reflect more broadly on your individual progress in the course. All of these evaluations will be graded for effort, completeness, and honesty.


There are no exams in this course.


Show up to class, participate in discussion, turn in all assignments, and you will do great in this class. Skip class and assignments and you will do poorly.

Letter grades will be assigned based on the following standard conversions:

Total Points Earned Letter Grade
93-100 A
90-92 A-
87-89 B+
83-86 B
80-82 B-
77-79 C+
70-76 C
60-69 D
Below 60 F

If you earn the minimum points for a letter grade, you are guaranteed that letter grade. There will be no downward curve in this class. I reserve the right to adjust grades upward at my sole discretion.

I endeavor to be extremely transparent about grading rubrics, and your grades should never come as a surprise to you. You may not petition for a grade that you did not earn.

Your project teams will be mixed and include both graduate and undergraduate students. All team members will always receive the same grade for each project, which will be graded holistically as a single product.

Deadlines & Exceptions

Missing Class

If you choose to prioritize some other activity over your class time, that is perfectly fine. You are an adult and can make your own decisions. However, you forfeit your participation points for the day as well as any in-class assignments that we complete during your absence.

Due to the fact that there are several extra credit points built in to the grading system, there will be no excused absences from class or makeup work, barring truly exceptional circumstances. Please note that any days missed at the start of the term due to late registrations will not be excused.

When you are absent for any reason, you (not me!) are responsible for:

  • Catching up on any missed course material.
  • Proposing a plan for any missed assignments, if applicable.

Exceptional Circumstances

Please contact me in the case of any exceptional or unpredictable event that significantly impacts your ability to complete work or attend class — such as an illness, a sick child that cannot attend school or daycare, a family emergency, iced over roads, etc. I reserve the right to request documentation before granting any extensions, but they are possible given extenuating circumstances beyond your control.

Please note that traffic, TriMet delays, bridge lifts, regular work schedules, and personal travel are not considered exceptional or unpredictable events. Please warn your family and friends in advance (i.e. today) that they need to consult you regarding any future travel plans made on your behalf (e.g., weddings, bachelorette parties, cruises, etc.).

Assignment Deadlines

Since many assignments build on each-other (and often we will use homework as material for in-class discussions or activities), as a general rule, late work will not be accepted without prior approval.

You will always receive partial credit for work that is partially complete.

Please turn in whatever you have finished at the deadline.


Meeting with me

My office hours will be held on Monday and Tuesday afternoons from 4:00-5:00, in my office, FAB 120-15.

You do not need an appointment to visit my office hours, you can simply drop in. Please do visit my office hours! I enjoy working with students!

If you need to meet with me, but cannot make my office hours, you can make an appointment with me via the PSU Google Calendar system (directions).


If you need to email me directly, you MUST include the course number as the first word in the subject, for example ‘CS305: Missing class due to illness, suggested plan for makeup work.’


I will aim to answer all inquiries within 1 business day. If you do not receive a reply from me within 1 day, please re-send your message.

I do not (cannot) respond to inquiries 24/7. Do not count on responses from me after 6pm, before 9am, or on the weekends.

Likewise, I will never expect a reply from you sooner than 1 business day.

Code of Conduct

The computer science community is well-known for being an unwelcoming and toxic environment to many newcomers 1. Research shows that members of underrepresented groups (e.g., women, people of color, first generation college students) leave computer science programs and the tech industry at higher rates, and that this attrition is a result of environmental conditions5.

Many open source projects, professional societies, and businesses have recognized that the lack of diversity amongst contributors is a problem since they miss out on ideas, perspectives, and contributions from underrepresented groups2. Moreover, the history and prevalence of exclusionary practices and cultures is an ethical problem that limits the intellectual, personal, and financial opportunities of members of underrepresented groups6.

To address this, many organizations and events have established community guidelines and codes of conduct to support communities that are more welcoming to new and diverse contributors. For example:

In this course, we will also have a code of conduct.

As a starting point, we will use this code of conduct based on the Mozilla participation guidelines and on feedback from students in prior classes. Please add any comments or suggestions to this document during weeks 1 & 2. We will finalize it at the start of our third course meeting.

What to Do About Harassment

If you are a victim of harassment of any kind in this class, there are several resources available to you:

Academic Integrity

Note: Much of this section of the syllabus is copied (with permission) from the policy of Nick Seaver; notable changes include the PSU student code of conduct, and commentary specifically relevant to computer science, such as computer programming details.

Our expressions are not our own. Humans communicate with words and concepts — and within cultures and arguments — that are not of our own making. Writing, like other forms of communication, is a matter of combining existing materials in communicative ways. Different groups of people have different norms that govern these combinations: modernist poets and collagists, mashup artists and programmers, blues musicians and attorneys, documentarians and physicists all abide by different sets of rules about what counts as “originality,” what kinds of copying are acceptable, and how one should relate to the materials from which one draws.

In this course, you will continue to learn the norms of citation and attribution shared by the community of scholars at Portland State University and at other higher education institutes in the United States. Failure to abide by these norms is considered plagiarism, as laid out in the Student Code of Conduct7 with which you should familiarize yourself:

(9) Academic Misconduct. Academic Misconduct is defined as, actual or attempted, fraud, deceit, or unauthorized use of materials prohibited or inappropriate in the context of the academic assignment. Unless otherwise specified by the faculty member, all submissions, whether in draft or final form, must either be the Student’s own work, or must clearly acknowledge the source(s). Academic Misconduct includes, but is not limited to: (a) cheating, (b) fraud, (c) plagiarism, such as word for word copying, using borrowed words or phrases from original text into new patterns without attribution, or paraphrasing another writer’s ideas; (d) the buying or selling of all or any portion of course assignments and research papers; (e) performing academic assignments (including tests and examinations) in another person’s stead; (f) unauthorized disclosure or receipt of academic information; (g) falsification of research data (h) unauthorized collaboration; (i) using the same paper or data for several assignments or courses without proper documentation; (j) unauthorized alteration of student records; and (k) academic sabotage, including destroying or obstructing another student’s work.

Any academic misconduct, including plagiarism, will result in a grade of zero for the assignment concerned. All incidents of academic misconduct will be reported to the PSU Conduct Office.

If you are uncertain about what constitutes plagiarism, I recommend visiting me during my office hours and/or reviewing these online resources:

Attribution vs. Originality

The degree to which collaborative and derivative work is allowed in this class may vary by assignment.

  • In all cases, attribution is paramount. Because this is an educational setting, all copied and derivative computer code or written text must be attributed.
  • Even if you are using public domain writings or open source code, you must note in your own work all places from which you draw inspiration, ideas, or implementation details. Even if you start with someone else’s code or text and then modify it significantly, you should still cite the author of the original work that you used to get started. It is always better to over-attribute than under-attribute.

In all cases, the work you submit as your own must actually be your own. It is not acceptable to hand in assignments in which substantial amounts of the work was completed by someone else.

That said, many university plagiarism policies tend to focus on the less productive side of the issue, urging students to be “original” and telling them what not to do (buying papers, copying text from the internet and passing it off as one’s own, etc.). It can be helpful to take more expansive view of what academic integrity means. Academic integrity is not so much a matter of producing purely original thought, but of recognizing and acknowledging the resources on which you draw. For example, you will notice in the acknowledgements throughout, that this syllabus draws heavily from a wide range of other university professors. References to others’ work both lend your work additional authority and credibility, and also help the reader understand what unique contributions you might have made in bringing diverse resources together in a writing assignment or project. Originality is not just about a singular novel idea, but may also be about a novel combination of others’ ideas.

In light of this, I do not use “plagiarism detection” services like Turnitin. Rather than expending your energy worrying about originality, I suggest that you think instead about what kind of citational network you are locating yourself in. What thinkers are you thinking with? What programmers are you coding with? Where do they come from? How might their positions in the world inform their thoughts – and, in turn, your thoughts? What is your position relative to these thinkers, writers, and makers? How might you re-shape your citational network to better reflect your priorities or ideals? How are you learning from or extending the code or text in question? How do you think the original author would feel about your use of their work? Are you generous in giving them credit for the parts that are the result of their own hard work or are you claiming it as your own?

If you are interested in these issues, I recommend these pieces:

You may write a 500-word response to these pieces for extra credit. See me in office hours for details.

Writing Assignments

In the case of any writing assignments such as reading responses and the case analysis, I expect you to quote and reference course readings, course discussions, and external sources. Indeed, your ability to locate and use such sources is part of the skill that you should be developing and demonstrating as a writer. At this point in your life, you should be an accomplished communicator and thinker. However, for full points on any writing assignment, I will also expect you to build on these works and move beyond simply repeating others’ ideas: to bring your own unique experiences, critiques, and perspectives into conversation with these authors.

Coding Assignments

This course does not have any coding assignments.

Take Care of Yourself!

There are many resources available to support you at PSU. I encourage you to take advantage of them so that you will be successful at both your academic and non-academic pursuits.

Library: The library is full of helpful people who can assist you in research projects, finding course books and materials, connecting with other campus resources, and getting a public library card! The types of questions that they field are endless, and they would love to be part of your college success story. Say hello!

We in Computer Science (WiCS): student organization promoting diversity in computer science

Writing Center: The writing center can help you improve your writing! Visit them!

Office of Information Technology (OIT): Campus help desk for all things technology-related

C.A.R.E. Team: Central point of contact if you or someone you know is having a difficult time – mentally, financially, physically, anything!

PSU Food Pantry: Located in SMSU 325.

Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC): free, drop-in mental and physical health care For mental health, their capacity is limited to a few appointments. However, they will help you find a referral for ongoing therapy or other care.

Financial Wellness Center: For many college students, money is an extremely important and often stressful topic. The Financial Wellness Center offers coaching sessions and meetings with peer mentors:

PSU Cultural Resource Centers (CRCs) create a student-centered inclusive environment that enriches the university experience. We provide student leadership, employment, and volunteer opportunities; student resources such as computer labs, event, lounge and study spaces; and extensive programming. All are welcome!,, 503-725-5351, facebook

See the dean of student life website for further student resources:

Additional Mental Health & Counseling Resources

College can be a stressful time for a variety of reasons, and taking care of your mental health is important! If SHAC isn’t working out for you, these other resources may be useful8:

Community Counseling Clinic - This is a low-cost resource for ongoing counseling, on campus, located in the grad school of education. The upside is that it is $15 per session for as long as you need, the potential downside is that the therapists are interns.

M.E.T.A. - This is an off-campus resource (Belmont x Cesar Chavez-ish). The cost is between $30-45, depending on the experience level of your intern and on your budget. Like the Community Counseling Clinic, it is with interns.

Multnomah County Crisis Services - if, at any point, you feel like you are in a mental health crisis, please call (503) 988-488. If this seems like a plausible scenario to you, I would put this number in your phone now. In addition to crisis services, they can also give referrals and information.

Access and Inclusion for Students with Disabilities

This section is lightly edited from:

PSU values diversity and inclusion; we are committed to fostering mutual respect and full participation for all students. My goal is to create a learning environment that is equitable, useable, inclusive, and welcoming. If any aspects of instruction or course design result in barriers to your inclusion or learning, please notify me. The Disability Resource Center (DRC) provides reasonable accommodations for students who encounter barriers in the learning environment.

If you have, or think you may have, a disability that may affect your work in this class and feel you need accommodations, contact the Disability Resource Center to schedule an appointment and initiate a conversation about reasonable accommodations. The DRC is located in 116 Smith Memorial Student Union, 503-725-4150,,

  • If you already have accommodations, please contact me to make sure that I have received a faculty notification letter and discuss your accommodations.
  • Students who need accommodations for tests and quizzes are expected to schedule their tests to overlap with the time the class is taking the test. (There are no tests or quizzes in this course.)
  • For information about emergency preparedness, please go to the Fire and Life Safety webpage for information.

Title IX Reporting Obligations

This section is lightly edited from this suggested syllabus statement.

Title IX is a federal law that requires the university to appropriately respond to any concerns of sex/gender discrimination, sexual harassment or sexual violence. To assure students receive support, faculty members are required to report any instances of sexual harassment, sexual violence and/or other forms of prohibited discrimination to PSU’s Title IX Coordinator, Julie Caron.

If you would rather share information about these experiences with an employee who does not have these reporting responsibilities and can keep the information confidential, please contact one of the following campus resources (or visit this link

  • Women’s Resource Center (503-725-5672) or schedule on line at
  • Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC): 1880 SW 6th Ave, (503) 725-2800
  • Student Legal Services: 1825 SW Broadway, (SMSU) M343, (503) 725-4556

PSU’s Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Title IX Coordinators can meet with you to discuss how to address concerns that you may have regarding a Title IX matter or any other form of discrimination or discriminatory harassment. Please note that they cannot keep the information you provide to them confidential but will keep it private and only share it with limited people that have a need to know. You may contact the Title IX Coordinators as follows:

  • PSU’s Title IX Coordinator: Julie Caron by calling 503-725-4410, via email at or in person at Richard and Maureen Neuberger Center (RMNC), 1600 SW 4th Ave, Suite 830
  • Deputy Title IX Coordinator: Yesenia Gutierrez by calling 503-725-4413, via email at or in person at RMNC, 1600 SW 4th Ave, Suite 830
  • Deputy Title IX Coordinator: Dana Walton-Macaulay by calling 503-725-5651, via email at or in person at Smith Memorial Union, Suite, 1825 SW Broadway, Suite 433

For more information about the applicable regulations please complete the required student module Creating a Safe Campus in your D2L


  1. The quoted text is from: ↩︎

  2. This section contains lightly edited text from: ↩︎

  3. See the Credit Hour Policy of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (this is the organization which accredits PSU) ↩︎

  4. Emilie Pine. 2018. Notes to Self. Tramp Press. ↩︎

  5. See, e.g., J. McGrath Cohoon. 2001. Toward improving female retention in the computer science major. Commun. ACM 44, 5 (May 2001), 108-114.; Tracey Lien. 2015. “Why are women leaving the tech industry in droves?” LA Times. ↩︎

  6. See, e.g., Jane Margollis et al. 2008. Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing. MIT Press.; Steve Henn. 2014. “When Women Stopped Coding” Planet Money, NPR.; Michelle Kim. 2018. “Why focusing on the “business case” for diversity is a red flag” Quartz at WORK, 29 March 2018. ↩︎

  7. PSU Student Code of Conduct: ↩︎

  8. Resource list courtesy Dr. Neera Malhotra, PSU, University Studies ↩︎