CMSC 304: Ethical and Social Issues in Information Technology
Spring 2013

Last revised 1/28/13


Dr. Marie desJardins
ITE 337
Office hours: Wednesdays 2:00-3:00, Thursdays 11:30-12:30

Teaching Assistant: Alec Pulianas,
Office hours: Mondays 1:00-2:20, ITE 452 (CWIT Office)


The course meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00-11:15 in ITE 239.
The course schedule is subject to change.

Catalog Description

Catalog Description: A survey course that reviews social issues and the ethical impact of information technology throughout the world. The course examines the policy issues that relate to the use of information technology, such as persona, privacy, rights of access, security, transborder information flow and confidentiality.

Notes on Pilot Section: This offering of CMSC 304 is a pilot course for a redesign of the class. The new version will focus more broadly on social, legal, and ethical issues surrounding computing, its applications, and its effect on society. Topics will include the history of computing, intellectual property and ownership, security and privacy, free speech and censorship, environmental impact and green computing, accessibility, work issues including automation and working conditions, entrepreneurship, and artificial intelligence and autonomous systems.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the course, students will be able to:
  1. Define ethical reasoning as it relates to computer science, and apply ethical principles to the profession of computer science.
  2. Understand key legal concepts related to computing and its use, including patent protection, digital copyright, cybersecurity, and software licensing.
  3. Understand the ACM Code of Ethics and the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and how these documents relate to theoretical ethical principles and professional and social responsibilities.
  4. Be able to identify and differentiate between ethical, social, and legal issues, and recognize their importance for CS professionals.
  5. Analyze cases and issues using ethical principles, professional standards, legal standards, economic consequences, and social effects.
  6. Given an issue or problem of ethical, social, legal, and/or economic relevance to the computing profession, analyze the relevant information, formulate an opinion, defend this opinion clearly in a written document or oral presentation, and understand and explain opposing perspectives.

Additional Course Information


  1. CMSC 202 and permission of the course instructor. Preference will be given to CS majors and minors.

Required Textbook

Sara Baase, A Gift of Fire (4/e), Prentice Hall, 2008 (ISBN: 0132492679).


As you will learn, I am a strong believer in two-way communication. I expect all students to participate in classroom discussions, both by asking questions and by expressing opinions. In return, I will make myself available to answer questions, listen to concerns, and talk to any student about topics related to the class (or not). I welcome your feedback throughout the semester about how the course is going.

In addition to regular office hours, I maintain a semi-open-door policy: you should feel to stop by to ask questions, or just say hello, whenever my door is open (which it generally will be unless I am out of the office, in a meeting, or deep in thought). If the door is partially ajar, feel free to interrupt if you have a pressing concern.  If the door is closed, please do not knock unless it is a genuine emergency. (Also, I'm not that great at remembering names, so please don't be offended if I ask you several times to re-introduce yourself!) I will also make a concerted effort to answer e-mail within 24 hours (or on Monday for email sent over the weekend).

Coursework and Grading

There will be assigned reading for each class from the course textbook, as well as additional articles and excerpts. Students will be expected to contribute to an online class reading journal in which students reflect on (and discuss) the assigned reading, class discussions, and course topics.

Class participation in discussions and lectures is expected and will be a significant part of the grade. Your grade in this area will be based on attendance, attentiveness, preparedness, contributions to the in-class discussions, and assigned exercises and activities (some of which may have a written component to be completed after the class). Many of the in-class activities will be conducted in small groups or teams. Team grades will be factored into each student's overall grade, with an adjustment for students who show exceptional leadership/contribution or who fail to make a sustained contribution to the group activities.

There will be three written analysis papers (both individual and group-based), a midterm, a final research paper, and an oral presentation.

For extra credit, students may attend entrepreneurship events, lectures on relevant topics, or other preapproved events, and write a 1-2 page essay about their impressions and what they learned. Extra credit assignments should be polished and well written. Each assignment is worth extra credit equal to 1% of the overall class grade; up to two such assignments may be submitted (for a total of 3% extra credit). Course grades will be based on the following weighting.

Class participation, attendance, and in-class exercises 30%
Online reading journal 15%
Midterm exam 15%
Ethical analyses 15%
In-class presentation(s) 5%
Final research paper 20%
Extra credit (up to 3%)

Grading Policy

In general, for written assignments, the approximate distribution of how your grade will be allocated is:
  1. 80% for content (well thought out and well reasoned discussion and analysis).
  2. 10% for readability: correct grammar and spelling, readable formatting or handwriting.
  3. 10% for elegance: well expressed thoughts in a well structured essay.
All written assignments must be typed or very legibly handwritten, and must be proofread with reasonable attention to spelling, clarity, and grammar. It is disrespectful to the instructor to submit an illegible or poorly prepared assignment. Illegible assignments and assignments with large numbers of typographical and grammatical errors will be returned without a grade; to receive a grade, the assignment must be resubmitted in legible form by the next class period. Only one such resubmission will be permitted per student per semester.

Although this is not a writing class, success in any discipline requires the ability to effectively communicate one's thoughts. If you have difficulty writing, whether because English is not your first language, or because you haven't taken many writing classes in your undergraduate program, I highly suggest that you take advantage of UMBC's writing center, in the main library. (Phone: 410-455-3126. URL: center.htm. Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.) This is a free tutoring service that will help you prepare essays and papers for any course.

Late Policy

Work is expected to be turned in on time. In general, assignments are due at the beginning of class on the due date. If you miss class, you must arrange for your homework to be turned in during or before class. Late work will be assessed a penalty as follows: Most assignments must be submitted in hardcopy, and late work is considered submitted when I receive it, which means that if you cannot hand it to me personally, you should email me the assignment as a placeholder, and then give me a hardcopy at the next opportunity. Please try to print your assignments early, since students sometimes have trouble with the library printers, and "The printer wasn't working" is not an acceptable excuse. At a minimum, for such an assignment to receive full credit, you must email it to me before the deadline and then provide a hardcopy as soon as possible. I reserve the right to assign a late penalty in these cases, particularly if this issue comes up repeatedly for a particular student.

In an effort to encourage good time management, I will generally grant one one-week extension per student, over the course of the semester, if requested in advance and with a clear explanation (other projects due, work-related travel, outside commitments). Last-minute requests for extensions will generally be denied, since the purpose of the extensions is to plan ahead for "crunch times."

Other than the case of an approved extension, the late penalty will apply unless there are extraordinary circumstances---such as an extended illness or death in the family (these cases must be documented and cleared with the instructor).

Academic Honesty

This course adheres to the Provost's statement on academic integrity:

"By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UMBC's scholarly community in which everyone's academic work and behavior are held to the highest standards of honesty. Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and helping others to commit these acts are all forms of academic dishonesty, and they are wrong. Academic misconduct could result in disciplinary action that may include, but is not limited to, suspension or dismissal. To read the full Student Academic Conduct Policy, consult the UMBC Student Handbook, the Faculty Handbook, or the UMBC Policies section of the UMBC Directory."

Cheating in any form will not be tolerated. In particular, all submitted work must be your own work. You may discuss the projects and readings with anyone. In particular, students are encouraged to work in small groups (up to 5 students working together) to discuss the assignments. However, unless an assignment is explicitly a group-based assignment, the work you submit must be completed by yourself, independently of the other students in the group. That is, when you write the actual answers, you should be writing in your own words, not just copying down a group answer word for word. Furthermore, if you work in a study group, you must indicate this on your submission. If you do not include such a statement, the course staff will assume you worked entirely independently. Any indication of collaboration with other students in this case will be considered a violation of the academic honesty policy.

Written answers, including your contributions to the online reading journal, your research paper and all drafts, all individual written assignments, and the midterm exam, must be your own work. If you wish to quote a source (including the course textbook or other assigned readings), you must do so explicitly at the point of the quotation, with proper citation. Plagiarism of any source, including another student's work, is not acceptable.

The same policy applies to group work: all group answers must be the work of the group, and no material should be taken from any other source (including other students or groups in the class) without proper quoting and citations.

Providing another student with answers, or helping them to cheat, is an equally serious violation of the principles of academic honesty. A student who commits such an offense is subject to the same penalties as the student who cheated.

Any violation of the academic honesty policy will result in a minimum penalty of a zero grade for that assignment. In addition, in order to pass the course, the student will be required to recomplete the assignment honestly. Consequences for more serious infractions of this policy, or for second offenses, may include, but are not limited to, receiving a failing grade in the course or being suspended or expelled from the university.