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A Very Big Adventure. Using the internet to enable multi-institutional collaboration in teaching computer ethics Joe Griffin, Dept of CSIS. Overview. Research questions Subject domain Multi-institutional approach Collaborative Learning Objectively measuring results How LMS was used

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A very big adventure

A Very Big Adventure

Using the internet to enable multi-institutional collaboration in teaching computer ethics

Joe Griffin, Dept of CSIS


  • Research questions

  • Subject domain

  • Multi-institutional approach

  • Collaborative Learning

  • Objectively measuring results

  • How LMS was used

  • Results

  • Future research

Some fundamental questions
Some fundamental questions

  • How do you motivate students?

  • How do you make learning a very big adventure?

  • What happens when students collaborate?

  • How do you stop free riding?

  • How do you measure learning?

A very big adventure

  • Professional Issues in Software Engineering

  • “The legal, ethical and social consequences of the design, development and use of computer systems”

  • Objective:

    • To encourage students to develop the ethical foundations of good professional practice in computing

  • A major theme is the relationship between ethics and the legal and social consequences of being a computer professional

Multi institutional approach
Multi-institutional approach

  • This study focuses on the use of collaborative learning involving students from three institutions

    • University of Limerick, Ireland

    • Sacred Heart University, USA

    • de Montfort University, England

  • Courses had similar focus

  • Pedagogicalapproach was teaching and learning collaboratively in groups

Why collaborative learning
Why Collaborative Learning?

  • Collaboration with other students has been shown to stimulate activity, make learning more realistic and to stimulate motivation

  • Research has also shown that moral dilemmas in computer ethics encourage group discussion

  • Teamwork encourages social facilitation, better learning and higher cognitive skills

  • Groups can produce better solutions to moral and ethical problems than individuals

  • Collaborative learning supported by instructional technology can lead to deeper understanding and new knowledge creation

Problems with collaborative learning
Problems with Collaborative Learning

  • A major problem with the use of group-based approaches is individual assessment

    • Free-Riding: some individuals gain more (in terms of grades) than they have put into the process (this grows more problematic with larger groups)

    • Domination by the stronger students

Measuring learning
Measuring learning

  • Do traditional assessment tasks actually measure moral reasoning ability?

  • Alternative is a method based on Kohlberg’s Stage Theory of Moral Development

  • Developed from Piaget’s work – 2 stage model

  • Moral Judgment Test (MJT) - Lind 1984 - 2004

Kohlberg s 6 stage model







Obedience and punishment

Fear of punishment


Individualism & Exchange

Returning favours



Good interpersonal relationships

Putting yourself in other's shoes


Social Order

Avoiding societal breakdown



Social contract & individual rights

Obeying the law and upholding rights such as liberty and life


Universal Principles

Guided by principles of justice, human rights and human dignity

Kohlberg’s 6 stage model

Kohlberg s definition of moral judgement
Kohlberg’s definition of moral judgement

Affective, cognitive and behavioural domains

Moral Ideals

(motives, principles, attitudes)

Moral Reasoning Competence

Moral Action

Mjt an adequate moral reasoning measurement tool
MJT- an adequate moral reasoning measurement tool ?

  • the ability to measure both the cognitive and affective aspects or moral behaviour

  • the inclusion of a moral task

  • non-fakeability (i.e. subjects should not be able to get scores higher than their moral reasoning competency)

  • sensitivity to change, measure the subject's own moral principles rather than imposing external moral expectations

  • equivalence of both pro and con arguments in terms of Kohlberg's six stages.

Collaborative tools on blackboard
Collaborative Tools on Blackboard

  • Discussion Board: Asynchronous

  • Send Email: Asynchronous

  • File Exchange: Asynchronous

  • Virtual Chat: Synchronous

Blackboard use
Blackboard use

  • Management - self-organisation students into groups, selection of topics, tutorial times and presentation times

  • Accessing learning materials and external links

  • Communication

    • lecturer to student

    • student to lecturer

    • student to student

  • Intra-group collaboration using self-regulated discussion groups

The study
The study

  • 2 cycles over 2 academic years

  • Equal numbers from each university

  • Groups selected a scenario

  • Worked together in virtual learning groups to solve moral dilemma

  • Used MJT to objectively measure any changes in moral reasoning

  • Only compared MJT scores from UL students to account for differences in teaching input

  • Hypothesised that higher C index (of >5) would be achieved by ‘international’ group members

Results 1st study
Results - 1st study

  • No significant differences

  • Possible reasons:

    • the asynchronous nature of the tool

    • lack of organization skills of students

    • lack of roles within the group

    • importance

    • allowing virtual groups to self organise (setting own deadlines and milestones)

    • needed more time to get to know each other, to articulate their strengths and weaknesses

    • the nature of the moral dilemmas

    • test fatigue


  • there was a greater improvement in moral reasoning development as measured by the MJT when learners participate in collaborative virtual learning groups when compared with the results achieved by learners in single institution groups

  • there was a greater measure of improvement for female students than for male students

  • care needs to be taken in establishing and sustaining virtual learning groups.

Future research
Future Research

  • Switching to Moodle

  • Identifying appropriate case studies

  • Introducing multi-cultural perspective

Contact details
Contact details

Joe Griffin

Department of Computer Science and Information systems

University of Limerick



Email: joe.griffin@ul.ie