General Course Info

  • Instructor: Alex Godwin [alex.godwin (at)]
  • First Class: Tuesday, Aug 22
  • Time/ Location: Tue/Thur 3pm-4:15pm, CCB 101
  • Office Hours: Find me after class, or email for an appointment: TSRB Vis Lab (3rd floor)
  • TA: Julia Deeb-Swihart [jdeeb3 (at)]
  • TA Office Hours: TBA

In this class. you will learn about:

What do "right" and "wrong" mean anyway? How is "ethical" different from "legal"? We'll learn about several philosophical approaches to ethics including utilitiarianism, Kantianism, social contract theory, and virtue ethics. The goal is for students to be able to address ethical dilemmas with reasoned arguments, grounded in a combination of these ethical theories.
Professional Ethics
What special responsibilities do we have as computing professionals? What do the Software Engineering Code of Ethics and ACM Code of Ethics say, and how can we use these in our daily practice?
Computing and Society
In what ways does computer technology impact society? We'll talk about a host of issues including privacy, intellectual property, and freedom of speech.
How do you construct a well-reasoned argument? Whatever you go on to do in your professional career, your success will arguably depend more on your oral and written communication skills than on your technical skills. This class is one of your few and precious opportunities to work to improve those skills.
Academic integrity: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, you are expected to do your assignments and work on your own. Your final paper will be an independent effort created solely by you. For it, you may use appropriately cite sources on the web. It is appropriate to discuss your paper with others to gain ideas and feedback and help with sticky problems. It is not appropriate to find an existing paper, modify it and submit it as your own work. If in doubt, confer with your instructor.

All students are expected to adhere to the Georgia Tech Honor Code.

Course Schedule

Readings should be completed before each lecture.

Dates Topic Reading Assignments Due
8-22 Welcome and Overview    
8-24 Case Study: Therac-25  
8-29 Reading Arguments Writing Arguments (WA) 1 & 2  
8-31 Utilitarianism Quinn 2.1-2.3, 2.7-2.8  
9-5 Deontology & Social Contract Theory Quinn 2.6, 2.9 HW 1
9-7 Core & Logical Structure of Arguments WA 3 & 4  
9-12 No Class (hurricane Irma)
9-14 Stakeholder Analysis & Virtue Ethics Please come to class with a short quote from one of the readings that you find interesting.
9-19 Evidence HW 2
9-21 Guest Professional Ethics
9-26 Privacy
  • Quinn Chapter 5, Chapter 6 through 6.5, 6.7
HW 3
9-28 Privacy and the Government  
10-3 Guest Freedom of Speech & Networked Communications
  • Quinn 3.2, 3.5-3.8
  • Skim the rest of the chapter
Term Paper Proposals
10-5 Guest Discussion of Term Paper Proposals & Midterm Review Come to class prepared to tell everyone about your term paper topic.
10-10 No Class Fall break    
10-12 Exam Midterm Sample Midterm  
10-17 Responding to Alternate Views & Argument Structures WA 6 & 7  
10-19 Intellectual Property Quinn Chapter 4, through end of 4.6  
10-24 Software as Intellectual Property Quinn Chapter 4, continued (4.7-end) Term Paper Outline
10-26 Computer Reliability & Software Warranties Quinn Chapter 8.1-8.4, 8.7-8.8  
10-31 The Patriot Act  
11-2 The NSA and Edward Snowden Add the name of a person involved in these events to the class wiki on T-Square. Pick someone no one else has chosen yet. Take notes on what is said about them as you watch the Frontline documentary, and supplement that by doing some research online (Wikipedia is adequate in most cases). Come to class prepared to tell the class:
  • Who is this person? What is their background and what is their job?
  • What role did they play in these events? Tell their story.
  • What important choices did they make?
  • What happened to them as a result?
  • How would you evaluate their choices?
  • Relevant people include NSA employees, politicians, lawyers, journalists, etc.
This counts towards your class participation grade.
11-7 Do Artifacts Have Politics?
11-9 Term Paper Discussion Come to class prepared to talk about your term paper Term Papers
11-14 Work and Wealth  
11-16 Visual Argument VST Entire Book: Visual & Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Decision Making by Tufte  
11-21 No Class Happy Thanksgiving!    
11-23 No Class Happy Thanksgiving!    
11-28 Two topics: Ariely & Simulation
  • Chapter "The Context of our Character, Part 1: Why We Are Dishonest, and What We Can Do About It" from "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely (electronic reserve)
  • Seductions of Sim by Paul Starr
  • Quinn 8.6
11-30 Net Neutrality  
12-5 Final Exam Review    
12-14 Exam Final Exam   11:30 am - 2:20 pm


Class Participation

It is expected that students will come to class, be prepared by doing the readings, and will pay attention and participate in discussions. Doing all three regularly will earn full credit. Contributions to class Piazza discussions count towards class participation

Any questions regarding general rules and regulations should first be directed to the Georgia Tech Catalog. If you still have questions, please seek out the TA or Instructor during the posted office hours.

No Use of Laptops or Cell Phones in Class

Educational research shows that taking notes by hand on paper will lead to better retention of material than taking notes by typing. Also, in the past we have had issues with students not only not paying attention but also disrupting others during class-- by playing games, by accidentally clicking on a video with the sound on, etc. Requests to use laptops in class will be considered on a case-by-case basis. If you would like to use a laptop during class, please set up a time to meet with the professor.

Please do not use your cell phone in class.


Homeworks will be graded on a list of criteria (specified on the assignment) such as quality of writing, completeness, insight into technical issues, insight into social issues, etc. For each criterion, you will receive either a check plus, check, or check minus. Most criterion will receive a check. A plus means "you impressed me." A minus means the assignment is incomplete, incorrect, or sloppy in some fashion with respect to that criterion. Pluses and minuses are combined to give your grade for the assignment. For most assignments, you start out half way between a B+ and A-. One plus makes it an A-; one minus makes it a B+. These are general guidelines to let you know what to expect. Grading on specific assignments may differ.

Please hand all assignments in on paper unless explicitly instructed otherwise. Please also double space. The blank space leaves us room for comments.

You will have the opportunity to revise your term paper. Your final term paper grade will be the average of your first and revised grade. To hand in a revised paper, you must hand in three things: a copy of the original paper with instructor comments on it, a copy of the revised paper, and a copy of the revised paper with changes highlighted. You may highlight changes with a highlighter pen, or use the 'version tracking' feature of many word processors.

If English is not your first language, you may request to not be graded on your writing for a particular individual assignment, including the term paper. This means you won't be penalized for bad writing, but you also won't get credit for good writing. To take advantage of this option, you must mark "ESL" (English as a Second Language) on the first page of your assignment/paper. This option is not available for group assignments. We still of course expect you to try to write in correct English, and will do our best to offer useful feedback on your writing.

Required Textbooks

[Quinn] Ethics for the Information Age, Seventh Edition, by Michael Quinn (You may rent an electronic copy rather than buying it.)
[WA] Writing Arguments: A Rhetoric with Readings, Concise Seventh Edition (2016) by John D. Ramage, John C. Bean, and June Johnson. (You may rent an electronic copy rather than buying it.)
[VST] Visual and Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Making Decisions, Edward R. Tufte (Graphics Press)


Component Weight
Class Participation 10%
Attendance 10%
HW Assignments 20%
Term Paper 25%
Midterm Exam 15%
Final Exam 20%

Late Policy

Assignments are due at the start of class on the day they are due. Late assignments will be penalized at a rate of 3 pts (one grade step: A becomes A-) per day. Assignments more than one week late will not be accepted.

Over the course of the term, you have three "late days" where work may be late with no explanation needed. Please mark “Use my late days” on the first page of your assignment/paper if want to use your late days when you make late submissions. Use your late days wisely as different submissions have different weights.


Assignments and ideas on this syllabus build on those from everyone who has taught it before, especially Amy Bruckman, Colin Potts, Mary Jean Harrold, Bill Ribarsky, and Spencer Rugaber.