COS 490: Overview

Computers, Ethics and Society

Professor Harlan J. Onsrud
Room 340 Boardman Hall

Course Objectives

This course considers the human and social consequences of technological development and the use of computers in society. Ethical questions of computer use and professional ethics are addressed. The course covers readings and assignments grouped under the following headings: • history of cyber society, • cyberlaw and internet law, • privacy law, • crime and security, • effects of modern computing on society, • cyber society ethics, psychology, and the U.S. political system, and • cyber society perspectives on business and education.

Upon completion of the course, each student should:
– have an understanding of professional, ethical, legal, security, and societal issues affecting and affected by the field of computing and recognize their responsibilities in the context of furthering broader societal goals, and responsibilities,
– be able to analyze local to global effects of computing on individuals, organizations, and society, and
– recognize the need and have an ability to pursue continuing professional development and life-long learning to keep abreast of changing scientific, technological, and societal challenges and advancements affected by and affecting the field of computing.

A. Class Sessions

  • Date and Time: Tuesday and Thursday, 3:30 pm – 4:45 pm. This semester the course is offered entirely online synchronously. That is, you must attend “live” at COS 490 Zoom Sessions. You must be logged in with your full name appearing to the rest of the class. Facial expressions on video go a long way toward making people feel more connected. As such, it is highly recommended that you keep your camera on during live sessions. Definitely unmute your microphone and activate your camera when called upon to present or respond to a question.

Zoom Notes:
(1) The full link if needed is Password: 187620.
(2) If your Internet is out and you can join only by cell or land line phone, use US: +1 646 876 9923 or +1 301 715 8592 or +1 312 626 6799 or +1 253 215 8782 or +1 346 248 7799 or +1 408 638 0968 or +1 669 900 6833
Meeting ID: 998 5005 1912

  • Assignments: Written and oral assignments with their due dates and times are posted on the course web site under Lectures and Assignments. Written assignments will be delivered by you to the Brightspace site for the course.
  • Attendance: Class sessions are highly participatory and therefore attendance and oral participation are major components of your semester grade. Every student is typically expected to lead a discussion or participate in oral discussions each and every class session. Attendance will be taken and your oral performance during class sessions will be graded by the instructor. In addition to your assigned oral presentations, any student may be called upon at any time at random to comment on or respond to the readings. These additional responses are also graded. If you are ill and unable to respond orally for one or more sessions, please let the instructor know in advance so that you will not be called upon and/or your assigned presentation portion of the class may be handled by someone else.
  • Use of Electronic Devices During Class Sessions: You are highly encouraged to take notes during class but the preferred mode for note taking for many is probably by pen on paper. Multi-year research at MIT of CS students and others has consistently shown that multi-tasking results in substantially decreased comprehension and productivity compared to serial task accomplishment. As such, use of electronic devices by students in the classroom during non-pandemic semesters is banned with a few exceptions. (Exceptions not noted this semester). You MAY use an electronic device to refer to your class presentation notes but ONLY if your notes are visible to you on your own screen prior to the beginning of class so there is no time delay in getting to them. Otherwise print your notes on paper to refer to during your presentations. There is no screen sharing of slides or notes during oral presentations.
  • Live Broadcast: Available at Typically, keep your microphone on mute until you are ready to speak. If your oral communication causes feedback, please have ear buds or headphones ready to use if requested by the instructor or fellow students. If you are in a noisy location (i.e. coffee shop when traveling), headphones with a microphone may be required.
  • Archived Broadcasts: Links to the recorded class broadcasts will be made available at the end of each day through Brightspace (see the B logo at Within the COS 490 domain, access the class videos under Class Resources > Videos. View these recordings if you miss a session or to review concepts discussed.

B. Course Materials

  • Note that this is an undergraduate course addressing broad ranging social, legal, ethical, education, economic and business issues in the context of an emerging global cyber society.
  • Required readings include several books, chapters of books and some articles. See the course bibliography which includes the numerous books considered. (See the link in the first paragraph under Lectures and Assignments.) The bibliography changes each year.  The reading assignments are much heavier than experienced normally in computer science or engineering courses so you should begin reading the materials immediately and pace yourself to ensure their completion. The required books should be ordered through online book suppliers and are typically available in new or used paper versions and in e-book versions. Some books may be available through Fogler Library and audio versions of some of the books are available through URSUS or Fogler Library.

C. Important Notices

Important Notices
Academic Honesty: Academic honesty is expected.  Plagiarism is unacceptable in this course and will result typically in a failing grade.  “Although a writer may use other persons’ words and thoughts, they must be acknowledged as such.” Joseph Gibaldi and Walter S. Achtert, MLA Handbook (Modern Language Association) 1977, p. 4.

Academic Honesty See also UMS Academic Integrity Policy (effective Sept 1, 2020)
Students Accessibility Services Statement
Course Schedule Disclaimer
Observance of Religious Holidays/Events
Sexual Discrimination Reporting
Student Conduct Expectations
Classroom Civility
Inclusive and Non-sexist Language
Copyright Notice for Materials Accessible through the Course Website
Contingency Plans in the Event of an Epidemic
COVID-19 Statement

D. Instructor Office Hours & Discussion Sessions

  • For one-on-one discussions with the instructor: E-mail to is often the simplest way to get a message through and a response. You are also welcome to call my office at 207-581-2175 (NOT typically available here in Fall2020). If a face-to-face session is desired, send me an email with a suggested time and date to schedule a Zoom session.
  • Post a question or comment: Sometimes a faster or better way to get help is to post your question to other students in the course on the BrightSpace site.
  • Office Hours – Live Discussion  Sessions: Office hours will be established at the beginning of the semester. Within 15 minutes after the beginning of the office hour session, go to Feel free to use chat as well if several students are in the session. If no students show up within 15 minutes of the start time I may leave the session.

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