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, • crime and security, • privacy, • society: ethics, psychology, and U.S. political system, • cyber society perspectives on education and business, • project teamwork, and potentially • collaboration and • design.

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 affecting the field of computing.

A. Class Sessions: On-Campus Students

  • Date and Time: Tues and Thursday, 9:30 am – 10:45 am, Room 119 Barrows Hall (or Room 136 Boardman depending on enrollment). Normally all on campus students are required to attend in person in the classroom.
  • Assignments: Assignments with their due dates and times are posted in the online syllabus.
  • Attendance: Class sessions are often highly participatory and therefore attendance is a major part of your semester grade. Every student is typically expected to lead a discussion or participate in discussions each and every class session. Attendance will be taken and your performance during class sessions will be noted by the instructor. If you are called upon by name in class to respond or comment and fail to do so in a substantive manner, this will be marked as equivalent to being absent.
  • Use of Electronic Devices in Class: You are highly encouraged to take notes in class but the preferred mode for note taking for many may be 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 is banned with the following exceptions: (a) you may take notes on your computer if you can demonstrate in the first week that you are able to touch type at a rate of 50+ words per minute (however, additional recent research shows that, even for efficient typists, taking notes by hand increases retention of content), (b) you may take notes on a laptop if you use a writing stylus, and (c) you may respond to an expected urgent phone call or message only if you leave the room to do so and then return. All other uses of electronic devices in the classroom will result in marking you absent for the class period. As noted under Lectures and Assignments, you are required to keep a course notes journal. For most students, notes are most readily accomplished through hand written notes on the paper discussion templates available each class period. Although printing of your notes for class presentations is highly recommended, you MAY use an electronic device to refer to your class presentation notes but ONLY if instantly available and prior to traveling to the front of the room.
  • Live Broadcast: (UNAVAILABLE FALL 2017) Available at If you have to travel, you can participate live by logging in as a guest from anywhere with good Internet access. You must use ear buds or headphones when talking to avoid feedback for students in the classroom. Headphones with a microphone are required if you participate from someplace noisy like a coffee shop.
  • Archived Broadcasts:(UNAVAILABLE FALL 2017) Links to the class broadcasts are made available at the end of each day through the Lectures and Assignments web page. View these if you miss a session

   Class Sessions: Off-Campus Distance Students (UNAVAILABLE FALL 2017)

  • Recorded Broadcasts: In-class sessions are recorded on Tues and Thursday at 9:30 – 10:45 and distance students should view them before the Thursday of Friday evening discussion session.  Video links for each session will be posted at (Note: If a live session fails to record due to technical difficulties I will either record again the lecture portion of the session or post a discussion on the same topic from a previous year.)
  • Live Broadcast: Available at Online students may view  the live sessions but are not required to do so. Typically I prefer that you not participate interactively in the session. Online students are not assigned moderator roles.
  • Assignments: Assignments and their due dates and times are posted on the syllabus. Distance students should do the module assignments at any time of their choosing before the indicated deadlines. By example, if you do class assignments only on the weekends, then you should do the assignments for both the next Tuesday and Thursday and thus submit them to BlackBoard several days before they are actually due.
  • End of Week Live Audio Chat: View the lectures and in-class student discussions at times of your own choosing during the week but hopefully before the end of week evening live discussion session. The audio technology used for these sessions is through  the Voice Over Internet Protocol of ConnectPro (We can potentially use Skype as a backup.) The optional Thursday or Friday late afternoon discussion session runs from 5:30-6:30 pm unless another mutually agreed upon time with all distance students is arranged. See paragraph E below for further details.
  • Additional Term Paper: Because distance students are not obligated to participate in and graded on class participation or serve as class moderators, they are expected to do an additional term paper. It typically involves the reading of an instructor approved book and providing a detailed briefing of the material and issues contained in the text. See the Lectures and Assignments web page.

B. Course Materials

  • Note that this is an undergraduate course addressing broad ranging social, legal, ethical, education, business and collaboration 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 (this changes so please verify the linked biblio is for the current academic 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. For the explicit required readings, see Lectures and Assignments. 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 book 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 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. You should assume that the instructor will use a modern plagiarism checker to check your submitted work against all previous electronic submissions in the course as well as against all online and library electronic resources.

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 offfice at 207-581-2175 or try me at my Skype username of harlan.onsrud
  • Sometimes a faster or better way to get help is to post your question to other students in the course in Blackboard.
  • On-campus Students: I am in the office most days and you are welcome to drop by or call at any time although appointments are sometimes better for longer discussions.
  • On-line Students (Live Discussion  Sessions – UNAVAILABLE this semester): An online session has been established on either Thursday or Friday evening from 5:30-6:30 pm East Coast US time (or other mutually agreed upon time) for all students taking the course by on-line methods. (Note: Set up a personal world clock at to track the equivalent time in your time zone.) Simply go to the ConnectPro web site established for the course found at and use the audio facilities or the written chat to ask questions.


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