Simple Case that Discusses the Issue of Job Loss Resulting from the Implementation of a Computer System

Topic area Workplace Issues
Target audience Undergraduate students in CS, CIS, or SE 
Activity type In-class discussion
Time required Part of one class period
Attachments None
Additional materials None
Background needed to complete the assignment Weiss, Eric A., Ed., "Scenario 4.3," "Self-Assessment Procedure IX: A Self-Assessment Procedure Dealing with ethics in Computing," Communications of the ACM, 25:3 (March 1982), p. 186.
Several codes of ethics from computer/engineering societies.
Last modified 8/12/99


A major reason that management support the use of technology is to improve productivity, which in many instances mean the elimination (or radical redesign) of jobs.  In such a project, the designer of  the new system can feel torn between their obligation to their employer to meet the specifications of the project and their obligations to fellow co-workers (and possibly friends) and to the needs of society.  Problems can arise from projects that either will result in reduced employment or will result in the need for workers with vastly different skill sets than that possessed by the present work force.

Goals for the activity:

This exercise is to present to the students a realistic depiction of the dilemma and to cause them to consider the issues involved.

Knowledge / skills / attitudes to be developed (behavioral objectives):

After completion of this exercise students should be able to


Option 1:

  1. Distribute copies of the above referenced scenario to the students
  2. Either in or out of class, have the students discuss the case and the issues involved, identifying the stakeholders, the actors (those making choices), and the responsibilities that each actor has to each stakeholder. For each responsibility identified, state whether the action taken was ethical, including which ethical principles form the codes were used in making the determination
  3. Each group reports to the entire class the responsibilities identified and their conclusions reached on each responsibility
  4. Instructor records publicly the list of responsibilities identified for each actor and each group's conclusion for each responsibility identified
  5. Instructor leads a discussion that first examines whether each actor had the responsibilities assigned
  6. Instructor then leads a discussion that examines the rationale for the conclusions about the actions taken for each responsibility recognized by a significant portion of the class
  7. (Optional) Instructor leads a discussion in which the members of the class are asked to state how they would act if they were the designer of the system. This question could also be given as a writing assignment for the next class.

Option 2:

  1. Instead of discussing the scenario in groups, have the students first read the materials in class and prepare answers to the questions in Step 2 above
  2. Divide the class into pairs and using the think/pair/share method, instruct each pair to agree on a common set of conclusions for the pair
  3. The instructor calls on each pair sequentially to give one responsibility not previously identified and their conclusions reached on each responsibility or a different conclusion reached for previously identified responsibility; instructor records publicly the lists of responsibilities identified and the various conclusion reached about each responsibility
  4. Procedure as in Option 1 for Steps 5 - 7
Assessing outcomes:

Possible methods include: