Improving Student Engagement in the Study of Professional Ethics: Concepts and an Example in Cyber Security

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In spite of the acknowledged importance of professional ethics, technical students often show little enthusiasm for studying the subject. This paper considers how such engagement might be improved. Four guiding principles for promoting engagement are identified: (1) aligning teaching content with student interests; (2) taking a pragmatic rather than a philosophical approach to issue resolution; (3) addressing the full complexity of real-world case studies; and (4) covering content in a way that students find entertaining. The use of these principles is then discussed with respect to the specific experience of developing and presenting a master’s module in Ethical and Legal Issues in Cyber Security at Queens University Belfast. One significant aspect of the resulting design is that it encourages students to see ethical issues in systemic terms rather than from an individual perspective, with issues emerging from a conflict between different groups with different vested interests. Case studies are used to examine how personal and business priorities create conflicts that can lead to negative press, fines and punitive legal action. The module explores the reasons why organisations may be unaware of the risks associated with their actions and how an inappropriate response to an ethical issue can significantly aggravate a situation. The module has been delivered in three successive years since 2014 and been well received on each occasion. The paper describes the design of the module and the experience of delivering it, concluding with a discussion of the effectiveness of the approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalScience and Engineering Ethics
Early online date11 Apr 2017
Publication statusEarly online date - 11 Apr 2017


  • Ethics, Professional
  • Cybersecurity, research,inovation, trust, resilience, translation
  • Curriculum development


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