skip to main content


Title: Understanding “Dark” Design Roles in Computing Education
In conjunction with the increasing ubiquity of technology, computing educators have identified the need for pedagogical engagement with ethical awareness and moral reasoning. Typical approaches to incorporating ethics in computing curricula have focused primarily on abstract methods, principles, or paradigms of ethical reasoning, with relatively little focus on examining and developing students’ pragmatic awareness of ethics as grounded in their everyday work practices. In this paper, we identify and describe computing students’ negotiation of values as they engage in authentic design problems through a lab protocol study. We collected data from four groups of three students each, with each group including participants from either undergraduate User Experience Design students, Industrial Engineering students, or a mix of both. We used a thematic analysis approach to identify the roles that students took on to address the design prompt. Through our analysis, we found that the students took on a variety of “dark” roles that resulted in manipulation of the user and prioritization of stakeholder needs over user needs, with a focus either on building solutions or building rationale for design decisions. We found these roles to actively propagate through design discourses, impacting other designers in ways that frequently reinforced unethical decision making. Even when students were aware of ethical concerns based on their educational training, this awareness did not consistently result in ethically-sound decisions. These findings indicate the need for additional ethical supports to inform everyday computing practice, including means of actively identifying and balancing negative societal impacts of design decisions. The roles we have identified may productively support the development of pragmatically-focused ethical training in computing education, while adding more precision to future analysis of computing student discourses and outputs.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1657310 1909714
NSF-PAR ID:
10288114
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
ICER 2021: Proceedings of the 17th ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research
Page Range / eLocation ID:
225 to 238
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Ethics education has been recognized as increasingly important to engineering over the past two decades, although disagreement exists concerning how ethics can and should be taught in the classroom. With active learning strategies becoming a preferred method of instruction, a collaboration of authors from four universities (University of Pittsburgh, University of Connecticut, Rowan University and New Jersey Institute of Technology) are investigating how game-based or playful learning with strongly situated components can influence first-year engineering students’ ethical knowledge, awareness, and decision making. This paper offers an overview and results of the progress to date of this three year, NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) grant that aims to (1) characterize the ethical awareness and decision making of first-year engineering students, (2) develop game-based learning interventions focused on ethical decision making, and (3) determine how (and why) game-based approaches affect students’ ethical awareness in engineering and the advantages of such approaches over non game-based approaches. Now in its second year, the authors have conducted a preliminary analysis of first-year students' ethical knowledge and organization via a concept mapping approach and have measured students' ethical reasoning using the Defining Issues Test 2 (DIT2) and Engineering Ethics Reasoning Instrument (EERI). Further, the authors have developed a suite of ethics-driven games that have been implemented across three of the universities, engaging over 400 first-year engineering students. Evaluation data has also been gathered for further game development and to assess initial student engagement and learning. Year 1 has provided insight into where first-year engineering students “are at” in terms of ethical knowledge and reasoning when they come to college, and how game-based instruction can be effective in the development of these students into moral agents who understand the consequences of their decisions. Further results from this investigation will provide the engineering education community with a set of impactful and research-based playful learning pedagogy and assessment that will help students confront social and ethical dilemmas in their professional lives. 
    more » « less
  2. Design and technology practitioners are increasingly aware of the ethical impact of their work practices, desiring tools to support their ethical awareness across a range of contexts. In this paper, we report on findings from a series of six co-creation workshops with 26 technology and design practitioners that supported their creation of a bespoke ethics-focused action plan. Using a qualitative content analysis and thematic analysis approach, we identified a range of roles and process moves that practitioners and design students with professional experience employed and illustrate the interplay of these elements that impacted the creation of their action plan and revealed aspects of their ethical design complexity. We conclude with implications for supporting ethics in socio-technical practice and opportunities for the further development of methods that support ethical engagement and are resonant with the realities of practice. 
    more » « less
  3. Numerous methods and tools have been proposed to motivate or support ethical awareness in design practice. However, many existing resources are not easily discoverable by practitioners, and are often framed using language that is not accessible or resonant with everyday practice. In this paper, we present three complementary strands of work with the goal of increasing the ability of design and technology practitioners to locate and activate methods to support ethically-focused work practices. We first constructed a set of empirically-supported “intentions” to frame practitioners’ selection of relevant ethics-focused methods based on interviews with practitioners from a range of technology and design professions. We then leveraged these intentions in the design and iterative evaluation of a website that supports practitioners in identifying opportunities for ethics-focused action. Building on these findings, we propose a set of design considerations to evaluate the practice resonance of resources in supporting ethics-focused practice, laying the groundwork for increased ecological resonance of ethics-focused methods and method selection tools. 
    more » « less
  4. Design practitioners are increasingly engaged in describing ethical complexity in their everyday work, exemplified by concepts such as "dark patterns" and "dark UX." In parallel, researchers have shown how interactions and discourses in online communities allow access to the various dimensions of design complexity in practice. In this paper, we conducted a content analysis of the subreddit "/r/assholedesign," identifying how users on Reddit engage in conversation about ethical concerns. We identify what types of artifacts are shared, and the salient ethical concerns that community members link with "asshole" behaviors. Based on our analysis, we propose properties that describe "asshole designers," both distinct and in relation to dark patterns, and point towards an anthropomorphization of ethics that foregrounds the inscription of designer's values into designed outcomes. We conclude with opportunities for further engagement with ethical complexity in online and offline contexts, stimulating ethics-focused conversations among social media users and design practitioners. 
    more » « less
  5. This Innovative Practice Full Paper presents a novel, narrative, game-based approach to introducing first-year engineering students to concepts in ethical decision making. Approximately 250 first-year engineering students at the University of Connecticut played through our adventure, titled Mars: An Ethical Expedition, by voting weekly as a class on a presented dilemma. Literature shows that case studies still dominate learning sciences research on engineering ethical education, and that novel, active learning-based techniques, such as games, are infrequently used but can have a positive impact on both student engagement and learning. In this work, we suggest that games are a form of situated (context-based) learning, where the game setting provides learners with an authentic but safe space in which to explore engineering ethical choices and their consequences. As games normalize learning through failure, they present a unique opportunity for students to explore ethical decision making in a non-judgmental, playful, and safe way.We explored the situated nature of ethical decision making through a qualitative deconstruction of the weekly scenarios that students engaged with over the course of the twelve-week narrative. To assess their ethical reasoning, students took the Engineering Ethics Reasoning Instrument (EERI), a quantitative engineering ethics reasoning survey, at the beginning and end of the semester. The EERI scenarios were deconstructed to reveal their core ethical dilemmas, and then common elements between the EERI and our Mars adventure were compared to determine how students responded to similar ethical dilemmas presented in each context.We noted that students' responses to the ethical decisions in the Mars adventure scenarios were sometimes substantially different both from their response to the EERI scenario as well as from other decisions they made within the context of the game, despite the core ethical dilemma being the same. This suggests that they make ethical decisions in some situations that differ from a presumed abstract understanding of post-conventional moral reasoning. This has implications for how ethical reasoning can be taught and scaffolded in educational settings. 
    more » « less