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Prior to his philosophical career, Owen King earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Georgia—where he would go on to complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees in philosophy, before coming to Ohio State to complete his PhD.
Owen presently is in his final year of graduate work in philosophy, writing a dissertation on the topic of personal goodness. At the same time, however, he has not abandoned his earlier interests in computer science. On the contrary, Owen recently has developed a new introductory course on Computing Ethics for the Department of Philosophy. In this new course, which Owen has taught to great success, students engage such issues as intellectual property, hacking and cybercrime, privacy, globalization, and unanticipated consequences of technology.
For many years, students in Ohio State’s College of Engineering have been required to complete an ethics course, which they typically fulfill through a general Engineering Ethics class. However, through his experience in teaching the latter class, Owen came to conclude that it was not optimally focused to address issues of specific concern to computer science majors.
Owen states, “An important bit of student feedback I received in Engineering Ethics was from the computer science students. They rightly complained that too much of the course was about explosions and structural failures, and there was little pertaining to ethical issues in computing. To accommodate these students, I began devoting a couple of weeks of each course to those issues. But this brought new difficulties: the students in traditional engineering were not disposed to engage with the new material, and the computer science students still faced many weeks of material they found irrelevant.”
Eventually, Owen concluded that the best solution was to develop an entirely new course with the computer science students in mind—and he took the initiative of proposing, designing, and teaching such a course as a special section of the department’s Engineering Ethics course in spring 2013. This pilot version of Computing Ethics was immensely popular with students, and Owen was impressed by the degree of student learning in the class. Now, in light of this successful effort, Computing Ethics is on schedule to be added to the department’s course listings as its own course, Philosophy 1337, in spring 2014.
Emeritus Professor Don Hubin (then chair) commends Owen for his novel contribution to the department's undergraduate education, “Owen’s commitment to innovative and effective teaching is well illustrated by his development of the computer ethics course. He recognized a curricular need, designed a terrific course to fill that need, and taught the course with remarkable success. This is a lasting contribution to philosophy instruction at Ohio State.”
Beyond designing a new course, Owen has incorporated novel and creative pedagogical strategies in teaching Computing Ethics. For instance, to encourage students to draw connections between course material and current events, he uses a course blog on which students link to news stories about computing and information technology and comment on ethical issues that arise in them. As Owen describes it, the blog “gives the students practice explaining issues that are both technically and ethically complicated. This skill will allow them to be intermediaries between the public and the tech world.”
So far, the activity has been successful in allowing students to achieve this learning objective; Owen remarks on the “nuanced and sophisticated” blog entries that he received during the pilot course.
Owen’s development of the Computing Ethics course is one of the latest of his many contributions to undergraduate education in the Department of Philosophy.
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