Situations Related to Ethical Principles
the letter or the spirit of the law?
diverse points of view
a square peg in a round hole
an individual's right to privacy
decisions in instructional media selection
Issues of health and safety
and promoting new ideas
clash of cultures
bias, and discrimination
views? Yours or your institutions?
the facts, please
with your employer
gifts, gratuitites, and favors
in fair and equitable practices with vendors
the squeaky wheel
honesty the best answer?
ethical approach to doing business
assignment of responsibility
new copyright challenges
a colleague is wrong
Computers: Issues of Health and Safety
It happened near the end of a class on educational computing. "What
do you think about the pollution and sickness that the computers in our
classroom are causing?" asked one of the students. Professor David, looking
somewhat puzzled, asked her to explain. She went on to point out that
she had heard on the news that the chemicals used to make computer chips
are toxic and are making some production workers ill. Another student
joined in the discussion by adding that he read that plastic takes about
two or three hundred years to disintegrate if it is left out in the atmosphere.
~What will happen to the plastic in these computers when they are discarded,"
he asked. Professor David had to admit that he had never thought about
it. After a brief, uncomfortable silence still another student joined
in by adding that she had heard that the energy used to manufacture and
operate the microcomputers built in the last few years equals the amount
of energy consumed by a town of 50,000 people in a year. ~Where is the
better efficiency and cleaner world because of computers?" she asked.
Seeing the professor's surprised look, the student expanded her challenge
by demanding that the class not continue as scheduled until "we learn
a whole lot more about what these things are doing to us."
The AECT Code of Ethics—Section 1, Principle 6
In fulfilling professional obligations to the individual, the member shall
make a reasonable effort to protect the individual from conditions harmful
to health and safety.
Sensing the strong concerns that were developing in the class, Dr. David
planned a period during which these concerns could be addressed. As part
of the preparation, he assigned readings on current research relative
to emissions from computer screens as well as the effects on the eyes
and posture that might come from sitting at a computer for long periods
of time. He also prepared a list of questions for them to explore and
attempt to gather data upon which to base a discussion and possible conclusions.
Examples of these questions included: What are the relative health and
safety advantages and liabilities of computers as compared to alternative
methods of accomplishing necessary functions that computers currently
fulfill? If computers are used extensively in a corporation or institution
to produce a "paperless" environment, are the hazards and negative
impact of the computers greater or less than those of cutting down trees,
transporting the trees to a paper mill, polluting air and water at the
paper mill, transporting the paper to customers, and filling landfills
with waste paper? If computers are used extensively to send messages from
one person to another, are the hazards and negative impact of the computers
greater or less than those of transporting letters by trucks and airplanes?
What are the health and safety trade-offs of using computers as compared
to other methods? When presenting this assignment and leading the discussion,
Dr. David carefully maintained neutrality on the subject while he challenged
his students to critically examine data to help them to understand the
complexity of the issues that they had raised and the importance of fully
understanding those issues in order to better protect their health and
Randall G. Nichols
Associate Professor of Education
Lake Superior State University
Paul W. Welliver
Professor Emeritus of Education
Pennsylvania State University