Table of Contents

Situations Related to Ethical Principles

1. Fulfilling the letter or the spirit of the law?

2. Ensuring diverse points of view

3. Putting a square peg in a round hole

4. Protecting an individual's right to privacy

5. Ethical decisions in instructional media selection

6. Computers: Issues of health and safety

7. Adopting and promoting new ideas

8. A clash of cultures

9. Harassment, bias, and discrimination

10. Whose views? Yours or your institutions?

11. All the facts, please

12. Competing with your employer

13. Handling gifts, gratuitites, and favors

14. Engaging in fair and equitable practices with vendors

15. Greasing the squeaky wheel

16. Influencing your colleagues

17. Exploiting professional affiliations

18. Helping one another

19. Is honesty the best answer?

20. An ethical approach to doing business

21. Fair assignment of responsibility

22. Facing new copyright challenges

23. When a colleague is wrong

Computers: Issues of Health and Safety

The Situation
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."


Discussion

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 safety.

Randall G. Nichols
Associate Professor of Education
Lake Superior State University

Paul W. Welliver
Professor Emeritus of Education
Pennsylvania State University


Updated January 21, 2008
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