Privacy Protection in the Digital Age and Healthcare.gov: A Software Engineering Case Study

Author

Paulus Wahjudi

Associate Professor, Weisberg Division of Computer Science

Marshall University

Citation

Wahjudi, P. (2014). Privacy Protection in the Digital Age. Marshall University. Wahjudi, P. (2014). Healthcase.gov: A Software Engineering Case Study. Marshall University.

Description

These two assignments are designed to ensure that computer science students are aware of the possible social impact of their work—a topic often dealt with in a single “Computers and Society” or “Computer Ethics” course.  In contrast, these assignments can be used in a wide range of computer science courses from freshman to senior level. Comparing responses from different levels can reveal how much students have progressed in their understanding of the impact of computers in society. The assignments ask students to gather information and convey their position in a written format.

Background and Context

One of the key challenges in Computer Science is to ensure that students are aware of the possible impact of their work. Most Computer Science students have proficiency in specialized knowledge, intellectual skills and applied learning and are often tested to show whether they have such proficiency. However, the Broad, Integrative Knowledge and Civic Learning component is often overlooked. In many cases, the subject is covered in a single “Computers and Society” or “Computer Ethics” course rather than being integrated throughout the curriculum. The objective of these assignments is to have an assignment that can be used in wide range of Computer Science courses from senior to freshman level. In addition, the responses given from the various levels of students can be used as assessment data to show how much students have progressed in their level of understanding about the impact of computers on society. In addition, the assignment will provide students the ability to gather information and convey their position in a written format.

DQP Proficiencies Assessed:

Assignment 1: Privacy Protection in the Digital Age

  • Civic Learning: With the rapid proliferation of computers it is critical for computer science students to be able to assess what impact the technology has in people’s life, both good and bad.
  • Broad, Integrative Knowledge: Something that is often overlooked in Computer Science is the impact of technology on society. Computer scientists must be able to research, analyze and understand the possible outcomes of their action.
  • Intellectual Skills – Use of Information Resources: The assignment will require students to utilize various resources to support their case and prove their point.
  • Intellectual Skills – Communication Fluency: Each student will need to construct and provide a coherent argument on a topic that is directly related to the field of computing and the general public.

Assignment 2: Healthcare.gov a Software Engineering Case Study

  • Civic Learning: Unfortunately, when something negative happens because of computers it often affects a large number of people. It is imperative that CS students understand how their action will have an effect in short and long term, both directly and indirectly. In addition, there will be situations where they may not be the ones that caused the situation but will be the one that needs to rectify it. To ensure that CS students put the public interest first, the assignment also asks students to provide a list of critical components that must be repaired. Hopefully, information security and user confidentiality will reside at or near the top of this list.
  • Broad, Integrative Knowledge: Similar to the first assignment, this assignment attempts to get the Computer Science students to consider the broad impact of technology on society. This is especially critical in the Cybersecurity course where students are learning first hand techniques and tools that can easily be abused (Note: Students taking the Cybersecurity course are required to sign an agreement form that they will not use what they learn in the course in a negative way).
  • Intellectual Skills – Use of Information Resources: The assignment will require students to utilize various resources to support their case and prove their point. Another key component is that they must also differentiate which resource is trustworthy and to cross reference information rather than relying on one source of information.
  • Intellectual Skills – Communication Fluency: Each student will need to construct and provide a coherent argument on a current topic that is directly related to the field of Cybersecurity and the general public.

Reflections

Effectiveness:

  • Most students are surprised at how much information is out there beyond of what they hear in the mainstream media.
  • Students are often amazed at the impact it has in terms of money or number of people affected due to a “simple” error.

Difficulties:

  • Finding and determining reliable/trustworthy sources is always a challenge and the mainstream media does not always provide the information needed.

Evolution:

  • Not surprisingly there’s always an issue between computers and society every year. The assignment has been updated several times to utilize the latest issue: currently the Healthcare and Snowden/NSA, previously the subject covers SOPA, Facebook and the Anonymous group.

Additional Reflection:

  • This assignment is an excellent eye opener for the students from the perspective of understanding the impact of computers in society.
  • In several occasions it also shows them how much lack of effort is put in place to ensure that individuals are protected from critical mistakes generated by the programmer.

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