Section 2 – IT Systems in a Social Context

In this section neither the social and ethical issues nor the technological concepts listed under knowledge of technology are exhaustive nor is the study of all of them compulsory. They are given as examples only.

Teachers should make a judgment on the level of detail and depth of study that is required to enable students to understand the social and ethical issues that arise in the areas of impact because of the use of information technology.

New technological developments during the lifetime of this syllabus will raise new social and ethical issues that will affect the areas of impact. Teachers should introduce these technological developments and related issues into the course as appropriate, using the integrated approach illustrated in the diagram at the beginning of the syllabus details.

2.1 Basics: hardware and networks

2.1.1 Systems fundamentals

Social and ethical issues
Students must study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of IT systems. These may include:

  • the economic value of information
  • environmental issues related to the production of computer components and supplies
  • environmental issues related to the disposal of obsolete hardware and computer supplies
  • health issues and ergonomics related to the use of hardware
  • password protection, security, biometrics and authorized access
  • issues related to viruses on both stand-alone and network systems
  • greater dependence of organizations on IT
  • increase in teleworking and the virtual office
  • the need for ongoing training and retraining
  • the economic and psychological implications of planned IT obsolescence in hardware, software and services, which has been forced on consumers by the IT industry.
  • organizational policies and standards, for example, e-mail, survillance and monitoring policies

Knowledge of technology
In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of IT systems, the student
must have an understanding of related technological concepts. These may include:

  • key terms—data, information, hardware components, for example, input devices, output devices,
    processing, storage, memory (RAM, ROM), MHz, dpi, bit, KB, MB, GB, TB, ASCII, compatibility, OCR,
    OMR, bar code, baud, verification and validation, encryption/decryption, firewall, virus, Trojan horse,
    worm, logic bomb, platform, peripheral
  • use, advantages and disadvantages of analogue and digital data
  • operating systems (multitasking, boot) and utilities, for example, defragment, disk format, virus scan
    programs
  • responsible computer use (for example, regular back-ups, virus checking, security, storage,
    housekeeping)
  • a responsible and systematic approach to implementing or upgrading IT systems, for example,
    analysis, design, implementation, testing, evaluation, training, policies and standards.

2.1.2 Networks

Social and ethical issues
Students must study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of networks. These
may include:

  • vulnerability of networks to intrusion
  • ability to implement different levels of access
  • implications of network failure, for example, banks, transportation, hospitals, schools
  • implications of collaboration, groupware and data sharing
  • threat of compromising data integrity in shared databases
  • additional threats to privacy on a network compared with stand-alone computers
  • the need to authenticate information
  • intellectual property protection on networks, for example, site licences, file access
  • equality of access for different groups and individuals
  • ability to monitor users (surveillance); concerns of people regarding monitoring
  • ability to filter incoming data
  • ability to control personal, business, military, government operations over a wide geographical area
  • increased globalization, for example, EFT, EDI, e-commerce
  • need for interface standards
  • need for network use policy.

Knowledge of technology
In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of networks the student
must have an understanding of related technological concepts. These may include:

  • key terms—LAN, WAN, client, server, Ethernet, access, access permissions, login, password, firewall,
    sysadmin, UPS, ED
  • types of intrusion, for example, viruses, hacking, phreaking
  • security measures
  • network types, for example, Intranet, Internet, VPN
  • encryption and SSL
  • e-commerce.

2.2 Applications

2.2.1 Software fundamentals

Social and ethical issues
Students must study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of software. These may include:

  • bug-free software
  • software piracy
  • interfaces adapted for the disabled
  • language independence of GUIs, making computers accessible to a very wide range of users, including those with special needs, and very small children
  • use of password protection to prevent unauthorized access
  • globalization of software.

Knowledge of technology
In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of software, the student
must have an understanding of related technological concepts. These may include:

  • key terms—software (application), shareware, public domain, freeware, commercial software,
    integrated software, user manual, registration card, serial number, warranty, copyright, licence
    (multi-user, single user, site licence), compression/decompression, back-up, back door (trapdoor),
    upload/download, wizard, template
  • GUI, command-line interface, voice recognition.

2.2.2 Databases and spreadsheets

Social and ethical issues
Students must study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of databases and spreadsheets. These may include:

  • privacy of information in different cultures
  • rights of individuals with respect to the storage of personal data
  • social consequences of outdated or incorrect data stored in databases
  • social consequences of the release of sensitive data stored in databases
  • legislation on access and use of database information in different countries
  • responsibility for the security of data stored in databases from different perspectives, for example, the developer, the user and the management of an organization
  • accountability for the negative social effects caused by insecure databases
  • ethical issues related to the collection and use of personal data\ethical issues related to the selling of data stored in databases.

Knowledge of technology
In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of databases, the student
must have an understanding of related technological concepts. These may include the following.

Design and creation concepts

  • Key terms—field, key field, record, search, query, sort, database management system, mail merge
  • Flat-file database versus relational database
  • Paper files versus electronic files
  • Data redundancy and data integrity
  • Updating data

Storage and access concepts

  • Data transfer between a database and a spreadsheet
    Search and the use of the Boolean operators (AND, OR and NOT)
  • Data mining/data matching

Presentation concepts

  • Report generation
  • Special-purpose databases, for example, personal information managers, encyclopedias, library systems

In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of spreadsheets, the student must have an understanding of related technological concepts. These may include the following.

Design and creation concepts

  • Key terms—cell, cell format (number, text, value, function, calculation, date, currency), row, column,
    label, macro, replicate, template, worksheet, “what if” questions, range, absolute and relative reference
  • Paper files versus electronic files
  • Reliability and integrity of data
    Storage and access concepts
  • Data transfer between a database and a spreadsheet

Presentation concepts

  • Select, print and display area of a worksheet
  • Use of the appropriate graph or chart for the meaningful representation of information
  • Special-purpose spreadsheets, for example, inventory, budget

2.2.3 Word processing and desktop publishing

Social and ethical issues
Students must study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of word processing and desktop publishing (DTP). These may include:

  • effects of DTP on the right to publish, for example, freedom of the press, free exchange of ideas
  • economic effects of DTP on business
  • intellectual property issues associated with reproduction and/or transformation of digitized text
  • effects of word processing and DTP on the workplace, for example, job loss, deskilling, surveillance
  • ergonomics/health impacts of word processing and DTP in the workplace
  • social impact of speech-enabled input/output.

Knowledge of technology
In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of word processing and desktop publishing, the student must have an understanding of related technological concepts.
These may include:

  • key terms—formatting, template, spell check, grammar check, ASCII/unicode, PDF, RTF, text
  • word processing versus page layout
  • appropriate use of templates
  • effective use of word processing functions to streamline production of documents
  • use of appropriate fonts, white space and line spacing to create output that communicates effectively.

2.2.4 Images, sound and presentations

Social and ethical issues
Students must study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of images, sound and presentations, for example, multimedia, slideshows, virtual reality, games. These may include:

  • intellectual property relating to the copying and modifying of text, images, sound and video (fair
    use policies)
  • copyright issues
  • printed versus electronically published information
  • health issues related to virtual reality
  • multimedia solutions for disabled persons
  • multilingual selection possibilities of CD-ROMs and DVD
  • surveillance and privacy
  • global access to information available on CD-ROMs versus Internet
  • use of virtual actors in films
  • biased information
  • reliability of data
  • social and ethical issues related to games.


Knowledge of technology
In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of images, sound and
presentations, the student must have an understanding of related technological concepts. These may
include the following.

Design and creation concepts

  • Key terms—animation, bit-map versus vector graphics, object-oriented, clip art, CAD, hypermedia,
    hypertext, pixel, resolution, MP3, MIDI, morph
  • Data integrity
  • Consistency in design elements
  • Use of appropriate fonts, sound, images, video to convey a specific message

Storage, processing and access concepts

  • File formats, for example, storage requirements, loading time, portability
  • Sound, image and video capture and editing
  • Updating and combining sounds or images at a later point in time to create a new work of art

2.2.5 Modelling and simulations

Social and ethical issues
Students must study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of modelling and
simulations. These may include:

  • reliability of predictions based on computer models, for example, weather, global warming
  • economic effects of the use of models to design and test new products
  • security issues involved in military simulations
  • social impact of reliance on simulations to examine issues of public policy
  • responsibility of the designer for accuracy of assumptions underlying the model
  • ethical considerations involved in deciding when to use models or simulations to ensure human
    safety.


Knowledge of technology

In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of modelling and simulations,
the student must have an understanding of related technological concepts. These may include:

  • key terms—model, simulation, feedback loop
  • faulty or hidden assumptions
  • extent to which the phenomenon being modelled is understood
  • processing power needed to create complex models
  • visualization of information
  • correspondence of the model with reality.

2.2.6 Tutorials, training and wizards (assistants)

Social and ethical issues
Students must study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of tutorials, training
and wizards. These may include

  • the balance in responsibility between an individual and an organization for training
  • the need for IT companies to consider global and cultural diversity when preparing training and
    tutorial software
  • the requirement of organizations to provide training when implementing change.

Knowledge of technology
In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of tutorials, training and
wizards, the student must have an understanding of related technological concepts. These may include:

  • key terms—tutorial software, training software, wizards and assistants, help menu and help features,
    “Read Me” files
  • using wizards, assistants and online assistants in the design and creation of a product, for example,
    desktop-published documents, slideshows, web sites.

2.3 Communication systems

2.3.1 The Internet

Social and ethical issues
Students must study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of the Internet. These
may include:

  • reliability and authenticity of information
  • social consequences of addiction to the Internet
  • social impact of global viruses
  • social impact of dependence on the Internet
  • etiquette rules for appropriate behaviour when using the Internet
  • social impact of the domination of English as the main web language
  • social impact of theft of identity through the Internet
  • social impact of open access to unsuitable material on the Internet
  • ethical issues related to misuse of the Internet, for example, spamming
  • ethical considerations of IT-rich versus IT-poor nations as a result of differing access
  • ethical considerations relating to the use of encryption
  • ethical considerations relating to workplace monitoring.


Knowledge of technology
In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of the Internet, the student
must have an understanding of related technological concepts. These may include:

  • key terms—Internet protocols, for example, HTTP, FTP, TCP/IP, cookies, listserv, web cam, Internet
    languages, netiquette, Intranet, URL, hyperlink, bandwidth, WWW, browser, search engine, e-mail
  • means for blocking access to information
  • features of a web browser
  • comparison of Internet and Intranet
  • encryption methods
  • the limiting effect of bandwidth
  • e-mail
  • viruses
  • features of a web page
  • global databases
  • online services, e-commerce, banking, health, libraries
  • use of appropriate search engines.

2.3.2 Personal and public communications

Social and ethical issues
Students must study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of personal and public
communications. These may include:

  • the psychological consequences of people being in permanent contact
  • ethical considerations of control as the result of using communications technologies
  • social impact on health of the use of mobile devices
  • effect on personal productivity of personal communications devices
  • effect on the environment of personal communications devices
  • social effects of telecommuting
  • social effects of the widespread use of teleconferencing and videoconferencing
  • social and environmental impact and ethical considerations of telecommuting
  • social impact and ethical considerations of: distance learning, digital entertainment, global media
    and public information systems.


Knowledge of technology
In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of personal and public
communications, the student must have an understanding of related technological concepts. These may
include:

  • key terms—convergence, teleconferencing, videoconferencing, telecommuting, digital television,
    push–pull technologies
  • mobile phone and associated services and uses
  • digital entertainment versus live entertainment
  • contents of digital entertainment, for example, violence, pornography and realism
  • features of telecommuting, for example, environmental aspects, flexibility, productivity, business
    and social relationships
  • face-to-face communications versus communications via technology
  • minimum requirements to enable realistic teleconferencing and videoconferencing
  • undetected intrusions into IT systems, for example, phone tapping
  • personal mobile devices, for example, PDA, laptop
  • emerging technologies as the result of convergence of computers and communications technology
  • public information systems, for example, traffic control, security camera systems, public transfer
    information systems.

2.4 Integrated systems


2.4.1 Robotics

Social and ethical issues
Students must study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of robotics. These may
include:

  • social and economic effects of replacing people with robots in the workplace
  • ethical decisions regarding the use of robots in situations that might endanger human beings
  • social impact of human interaction with robots, for example, artificial pets, robots for the disabled and elderly
  • social impact and ethical considerations regarding the use of robotics in medicine, for example, robotic surgery, computer-controlled prostheses
  • reliability of robotic devices, particularly in life-threatening situations.

Knowledge of technology
In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of robotics, the student
must have an understanding of related technological concepts. These may include:

  • key terms—robot, android, cyborg, sensors
  • determining situations in which it is more appropriate to use a robot than a human being
  • types of input/output peripherals used in various situations, for example, arms, fingers, voice, wheels
  • reasons why robots are/are not designed as androids with human-like form
  • the capabilities and limitations of robots with respect to vision, touch, sound and movement
  • processing power in relation to the capabilities and limitations of robots.

2.4.2 Artificial intelligence and expert systems

Social and ethical issues
Students must study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of artificial intelligence
(AI) and expert systems. These may include:

  • responsibility for the performance of an expert system—knowledge engineer, informant, programmer,
    company that sold it, the buyer/consumer
  • value of the development of AI as a field, for example, whether it is an appropriate place to put
    economic resources
  • ethical issues of various applications of AI, for example, replacement of human workers, handing
    decision-making tasks to a computer
  • social impact of the use of “smart” machines on everyday life
  • ethical issues related to military applications of AI, for example, smart weapons, reconnaissance,
    decision making
  • implications of creative production by computers using AI, for example, Aaron, an expert system,
    creates visual art
  • access to the knowledge base underlying an inference engine in an expert system, for example,
    whether people affected by decisions made using an expert system should have access to the rules
    by which the decision was made.

Knowledge of technology
In order to study and evaluate the social and ethical issues involved in the use of AI and expert systems,
the student must have an understanding of related technological concepts. These may include:

  • key terms—AI, Turing test, parallel processing, machine learning, natural language, common-sense
    knowledge, agent, pattern recognition, expert system, knowledge base, inference engine, heuristics,
    fuzzy logic, knowledge engineer, domain
  • storage requirements for common-sense knowledge
  • processing requirements for AI
  • collection/creation of a knowledge base
  • creation of an inference engine (for example, if/then rules, fuzzy logic)
  • identifying domains that are suitable for expert systems.

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