The course is taught by Michael Fourman
and Stuart Anderson.
This course is compulsory for all
students taking a single or combined Honours degree involving
Computer Science or Software Engineering.
Professional Issues course is an essential component of our BCS
accreditation. This accreditation is recognised beyond the UK
through various international accords.
Passing this course
is a requirement for BCS acreditation of your degree. Relevant
topics are defined by the
BCS. Whatever you choose as your future career you will be confronted by dilemmas relating to the ethical, social, legal, financial and organisational context you find yourself in. In the Professional Issues course we illustrate these dilemmas and consider how to resolve them (hopefully in a way that is legal).You already have considerably more insight into dilemmas relating to information and computation than the general public and this places a moral responsibility to consider carefully what you have to say about your domain of expertise.
Accord recognises the substantial academic equivalence of
accredited engineering education programmes. BCS was one of the
founding signatories of the Accord. This means that programmes
granted full CITP (Chartered IT Professional) accreditation by BCS since 2008 will be recognised
by other Accord signatories. This recognition is important for
individuals entering the engineering profession in international
territories covered by Seoul Accord signatories. It demonstrates an
equivalence of their achievements and allows potential employers and
professional institutions to benchmark standards.
BCS is a Nominated Body with the Engineering Council,
engineering-related programmes accredited by BCS are also recognised
under the Washington and
Sydney Accords. The Washington
Accord is an international agreement among bodies responsible
for accrediting engineering degree programs. It mutually recognises
engineering education accreditation processes at Chartered Engineer
level. The Sydney
Accord provides a mechanism for recognising engineering
education accreditation processes at Incorporated Engineer
For further information about academic accreditation,
please visit the BCS
The BCS runs a similar course. We cover most of the topics in their
syllabus with additional material on topics such as
entrepreneurship, digital inclusion, and the social impact of technology.
- Classes will meet on Mondays and Thursdays 16:10–18:00 in the Meadows Lecture Theatre (G.07 Doorway 4), Medical School Teviot.
You will write a one-page report summarising one of the guest lectures as part of the assessment for the course. Reports will be marked for both presentation and content and marking schemes will be posted here before the first lecture in the series.
You should write your report as though you were working for an IT company reporting on a topic of relevance to that company.
We will use Turnitin for submission of practical work and to provide feedback on drafts. The deadline for submission of reports is: 16h10 Monday 4th December 2017. Because the last talk is set for 30 November, late penalties will be imposed on submissions after 7 December at 16h10. Guidance on the use of Turnitin is available on the Piazza.
We are finalising the list of guest lectures. Currently the following dates are confirmed (the description of the guest lectures will be refined in the run up to the presentation. Reading for the guest lectures will be posted a week before the meeting:
- Thursday 26 Oct, Charles Raab, Privacy, Security, Surveillance and Regulation, Professorial Fellow, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. The topic of the talk will take in the privacy and the ethics of the use of personal data.
- Thursday 2 Nov, Burkhard Schaefer, Professor of Computational Legal Theory, University of Edinburgh. The topic of the talk is The ethics and law of data-driven research: tools and methods.
- Thursday 9 Nov, Karen Gregory, Lecturer in Digital Sociology, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. The topic of the talk is Discrimination. Karen is a digital sociologist and ethnographer with an interest in the relationship between work, technology, and emerging forms of labour.
- Thursday 16 Nov Nichola Osborne , Digital Education Manager and Service Manager at EDINA, a centre for digital expertise and online service delivery at the University of Edinburgh. Lecture title TBA.
- Thursday 30 Nov Alistair Hann , Former CTO of Skyscanner with overall responsibility for technical strategy. Currently advising a range of startups. Lecture title TBA.
The course textbook is
- Professional Issues in Information Technology, Frank Bott, BCS Learning & Development Limited, 2014.
Hard copies are
available on reserve.
Note that the examination is OPEN BOOK and this is a key book. The exam regulations forbid e-readers etc so only the paper edition is useful to take into the examination.
Copies of material used in class will be available in PDF format on the course webpage. The website also contains a list of other relevant documents.
Please buy (and read!!) the course textbook. Amazon offer a Kindle edition at £17 or so if you want an electronic copy.
- Philip Wadler, lectures on communication skills (video).
- William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White,
The Elements of Style,
Longman, 1999 (Fourth edition),
(£6.58 from Blackwell's.)
- Free Online Edition of William Strunk, Jr.'s 1918 original.
- Geoffrey Pullum, 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice. I stand by my claim that the modest monetary and time cost to read Strunk and White is the best investment you can make in your career, but do take into account Pullum's critique. (My thanks to those who alerted me to Pullum's article.)
Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style, Penguin Books, 2015.
(£9.99 from Blackwell's.)
- Donald Knuth,
Section 1 is particularly valuable.
- George Orwell,
Politics and the English Language,
from Inside the Whale and Other Essays, Penguin, 1969.
- Max Atkins,
Lend Me Your Ears:
All you need to know about making speeches and presentations,
- Edward Tufte,
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information,
Graphics Press, 2001 (second edition).
- Edward Tufte,
Graphics Press, 1990.
(Challenger is discussed on pages 38–52.)
- Edward Tufte,
Graphics Press, 1997.
- Edward Tufte,
Graphics Press, 2006.
(Powerpoint is discussed on pages 156-185.)
- Additional sources.
Coursework is worth 15% of marks for the course, and the final exam is worth 85%.
- Written report. A one-page written report summarising one
of the guest lectures. Report marked for both presentation and
content. A detailed rubric will be included in the turnitin assignment. Worth: 7%. Due: 16h10 Monday 4th December 2017. Because the last talk is set for 30 November, late penalties will be imposed on submissions after 7 December at 16h10.
- Presentation. A 150-second video presentation on any topic
relevant to the ethical, social, legal, financial or organisational
context within which informatics is applied.
Videos must be published on your informatics homepages follow this link for
details. Presentations will be marked for relevance,
presentation and content. Presentations will be assessed online, by
us and by your fellow students, in weeks 9 and 10. You can see last year's videos online.
8%. Due: Placeholder video by 16:10 on 6th November; final video
submission by 16:10 on November 13th.
The Professional Issues Piazza Page provides a discussion forum for the course. This is a more efficient way of communicating to everyone involved in the class. Rather than emailing questions to the teaching staff, we encourage you to post your questions on Piazza. I believe Piazza also has the possibility of anonymous posting so if you want to remain anonymous you can. We can also use this forum to post homework solutions if you are happy to share your work. If you have any problems or feedback for the developers, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Class notes and lecture log
- Mon 18 Sep Stuart Anderson, What is a profession anyway? Recently Bell Pottinger were expelled from the PCRA for breaking their Code of Conduct. This has had extensive media coverage. The Guardian's summary page gives you some idea of the story. We will use this material and the BCS code of conduct to consider professions and their obligations. Today's powerpoint slides on professions and the PDF version provide an overview on Professions. We may also consider the issues of compliance with the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). You can find more accessible information on it on the GDPR Website and at the UK Information Commissioners Office Read Bott Chapters 1 and 2 as background to this material.
- Thu 21 Sep Michael Fourman. Setting the Agenda
- Mon 25 Sep Stuart Anderson. Communication Skills—Writing. In this and next week's lecture we will look at aspects of writing and presentation. I'll use Phil Wadler's notes for this and a slide deck from MIT on technical writing. This week we just consider grammar and sentence level. We'll consider higher levels of structure next week.
- It is worth knowing your audience.... This is a website on the average reading age of the UK population. If you want to be understood generally you will need to work at it!
- Slides on sentence level issues, this is a slide deck from MIT that covers the basics of good technical writing. This really deals at the sentence level and does not really consider higher levels of structure.
- Slides on Grammar, this is Phil Wadler's slide deck on grammatical and style issues. It is more detailed and complementary to the MIT slidedeck.
- Notes on Grammar, this is Phil's note on writing.
- GDPR Regulation. The General Data Protection Regulation will appear in various guises during the course because it is proposing a fundamental revision to the approach to data protection in Europe. Here, I want you to look at it as a piece of technical writing. I'll get you to use it as a resource later.
- Preparing for the GDPR. This is an Information Commissioner's Office document explaining what companies will need to do to comply with the GDPR.
- Feedback request from the Information Commissioner's Office This is an Information Commissioner's Office document asking questions about profiling and automated decision making.
- Utility to measure readibility - somewhat useful as a guide..
- Homework: Use the readability utility above to assess the readability of paragraph 10 of the GDPR - see if you can rephrase it to preserve its meaning but improve its readability significantly. Also have a look at the documents from the Information Commissioner's Office - find a paragraph you think is particularly difficult to understand and try to rewite to improve readability.
- Thu 28 Sep Michael Fourman. Financial Accounting
from Aberystwyth (login with EASE to access these)
Costs v. Prices
and Loss, Balance Sheet
Flow v. Profit; Sources of Funds Chapters 6 and 7 of Bott are the relevant reading for this lecture.
- Mon 2 Oct Stuart Anderson. Communication
Skills—Technical Writing. Here we look into a bit more detail
on Technical Writing. The Powerpoint Slides and
the PDF of the
lecture are here.
- Thu 5 Oct Michael Fourman. Ethics—slides and the questions for discussion presented in the lecture are here.
- Mon 9 Oct Stuart Anderson. Reading and writing exercise. There will be no class meeting today. Instead of the class you are asked to watch a video on the GDPR and produce a short report. This is a practice exercise for the main assessed writing task for the class. It will also form the basis for a reviewing exercise next week. Here is a description of what you should do:
- You should imagine you are working for a company that works with personal data in some way or another. This could be a large corporation that uses behavioural data on its customers, or a health service, or a small company that uses and stores personal data on its customers, there are many possibilities.
- Imagine you have been tasked by your boss to provide some information on GDPR and how it affects the company's operations.
- Your boss thinks that this talk: The new EU General Data Protection Regulation in Under 60 Minutes! is a good starting point and asks you to create a summary of the talk to help decide what is the most important aspect of the regulation to take account of in planning. In addition your boss thinks you might find the following useful:
- Your summary should be less than a page long (your boss reads very slowly) and should include:
- A statement describing the sort of company you imagine you are working for (this is really metadata but important so I understand your perspective in writing the report).
- A summary of the talk.
- A more detailed description of what you see as a key aspect of the GDPR for your company.
- A justification for the importance of that aspect for your company.
- Assume your boss has a reading age targetted by the Guardian newspaper and ensure the style of your report is readable and well structured.
- You should submit your report to Turnitin. Details of how to enroll and create a Turnitin account if necessary are being delivered by email.
- You should view the video and submit your less than one page summary on or before 16 October. When you look at the assignment in Turnitin you will see that there is a marking rubric associated with the exercise. You can access this and it tells you how the report will be graded. The rubric for the assessed report will be similar to this one.
- The deadline for submission of the report is Monday 16 Oct. The report need not be long and you should have enough time during the class time on Monday 9 October to view the video and construct a first draft of the report.
- The timetable is compressed so you can have some practice before the invited talks begin. After the report deadline a peer review assignment will open where you will be invited to review two other submissions. There is a set of review questions to prompt you as you read the reports. This has a deadline of Monday 23 Oct
- The report and review are not for credit and are intended to give you some formative feedback before the invited talks commence.
- Thurs 12 Oct Michael Fourman. No Class
- Mon 16 Oct Stuart Anderson.
Communication Skills: Reviewing the GDPR reports, and Edward Tufte on Powerpoint, also the PDF.
- Thu 19 Oct Michael Fourman. Discrimination: Legal and social responsibilities.
See the slides presented in the
lecture and the Google unconcious bias video
- Mon 23 Oct Stuart Anderson.
- Presenting Information:
- Thu 26 Oct, Charles Raab, Privacy, Security, Surveillance and Regulation, Professorial Fellow, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. The topic of the talk will take in the privacy and the ethics of the use of personal data. Please look at the slides in advance and read some of the extensive bibliography.
- Mon 30 Oct Stuart Anderson. Data Protection, please read Bott Chapter 13 as background to this meeting. This provides an introduction to the legislation that is being superseded by the GDPR. The chapter provides a background to the principles of data protection.
- Thu 2 Nov, Burkhard Schaefer, Professor of Computational Legal Theory, University of Edinburgh. The topic of the talk is Data governance, ethics and the law (PDF).
- Mon 6 Nov Stuart Anderson. Organizations, please read Bott Chapters 3 and 4 as background to this meeting. In this meeting we consider the basic legal structures for organisations and some aspects of their structure and operation:
- Thu 9 Nov, Karen Gregory, Lecturer in Digital Sociology, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. The topic of the talk is Discrimination. Karen is a digital sociologist and ethnographer with an interest in the relationship between work, technology, and emerging forms of labour. As part of the background reading for this lecture you should read Bott Chapter 10 that covers the basics of anti-discrimination law. The reading list for this lecture is now available:
- Mon 13 Nov Stuart Anderson. Human Resources, please read
Bott Chapter 9 in preparation for this meeting. The Lecture Slides (PDF) are here.
- Thu 16 Nov Nichola Osborne, Pitching, personality and (ethical) promotion.
- Mon 20 Nov Stuart Anderson. Computer Misuse and Current
Issues, please read Bott Chapters 14 and 15 as background to this
meeting. We will cover some current controversies e.g. the effects of
algorithmic decision making and the development of surveillance
- Thu 23 Nov 16:10-17:20 (only)Preparation for the System
SDP has changed a lot from the robot football tournament of previous years and puts a heavy emphasis on work done at the very start of semester two. This session will brief students on the changes, so that they know what to expect and are prepared to hit the ground running for the design sprint in week one. This will also be your first opportunity to find out what group you've been assigned to!
- Thu 30 Nov Alistair Hann, Raising money and keeping it legal – investment and IP from an engineer’s perspective.
Alistair Hann did a doctorate in machine learning at the University of
Oxford and left his post-doc in 2008 to found a travel start-up,
Zoombu. That start-up was acquired by Skyscanner in 2011 and Alistair
was CTO at Skyscanner until the company's sale to Ctrip in 2016. He
now helps several Edinburgh software start-ups and is working on plans
for his next business.
In his talk, Alistair will cover the non-technical professional challenges for software engineers using specific examples from starting his own business, growing Skyscanner, and now helping others grow their own companies. Topics will include raising investment, intellectual property, and protecting user data.
- Videos of
PI lectures from 2014
- We believe the lecture room will be equipped with capture software and we are currently working out how to gain access to Media Hopper Relay to provide links from this page.
The December 2017 examination will take place on 20 December 2017, in the Playfair Library, at 14h30-16h30.
The examination (that contributes 85% of the
asssessment of the course) will involve a compulsory multi-part
short-answer question (Q1) and an essay-style question (choose one
from two Q2/Q3). You will be expected to be familiar with the material
covered in the course text and to have an appreciation of relevant
current affairs such as may be obtained by regular reading of a
serious newspaper (e.g.
or The Guardian)
or news magazine (e.g.
or keeping abreast of relevant organisations (e.g.
Open Rights Group).
Your answers should, where relevant, draw on the content of lectures
given by visitors, and on your fellow-students' video presentations,
as well as on course notes and texts. The examination is OPEN BOOK so you are permitted to take written material into the examination hall.
This is the list of materials I suggest you take into the examination. There is no restriction on what you take into the examination and if there are books or papers you have found particularly useful it is fine to take them into the examination (e.g. you may want to take in your GDPR practice report or your report on a guest lecture, or some answers you have written to the specimen exams):