Monday, November 18, 2013

Social Issues and Professional Practice in Australian ICT Degrees

Previously I looked at the"Social Issues and Professional Practice (SP)" required by the Draft ACM/IEEE-CS Computer Science Curricula 2013. The equivalent of that USA requirement for Australia is the ICT Profession Body of Knowledge, of the Australian Computer Society (ACS). This is used for accreditation of Australian university degrees and also for the evaluation of qualifications of those applying for a visa to work in Australia.

The  ACS BoK is designed to be consistent with international certification from the International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3) of the International Federation of  Information Processing (IFIP), the Seoul Accord on ICT education and the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA). The ACS BoK includes "Professional Knowledge" (PK) as the second of six components:
  1. ICT Problem Solving (PS) 
  2. Professional Knowledge (PK) 
  3. Technology Building (TB) 
  4. Technology Resources (TR) 
  5. Services Management (SM) 
  6. Outcomes Management (OM).
The Professional Knowledge area includes six topics:
  1. Ethics 
  2. Professionalism
  3. Teamwork concepts and issues
  4. Interpersonal communication
  5. Societal issues/Legal issues/Privacy
  6. History and status of discipline
The ACS BoK notes that SFIA mentions professional skills in "Business Skills" for the SFIA Levels. The ACS BoK states: "It might be expected that a graduate from a degree program would be ready to assume Level 4
responsibilities in their area of specialisation.
". The SFIA level 4 "Business Skills" are defined as:
Selects appropriately from applicable standards, methods, tools and applications. Demonstrates an analytical and systematic approach to problem solving. Communicates fluently orally and in writing, and can present complex technical information to both technical and non-technical audiences. Facilitates collaboration between stakeholders who share common objectives. Plans, schedules and monitors work to meet time and quality targets and in accordance with relevant legislation and procedures. Rapidly absorbs new technical information and applies it effectively. Has a good appreciation of the wider field of information systems, their use in relevant employment areas and how they relate to the business activities of the employer or client. Maintains an awareness of developing technologies and their application and takes some responsibility for personal development.
From: Level 4 SFIA Plus 5, Skills Framework for the Information Age, SFIA Foundation 2011
A brief description is given for each topic:


Topics covered should include: 
  • Fundamental ethical notions (virtues, duty, responsibility, harm, benefit, rights, respect and consequences);
  • Basic ethics theories;
  • Integrity systems (including, the ACS Code of Ethics, the ACS Code of Conduct, ethics committees and whistle blowing);
  • Methods of ethical analysis
    • Methods of ethical reflection’
    • Methods and procedures of ethical repair and recovery;
  • ICT specific ethical issues (professional – e.g. compromising quality and conflict of interest, and societal – e.g. phishing and privacy).


Topics covered should include: 
  • Basic concepts of professionalism (expertise, certification, competence, autonomy, excellence, reflection, responsibility and accountability);
  • ICT specific professionalism issues. 

Teamwork concepts and issues

Topics covered should include: collaboration, group dynamics, leadership styles, conflict
resolution, team development and groupware.


Topics covered should include: oral and written presentations, technical report writing, writing user documentation and the development of effective interpersonal skills.

Societal issues

 Topics covered should include: history of computing and the ICT discipline, privacy and civil liberties, computer crime, intellectual property and legal issues.

History and status of discipline

Professionals should have some knowledge of where and when their discipline began and how it has evolved, in addition to understanding of ongoing issues in the discipline.
The ACS BoK explicitly avoids specifying how much of a program should be devoted to "Professional Knowledge" (PK) in general, or to any of its six components.  This differs from the ACS/IEEE-CS curriculum, which has a number of lecture hours for each topic. While the ACS approach provides flexibility, it gives the course designer (and accreditation assessor) little guidance. There are six components to the ACS BoK and in the absence of any other guidance, this suggests each should receive one sixth of the resources, which would be four courses in a 24 course degree program. This is about four times as much as for the ACS/IEEE-CS curriculum.

At first glance this is also far more than apparent in a typical Australian computing degree, which might have a couple of lectures on ethics. However, teamwork s likely to be covered in detail in software engineering courses and communication in many. The issue then is how to ensure that all students actually cover these important issues somewhere in their program of study. The conventional approach is to include the topics in core courses. However, topics such as communication become very dull when removed from the primary topic the student is studying. This could be overcome by use of an e-portfolio, where the student has top collect evidence of having covered the professional topics, in order to graduate. In most cases they show evident through work undertaken for other courses, with a preface explaining how it meets the requirements.

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