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Teaching Them to Find the Line: Teaching Hactivism in the Modern University

In my Freedom and Security in a Digitally-Divided Society course, students learn about the amoral aspect of hacking.  The students are assigned a project where they plan a hack, but do not actually carry it out.  Then we discuss the proposed hack and its ethical and moral dimensions.  In the past few offerings of the course, students have begun to propose hactivist projects, which push the boundaries of traditional hacking.  This program will consider the ethical implications of hactivism and how to advise and teach it in the classroom.  Hactivism is going to happen anyway.  How do we ensure that students who choose this form of activism are doing it for the right reasons with the “right” target?

Extension of session experience

What would you have done if you were given an opportunity to disrupt communications in Hitler’s headquarters? Would you knowingly allow a student to engage in those same disruptive activities if she had the skills?  This session will endeavor to help participants first identify their own biases and how they come into play when helping students with online moral decision-making.  Then, through discussion, the participants will experience how students see the “line,” and will take home strategies for working with them to ensure that they are leaving the institution prepared for global citizenship.

Important question explored

What is the “line” when it comes to hactivism?  Subquestions:  How do we help students discover where that line is?  How do we teach them about crossing the line?  How do we protect our institutions when students say they learned to hack by taking courses at our colleges or universities?

Related Readings

Faculty Attitudes Toward Teaching Ethical Hacking…

Teaching Students to Hack: Ethical Implications in Teaching Students to Hack…

What is Hacktivism? 2.0


Kokensparger-150x150.jpgBrian Kokensparger is a pre-tenured faculty member at Creighton University, teaching professional writing and computing.  Additionally, he is an associate in the Academic Excellence and Assessment office and teaches a programming course for the Digital Humanities initiative.  He developed a senior capstone course in “Freedom and Security in a Digitally-Divided Society” as a community-based service learning course, and encountered the ethical dimensions of online computer decision-making.  Working with students, community partners, and hackers at underground conventions (such as DefCON), he has developed strategies for advising students who wish to take their programming skills into the seedier side of the WWW.