The Oral Exam Rationale
- The exam questions should cover all the activities of SENG4921 this semester.
- Adequate preparation for the examination requires a significant coverage of the lectures and
the content of the seminar topics and discussions.
- Each student has an opportunity to prepare their own question.
- The examination format attempts to give a wide base to this assessment, even though the
actual assessment session will be very short. We think this makes this a good assessment
- By revealing questions 2 & 3, and the basis for question 1, it is hoped that the stress of this
type of assessment is minimised. The only unknowns in this exam are the actual questions
to be answered in questions 2 & 3.
Your UNSW student card will be used for student identification.
Make sure you bring it with you.
The Oral Exam Format
The oral examination for each student will be scheduled as 15 minutes within a 20 minute slot. There
will be three (3) questions; each question to be answered in 5 minutes. The three questions will be as
Question 1: free choice
- Each student should prepare a topic of their own free choice concerned
with some aspect of software, hardware, IT professional issues or ethics. This could be —but
does not have to be— based on, or derived from, the discussions, seminars, debates, student
run seminars and lectures given this semester. The question should not overlap with the other
two questions. At the examination the student will be asked to present his/her topic and
Type of question:
- the question title should be concise and clearly identify the subject of
the question. The question should be specific, rather than broad or general in nature,
and it must contain moral and ethical issues. See the guidelines on What makes a good
answer for more guidance on how to prepare your free choice question.
The purpose of the free choice question:
- to demonstrate that you can choose a topic
that is related to some ethical or professional issue(s) and develop arguments that reason
about the issue(s).
- Restrictions on choice of Question 1
- We are interested in how you develop the bases for your arguments rather than the
arguments themselves. That is, we are interested in an ”original” development.
- We acknowledge that originality is a difficult concept to assess, so simply to make
that task easier we rule out topics that were used in seminar activities in which
you were involved with other students, and where it wold be difficult to impossible
to determine originality.
- Overlap with lecture or seminar topics will also be discussed at the exam, and
significant overlap will result in the conflicting lecture or seminar question being
eliminated from the choice for questions 2 or 3.
Conflict with other exam questions:
- if the free choice question deals directly with one of the
Seminar or Lecture questions, then the conflicted question will generally be eliminated from
the set of possible questions for question 2 or 3. Note carefully that the elimination occurs
after the random choice, not before.
Cases where there is partial overlap with Seminar or Lecture questions will be discussed with
the student by the examiners.
Repeat of material prepared for the debate, student seminar or essay topics:
significant overlap of the free-choice question and the student’s debate, student seminar, or
essay topics may be questioned by the examiners and the mark may be reduced by
Question 2: Based on Seminars
- A discussion of one question chosen randomly from a set of
questions on the seminar discussion topics.
Question 3: Based on Lectures
- A discussion of one question chosen randomly from a set of questions
on the lectures.
The question for questions 2 & 3 will be chosen as follows:
- For each of questions 2 and 3, three (3) question numbers will be drawn randomly (from a
deck of cards) by the student.
- One of the three questions is chosen by the student, or
- All three questions are rejected and the student chooses another three questions and answers
one question for half marks. The second draw is from the cards remaining after the first
Material allowed in the exam
- Electronic devices, such as iPads, phones, etc are not permitted in the examination.
- Students may bring notes or cards into the examination.
- However, while answering each question students may consult only a single sheet of paper,
or card containing prompts. This, of course, can be a different sheet of paper/card for each
- The examiners may ask to see the material being used by a student during the examination.
- The answer must not be read. Completely read answers will not be considered satisfactory
and the mark reduced by 40%.
Remember that this is an oral exam, not a reading test. As far as possible you should try to
talk to the examiners, and while you can use notes to prompt you, you should not read an
What makes a good answer?
The examiners will be looking for:
- clear identification of the issues;
- analysis of the professional and/or ethical consequences;
- careful presentation of the outcomes.
There are no correct answers, but a good answer will give a clear indication of consequences and
A good answer will draw on lessons learnt from lectures, seminars and discussion during the
Q1: Free choice
Q2: Seminar Questions
Some of the questions have supplementary questions.
It is important that you address those supplementary questions in your answer.
- Give a description of what is generally understood by “Engineering” as a profession.
- Present arguments for why Software Engineering may and may not claim to be an
- Where does Computer Science fit in the above?
- Give your own resolution of the arguments in 1b and 1c above.
- Select any case studied this semester and analyse the chosen case according to either the ACM, or
the IEEE/ACM SE codes of ethics. Your analysis should clearly illustrate how the chosen code
relates to the chosen case.
- Discuss the technical, professional and ethical issues raised by the Therac 25 case. Your answer
must identify and discuss real technical issues, especially those involved in the development and use
of the Therac-25, with particularly the actions of
- AECL’s management;
- AECL’s engineers;
- medical staff.
- Briefly present John Rawls’ ethical principles as developed in his Theory of Justice.
Rawls has suggested that his Theory of Justice can be seen as a contract theory on the
rights and obligations of all parties affected by some enterprise. (Not completely Rawl’s
Discuss Rawl’s categorisation of rights and obligations and illustrate using the Therac 25 case, or
any other case studied this semester.
- Therac 25 and Ariane 5:
The Ariane 5 disaster is often described as a software failure.
Critically evaluate that description and also discuss the concept of a “reuse error” that could be
applied to both Ariane 5 and Therac 25. Draw up brief guidelines on what needs to be done if
reuse, especially code-reuse, is to be adopted in a software project.
- Summarise the facts in the Killer Robot story and then discuss the organisational and development
process issues that led to the accident.
- Give arguments both for and against patents —both general and software patents. You may base
your arguments on the paper, Against intellectual property, or any other source that presents
for/against IP arguments.
- Dataveillance: Describe the two types of data surveillance, give three examples and
then give an overview of the relevant professional and ethical issues for engineering
Discuss the issues that arise from the extensive dataveillance capability now available through the
extensive —almost ubiquitous— internet coverage.
Q3: Lecture Questions
Some of the questions have supplementary questions.
It is important that any supplementary questions attached to the question are addressed.
- Stephen Cohen: Theoretical Underpinnings of Ethics formerly known as Introduction to
Ethics and Moral Reasoning: A Practical Framework
Discussion of this choice should concentrate on the underpinnings of ethical reasoning.
Choose two different ethical reasoning frameworks and demonstrate how these could lead to
- Stephen Cohen: Professionalism and ethical responsibilities
Discussion of this choice should present key ethical principles that distinguish professional
principles and responsibilities.
Stephen Cohen discussed two different classes of ethical theories: deontology and
Discuss the difference between the two classes of ethical theories and show how they inform
professional codes of ethics and codes of conduct.
Illustrate by references to actual codes of recognised professional societies.
- Ken Robinson: Ariane 5 Disaster
Give a general overview of the facts in the Ariane 5 disaster and then discuss the professional
and/or ethical ideas raised. In particular, discuss those ideas that differentiate Software
Engineering aspects of the case from general engineering and project management aspects
to give a balanced analysis of what went wrong.
- Brendan Scott: The Hows, Whys and Wherefores of Open Source - Open source as a market
reaction to regulation of the software industry
Discuss Scott’s contrasting of copyright and patents with open-source as means of developing
innovation in the software industry.
Discussion of this choice should cover the historical development of markets and the economic
arguments for controlling different types of markets.
- David Vaile: Legal perspectives on system development – Liability, litigation risk,
‘professional’ standards, and ethics.
Discuss and give examples of the social, professional and legal aspects of society’s attempts
to deal with the development, use and misuse of software.
Your answer should cover contract law and the consequences for you as an implementor of
- Stuart Irvine & Charles Yip (Freehills Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys) Intellectual Property:
the asset of the 21st century
Discuss the patenting process and how it is being applied to patent software. Consider the
arguments for and against the use of software patents and the possible impacts of software
patents on the computing industry.
- Peter Ho: Introduction to Law and Contracts
Give an overview of the elements necessary in the formation of a legal contract. Then discuss
how contracts are formed when it comes to internet commerce (e-commerce) and what
happens to the enforceability of these contracts when things go wrong.
- Wayne Wobcke: Risk Assessment in Sociotechnical Systems
- What is a sociotechnical system?
- Describe some of the difficulties involved in implementing an IT workflow system in a
complex organizational context.
- Outline several methods for assessing the risk associated with any workflow requiring
quality control (whether or not the workflow uses an IT system).
- Using the hospital in-patient transfer scenario for illustration, explain in general terms
why adding steps to an existing workflow (such as may be implemented using an IT
system) may not lead to improved compliance with quality control guidelines.
- Peter Ho Torts and where we are at in Cyberspace.
There is a growing trend towards storing your personal and business data in the
“cloud” and there is an implicit presumption that data that is in the cloud is
inheritently safe—but how safe is safe?
In this question, you have been told by your cloud provider that they have had a
catastrophic failure and they have lost all your data. Under Tort law, a number of
elements (i.e. legal requirements) must be met before an complainant can mount a
case. Discuss what those elements are and what your legal argument would be in
order to meet those requirements. Assume that the Provider cannot rely on their
service level agreement for protection.
- David Vaile: Malware, Filtering and WiFi snooping
Discuss and illustrate the social, ethical , technical and legal issues that have arisen in the
development of the internet. Issues that can be referenced are hacking, spam, malware, WiFi
snooping and others discussed in this lecture.