Ethics & Values
In this teaching activity, students learn how to analyse, compare and criticise the underlying values that are embedded and manifested in products, systems and services.
While new products, systems or services are often promoted as adding value to people’s lives, such statements might also veil the philosophical, theoretical, political and cultural influences on a particular design (Friedman and Hendry, 2019).
If students don’t engage in a critical reflection on how values are manifested in products, systems, or services they may not understand how these embedded values might have an impact on the way we think, our lifestyles, and our culture. In other words: how products, systems and services “speak” to us and shape our everyday lives and mindsets.
This teaching activity provides students with some examples of existing products where the underlying motivations and contextual influences behind the designs are brought up for discussion. Students learn to find the underlying values that are embedded in a product, system or service.
This teaching activity trains students in noticing what kinds of cultural and philosophical influences are behind a product, system or service. When students have done some analysis, they might be able to come up with research questions that address the philosophical, theoretical, political and cultural influences that shape contemporary products.
After the teaching activity students will be able to:
The teaching activity is divided into three steps.
Present a selection of examples that clearly demonstrate different cultural aspects, philosophies and/or theories behind different products, systems and services.
The values could be related to ways of seeing human virtues and qualities, ways of perceiving the values that new technologies might bring into people’s lives, and ways of understanding the particular culture in the way that a product, system or service was made.
Now ask the student groups to find one product, system or service that they think clearly exhibits some values, and to use worksheet 1 and 2 to document their analysis.
Instruction for worksheet 1:
When looking at the product, system or service, the students are asked to put as many value words as they can think of in the circle to the left (they may want to use the HuValue Tool or Schwartz Theory of Basic Values for inspiration).
Afterwards, students review the value words they put in the circle. They should identify the ones where they can see what characteristics of the product somehow manifest that word. Then students should draw a line from the circled word to one of the boxes to the right, and explain what it is about the product, system or service that manifests a particular word.
Instruction for worksheet 2:
The students should copy the value words from the circle in the worksheet 1 into the circle in the worksheet 2.
Ask the students to question if the designers of that product, system or service had an underlying philosophy, or if they based their design on a theoretical framework, or were biased by a specific trend in the culture where the design comes from.
Thereafter the students should draw a line between the value words and the themed boxes (Assumption/Logic/mental model of the designer, Theoretical framework, Cultural perspectives, Philosophical perspectives) and write some notes about where they think the value words come from. In other words: by which sources and cultural trends the designers were influenced.
The documents are made available to all the students in the class, so that they can review each other’s products and corresponding worksheets.
To assess whether the intended learning outcomes were attained by the teaching activity the following assessment activities can be carried out (in class or after class).
Assess students’ learning by making them create a value-based video pitch (summative assessment) focusing on analysing and comparing the underlying values that are embedded and manifested in products, systems and services
Assess students’ learning by asking them to apply their knowledge on real-world examples (authentic assessment) to compare and critically discuss the kind of cultural and philosophical influences that are behind products, systems or services.
In the assessment activity ask students to focus on:
HuValue (2021). HuValue Tool. Retrieved 2021-04-15 from https://huvaluetool.com/
WFLA News Channel 8(2019, July 20). Pampers Smart Diaper commercial [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82WPxv6WzJs
Friedman, Batya & Hendry, David (2019). Value sensitive design : shaping technology with moral imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Schwartz, Shalom H. (2012). An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Psychology and Culture, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1116