Ethical Aspects Of The Use Of Information Technology In Higher Education


The improper use of technology in education is a topic of recent interest on the agenda of researchers in Education Sciences and ethics. In the first part of the study there is defined the concept of unethical use of information technology and there are analysed the most recent models based on explaining the factors underlying the unethical use of information technology. In the second part there are highlighted the academic challenges in terms of the ethical aspects of the use of information technology. The purpose of this article is to explore main themes related to the ethical issues of the use of information technology in the academic environment using a systematic review of literature. There were identified the following themes: attitudes, perceptions, judgments, opinions or beliefs towards the ethical use of IT, ethical or unethical behaviour in computer use, the relationship between personality and unethical Internet use, awareness of computer ethics, ethical decision-making in using IT, ethical code on IT use. In the new context of ethical use of information technology in educational activities in universities, it is necessary to cultivate the importance of understanding the legal and illegal use of computers by students and teachers, and the ethical role models that teachers should represent for students.

Keywords: Ethicshigher educationinformation technologysystematic review


For education in general and higher education in particular, the introduction of the information technology (IT) has constituted both an opportunity and a source of problems. Many forms of academic fraud are mediated and supported by electronic means. The improper use of technology in education is a topic of recent interest on the agenda of researchers in Education Sciences and ethics. The use of information technologies has raised new ethical issues (Alakurt, Bardakçi, & Keser, 2012). Information technology creates more ethical challenges than other types of technologies (Brooks, 2010). On the one hand, these technologies provide many benefits but, on the other hand, give rise to the danger of their use for dishonest purposes such as piracy, invasion of privacy, unauthorized access to data (Mason, 1986). Although ethical issues in the IT field do not differ from wider societal issues, it is necessary to thoroughly understand the practices of using technologies to understand the main cause of these ethical issues (Kim et al., 2014). According to Chatterjee, Valacich, & Sarker (2011), unethical use of IT is influenced primarily by social (subjective norms), situational (moral strength) and technological (technological facilitation) considerations. Ki and Ahn (2006) consider that unethical information technology use in education has become a serious problem. Unethical IT use by students and teachers is a major challenge in educational institutions (Özer, Uğurlu, & Beycioglu, 2011). Higher education institutions are increasingly worried that new technologies are causing students to be dishonest or unethical in the use of information (Cilliers, 2017). The possibility for various types of academic dishonesty to occur following the use of IT in academic environment is high (Akbulut, Şendağ, Birinci, Sahin, & Odabasi, 2008). Brey (2007) emphasizes the role of computerized ethics in the education system, with particular emphasis on university education and university policy. As mentioned by Brooks (2010), it is a priority that students and teachers become aware of all aspects of information technology that involve ethical components.

The concept of unethical use of information technology

The specific concept of unethical information technology use is defined in close connection with the main ethical issues identified: Privacy, Accuracy, Property and Accessibility - the PAPA framework (Mason, 1986). The concept of unethical information technology use (UITU) was introduced for the first time by Chatterjee (2005), which developed Mason's approach (1986), suggesting that UITU refers to violation of one or more ethical pillars in the information age: privacy, accuracy, property and access. Charki, Josserand, & Boukef, (2017) define UITU as "technology use that is either illegal or morally unacceptable to the larger community". There are a number of current theoretical models based on explaining the factors of unethical use of information technology: the model of unethical usage of information technology (Chatterjee, 2005), unethical behavioural model in the Social Networking Sites context (Jafarkarimi, Saadatdoost, Sim, & Hee, 2016), a casual model for ethical behavioural intention of IT (Seif, 2016). The main ethical issues that arise from the impact of technology use in educational activities are the following (Akcay, 2008; Ashman et al., 2014; Brey, 2007; Cilliers, 2017): privacy, security and ownership of personal data, hacking, intellectual property, netiquette, vandalism, access, accuracy of inferencing, the effect of personalization on individual capability, the commodification of education, improper use of computer resources, academic dishonesty in online assessment, anonymity and pseudonymity, online harassment and hate speech, academic freedom and free speech online.

Academic challenges in terms of the ethical aspects of the use of information technology

Technological resources favoured unethical behaviours, especially among students (Karim, N. S. Zamzuri, & Nor, 2009). In digital learning environments, students face a wide range of ethical challenges regarding honesty, integrity and the correct use of content (Blau & Eshet-Alkalai, 2017). The data of studies conducted in higher education show that students have misconceptions about ethics in IT use (Calluzzo & Cante, 2004), as well as the fact that they lack knowledge in this field (Hamiti, Reka, & Baloghová, 2013). Cilliers (2017) recommend to include in the curriculum for higher education Ethics of information in order to prepare students to deal with these ethical issues. The main problems of unethical IT use by teachers from academia cover issues like plagiarism, ignoring copyright, file sharing, posting incorrect information, cyber-bullying, delivering courses and exams in laboratories with IT equipment, distance learning, use of licensed software, communication through Facebook and You Tube, lack of academic integrity (Igwe & Ibegwam, 2014) etc. Teachers prepare courses by downloading materials on the Internet, apply assessments online, use email to send and receive feedback, provide students with CDs and web links related to course content, so that all these activities raise ethical issues of which teachers and students should be aware (Jamil, Tariq, R-u-H., & Shah 2013). The priority is for teachers to feel responsible for educating students about “what is right and what is wrong” in the use of IT (Beycioglu, 2009). Increasing emphasis is put on digital ethics (UNESCO, 2011), which constitutes an important part of the digital competence that each teacher should develop. Kuzu (2009) proposes solutions regarding the problems related to computer ethics through the help of practitioners with an information and communication technology background.

Problem Statement

Students and teachers use information technology on a daily basis in the academic environment to achieve different educational activities. Moor (2005) considers that there is a lack of understanding of the ethical usage rules of new technologies, which leads to a lack of information on their responsible use. The more the population becomes smarter in developing and using technology, the greater the risk of it being used to the detriment of individuals, organizations or society in general (Brooks, 2010). One of the basic solutions is the introduction of an ethical code of conduct regarding the IT use at the level of higher education. From the perspective of studies, the ethical use of information technology by university students and professors constitute an area that has largely been ignored. Paradice, Freeman, Hao, Lee, & Hal (2018) found that research incorporating an ethical perspective on the use of IT has shifted from focusing on codes of ethics and general notions of behaviour to more sophisticated models of piracy, privacy and security.

Research Questions

At the basis of the study there are the following question: What themes have there been addressed in research over the past 15 years in terms of ethical use of information technology in higher education?

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this article is to explore the main themes related to the ethical issues of the use of information technology in the academic environment using a systematic literature review (SLR).

Research Methods

This systematic literature review was used with the aim of identifying articles published in journals indexed in international databases. The review was conducted in October 2018 on a number of 36 articles achieved in the last 15 years from 2003 to 2018. The method implies "a review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect and analyse data from the studies that are included in the review" (Moher, Liberati, Tetzlaff, & Altman, 2009). Systematic analysis is useful for this study, because it is based on an objective, transparent and rigorous approach to minimise bias and ensure future replicability (Mallett, Hagen-Zanker, Slater, & Duvendack, 2012). While most systematic reviews are conducted in a rigid way, the systematic review in this article is based on a more flexible approach, respecting the main principles of research methodology.


A thematic analysis was applied to calculate the frequencies of the themes in the articles. In accordance with the procedure proposed by Thomas and Harden (2008), a series of steps were taken to analyse and interpret the data. In the first stage, the text was encoded and descriptive themes were identified. In Table 1 there are presented the key elements of the study, such as the purpose, design of the study, the region, and the main themes regarding the ethical issues of using IT in higher education encountered in the articles selected for review.

Table 1 -
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The themes identified from the analysis presented in Table 02 were the following: attitudes, perceptions, judgments, opinions or beliefs towards the ethical use of IT, ethical or unethical behaviour in computer use, the relationship between personality and unethical Internet use, awareness about computer ethics, ethical decision-making in using IT, ethical code on IT use. Of the 36 analysed studies, 31 are conducted on students and only 5 on teachers or university members to explore the ethical aspects of IT use. According to the region where the studies were conducted, there is very little research on exploring the ethical aspects of IT use in European universities.


The results of the systematic literature review indicate that most studies are focused on investigating attitudes towards the ethical use of information technology in higher education. It also finds that most studies involve university students and very few are addressed to university members. The implications of the research are multiple for the representatives of the university environment. First of all, there is highlighted the importance of the ethical aspects of the responsible use of computer technology in higher education. Secondly, university members may be more aware of the role of ethical aspects of using information technology and can act to make good use of them. Thirdly, the results of this study can be used to initiate new research to assess the impact of ethical use of information technology and to prevent violations of their proper operating rules in higher education.


„This work was supported by a grant of Ministery of Research and Innovation, CNCS - UEFISCDI, project number PN-III-P1-1.1-TE-2016-0773, within PNCDI III”..


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Ghiațău, R. M., & Mâță*, L. (2019). Ethical Aspects Of The Use Of Information Technology In Higher Education. In E. Soare, & C. Langa (Eds.), Education Facing Contemporary World Issues, vol 67. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 2184-2192). Future Academy.