Author: Andrew Avent (University of Bath). 

Keywords: Assessment criteria; Pedagogy; Communication.  

Who is this article for? This article should be read by educators at all levels in higher education who wish to integrate ethics into the engineering and design curriculum, or into module design and learning activities. It describes an in-class activity that is appropriate for large sections and can help to provide students with opportunities to practise the communication and critical thinking skills that employers are looking for. 

 

Premise: 

Encouraging students to engage with the ethical, moral and environmental aspects of engineering in any meaningful way can be a challenge, especially in very large cohorts. In the Mechanical Engineering department at the University of Bath we have developed a debate activity which appears to work very well, minimising the amount of assessment, maximising feedback and engagement, and exposing the students to a wide range of topics and views.  

In our case, the debate comes after a very intensive second year design unit and it is couched as a slightly “lighter touch” assignment, ahead of the main summer assessment period. The debate format targets the deeper learning of Bloom’s taxonomy and is the logical point in our programme to challenge students to develop these critical thinking skills.  

Bloom, B. S. (1956). “Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain.” New York: David McKay Co Inc. 

This activity addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes (AHEP) fourth edition: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

 

The debate format: 

Table 1: Timings for technical feasibility debate. There is plenty of scope to alter these timings
and allow a
healthy debate from the floor and further exploration of the key arguments. 

 

Some key points to bear in mind: 

The environmental impact of Formula 1 can(not) be justified through improvements to vehicle and other technologies.

For clarity, the term “Affirmative” means they are arguing for the proposal, “Negative” implies they are arguing against the proposal. The Negative argument includes the bracketed word in all cases. 

Equally the team given the “affirmative” position to argue in favour of the sport, needs to be certain of their arguments and to fully research and anticipate any potential killer questions from their opponents. 

 

Discussion points for improvements: 

We felt that our experience with what has become known as the Technical Feasibility Debate was worth sharing with the wider higher education community, and hope that readers will learn from our experience and implement their own version.  

 

Acknowledgements: 

 

Appendices: 

Typical list of debate topics: 

  1. Gas turbines are (not) a dying technology for aircraft propulsion.
  2. Cumbrian super coal mine: there is (no) justification for accessing these fossil fuel reserves.
  3. Metal additive manufacturing, 3D Printing, is (not) a sustainable technology. 
  4. Mining the Moon/asteroids for minerals, helium, etc. should (not) be permitted. 
  5. Electrification of lorries via hydrogen fuel cell technology is (not) preferable to changing the road infrastructure to include overhead power lines (or similar). 
  6. Electrification of road vehicles is (not) preferable to using cleaner fuel alternatives in internal combustion engine cars. 
  7. The use of single use plastic packaging is (not) defensible when weighed up against increases in food waste. 
  8. The environmental impact of Formula 1 can(not) be justified through improvements to vehicle and other technologies. 
  9. Solar technologies should (not) take a larger share of future UK investment compared to wind technologies. 
  10. Tidal turbines will (never) produce more than 10% of the UK’s power. 
  11. Wave energy converters are (never) going to be viable as a clean energy resource. 
  12. Commercial sailing vessels should (not) be used to transport non-perishable goods around the globe. 
  13. We should (not) trust algorithms over humans in safety-critical settings, for example autonomous vehicles. 
  14. Inventing and manufacturing new technologies is (not) more likely to help us address the climate emergency than reverting to less technologically and energy intense practices 
  15. Mechanical Engineering will (not) one day be conducted entirely within the Metaverse, or similar. 
  16. The financial contribution and scientific effort directed towards fundamental physics research, for example particle accelerators, is (not) justified with regard to the practical challenges humanity currently faces. 
  17. A total individual annual carbon footprint quota would (not) be the best way to reduce our carbon emissions. 
  18. The UK power grid will (not) be overwhelmed by the shift to electrification in the next decade. 
  19. We are (not) more innovative than we were in the past – breakthrough innovations are (not) still being made. 
  20. Lean manufacturing and supply chains have (not) been exposed during the pandemic. 


Marking rubric:
 

Criteria  5  4  3  2  1 
1. Organisation and Clarity: 

Main arguments and responses are outlined in a clear and orderly way. 

Exceeds expectations with no suggestions for improvement.  Completely clear and orderly presentation.  Mostly clear and orderly in all parts.  Clear in some parts but not overall.  Unclear and disorganised throughout. 
2. Use of Argument: 

Reasons are given to support the resolution. 

Exceeds expectations with no suggestions for improvement.  Very strong and persuasive arguments given throughout.  Many good arguments given, with only minor problems.  Some decent arguments, but some significant problems.  Few or no real arguments given, or all arguments given had significant problems. 
3. Presentation Style: 

Tone of voice, clarity of expression, precision of arguments all contribute to keeping audience’s attention and persuading them of the team’s case. Neatly presented and engaging slides, making use of images and multimedia content. 

Exceeds expectations with no suggestions for improvement.  All style features were used convincingly.  Most style features were used convincingly.  Few style features were used convincingly.  Very few style features were used, none of them convincingly. 

 

References: 

Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc. 

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Authors: Dr Sarah Junaid (Aston University); Professor Mike Sutcliffe (TEDI-London); Jonathan Truslove (Engineers Without Borders UK); Professor Mike Bramhall (TEDI-London).

Keywords: Active verbs; Bloom’s Taxonomy; learning outcomes; learning objectives; embedding ethics; project based learning; case studies; self-reflection; UK-SPEC; AHEP; design portfolio; ethical approval checklist and forms; ethical design.

Who this article is for?: This article should be read by educators at all levels in higher education who wish to integrate ethics into the engineering and design curriculum or module design. It will also help prepare students with the integrated skill sets that employers are looking for.

 

Premise:

Engineering can have a significant impact on society and the environment, in both positive and negative ways. To fully understand the implications of engineering requires navigating complex, uncertain and challenging ethical issues. It is therefore essential to embed ethics into any project or learning outcome and for engineering professionals and educators to operate in a responsible and ethical manner.

The fourth iteration of the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes (AHEP) reflects this importance to society by strengthening the focus on inclusive design and innovation, equality, diversity, sustainability and ethics, within its learning outcomes. By integrating ethics into engineering and design curricula, graduates develop a deeper comprehension of the ethical issues inherent in engineering and the skill sets necessary to navigate complex ethical decision-making needed across all sectors.

 

Policy:

There is growing advocacy for bringing engineering ethics to the fore in engineering programmes. At the policy level, this is evident in three general areas:

  1. UK-SPEC and accreditation bodies are identifying ethics as one of the core learning outcomes and competencies in accreditation documents.
  2. The inclusion of more descriptive competencies that expand on engineering ethics.
  3. The fourth iteration of AHEP standards reflecting the importance of societal impact in engineering.

However, to translate the accreditation learning outcomes and their intentions to an engineering programme requires a duty of care by those responsible for programme design and development. The following are points for consideration:

 

Curriculum structure:

In the UK-SPEC (4th edition) guidance the Engineering Council states: “Engineering professionals work to enhance the wellbeing of society. In doing so they are required to maintain and promote high ethical standards and challenge unethical behaviour.”

In AHEP 4, students must meet the following learning outcome: “Identify and analyse ethical concerns and make reasoned ethical choices informed by professional codes of conduct”

So, when designing a new programme, ethics should ideally be built into the learning outcomes of the programme and modules at the early design stage and consistently be emphasised throughout. To ensure ethics are embedded, students should be required to consider the outputs of their project work through a societal or community lens, especially if they are undertaking projects with a practical delivery of ethics such as, say, designing for older people in care homes.

For existing programmes, ethics could be most readily introduced through a stand-alone ethics module. It is better, however, for ethics to be embedded across the whole programme, encouraging a holistic ‘ethical considerations mindset’ as a ‘golden thread’ across, and within, all student project work (Hitt, 2022). Minor or major modifications could be made to programmes to ensure that ethics is considered and emphasised, such as through the use of active verbs that embed critical reflections of design. For programmes with a large project-based learning component, ethical considerations should be required at the initial stage of all projects.

 

Learning and teaching activities:

In all efforts to embed ethics in engineering education, there should be a focus on constructively aligning teaching activity to learning outcomes. Examples include: employing user-centred design and/or value-sensitive design approaches and case studies for technical and non-technical considerations, using empathy workshops for ethical design, and ensuring ethical considerations are included in problem statements and product design specifications for decision-making. The use of self-reflection logs and peer reflections for team working can also be useful in capturing ethical considerations in a team setting and for addressing conflict resolutions.

A pragmatic step for programmes that use project-based learning is to encourage these ethical discussions at the beginning of all project work and to return to these questions and considerations during the course of the project. Reflecting on ethics throughout will lead to an ethical mindset, a foundation that students will build on throughout their subsequent careers.

One way of ensuring this for students is to complete an ethical scrutiny checklist, which, when completed, is then considered by a departmental ethics committee. The filter questions at the start of an ethics scrutiny submission would help determine the level of review required. Projects with no human participants could be approved following some basic checks. In some universities it has become policy for ethical scrutiny to be required for all group and individual project work such as problem-based learning projects, final year degree projects, and MSc and PhD research projects. For projects that collaborate with the Health Research Authority (HRA), it is a requirement that scrutiny is through their own HRA committee and it is good practice to put these types of projects initially through a departmental and/or university ethics committee as well. Having students go through this process is a good way of revealing the ethical implications of their engineering work.

 

Assessments:

Closing the constructive alignment triangle requires assessments that are designed to utilise learning and teaching activities and to demonstrate the learning outcomes. The challenging question is: How can ethics be evaluated and assessed effectively? One solution is through using more active verbs that demonstrate ethical awareness with outputs and deliverables. Examples where this could be applied include:

For more information on methods for assessing and evaluating ethics learning, see this related article in the engineering ethics toolkit: Methods for assessing and evaluating ethics learning in engineering education.

 

Conclusion:

Using accreditation documentation to develop effective engineering programmes requires engaging beyond the checklists, thereby becoming more accustomed to viewing all competencies through an ethical lens. At programme design and module level, it is important to focus on constructively aligning the three key elements: learning outcomes written through an ethical lens, learning and teaching activities that engage with active verbs, and assessments demonstrating ethical awareness through a product, process, reflection and decisions.

 

References:

Davis, M. (2006) ‘Integrating ethics into technical courses: Mirco-insertion’, Science and Engineering Ethics, 12(4), pp.717-730.

Gwynne-Evans, A.J, Chetty, M. and Junaid, S. (2021) ‘Repositioning ethics at the heart of engineering graduate attributes’, Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, 26(1), pp. 7-24.

Hitt, S.J. (2022) ‘Embedding ethics throughout a Master’s in integrated engineering curriculum’, International Journal of Engineering Education, 38(3).

Junaid, S., Kovacs, H., Martin, D. A., and Serreau, Y. (2021) ‘What is the role of ethics in accreditation guidelines for engineering programmes in Europe?’, Proceedings SEFI 49th Annual Conference: Blended Learning in Engineering Education: challenging, enlightening – and lasting?, European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI), pp. 274-282.

 

Additional resources:

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

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