Media release

15th June 2023

The Engineering Professors’ Council today announced the launch of innovative new content for their Engineering Ethics Toolkit, an online resource that helps educators to build ethics directly into their engineering teaching.  

Created by the Engineering Professors’ Council (EPC) with support from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Engineering Ethics Toolkit addresses the issue that relatively few university engineering courses explicitly embed ethics teaching throughout the curriculum.   

The ability to tell right from wrong – and better from worse – is as vital to an engineer as maths or design skills, yet many UK higher education institutions fall short in effectively developing these abilities in future engineering professionals. The Engineering Ethics Toolkit solves this problem with a suite of interactive resources, guidance and teaching materials that aim to engage educators, and enable them to introduce ethics into the education and training of every engineer, allowing the UK to position itself as a leader in promoting engineering as a force to improve the world for people and the planet.  

As well as offering advice to educators who want to teach ethics but are not sure where to begin, the Toolkit features ready-to-use classroom resources that are rooted in educational best practice and align with the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes (AHEP) criteria, which are the conditions for courses to receive professional accreditation.   

These case studies and other teaching materials highlight current and emerging real-world issues and can be used and adapted by anyone. The latest additions to the Engineering Ethics Toolkit include the interactive Ethics Explorer, which helps educators understand, plan for and implement ethics learning, and 30 new academic guidance articles, case studies and comprehensive classroom activities created and developed by academic and industry professionals.  

Dr Rhys Morgan, Director of Education and Diversity at the Royal Academy of Engineering, comments: “There has never been a more crucial time to ensure that the next generation of engineers have the skills and training to critically address ethical questions around issues such as artificial intelligence and sustainability. It is vital for the future of our profession, as well as the future of our society and planet, that every engineer develops the ability to make responsible and informed decisions regarding the ethics of their work.”  

Raffaella Ocone OBE FREng FRSE, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Heriot-Watt University and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, remarks: “As engineers and as educators we want to improve the world. When we teach ethics within our engineering degrees, we teach the ability to determine what is wrong and what is right, what is a mistake and what is an improvement. The Engineering Ethics Toolkit makes it easy to include ethics in our teaching. It is a treasure trove for educators.”  

The Engineering Ethics Toolkit is a free to use suite of resources, available at epc.ac.uk/resources/toolkit/ethics-toolkit   

To hear about forthcoming Engineering Ethics Toolkit webinars and workshops, join the EPC’s Ethics Ambassadors community by emailing press@epc.ac.uk 

Ends

Notes to editors

Contact

Contact: Johnny Rich
Email: press@epc.ac.uk
Phone: 0781 111 4292
Website: epc.ac.uk/resources/toolkit/ethics-toolkit
Twitter: @EngProfCouncil
#EngineeringEthicsToolkit
#EngineeringEthics

 

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The Ethics Explorer is an interactive tool that was built to help engineering educators navigate the landscape of engineering ethics education. It is the newest resource in the Engineering Ethics Toolkit.

Whether you’re an ethics veteran or brand new to teaching ethics within engineering, the Ethics Explorer allows you to find your own path through what can sometimes seem like a wilderness.

Choose a path depending on what you want to do. Improve your own ethics learning? Plan for ethics learning? Integrate or assess an ethics activity? Each path leads you through content such as learning outcomes, graduate attributes, and accreditation criteria, while also pointing you to supporting activities and resources linked to the content.

The Ethics Explorer replaces the static engineering ethics curriculum map published in 2015, although there is also a printable version available in PDF form, that summarises content from the interactive Explorer.

The content in the Ethics Explorer is subject to changes in context and should be customised to suit the various forms that
an engineering degree can take. It is intended as a non-prescriptive resource – as a way of suggesting to educators how ethics might comprise a distinct theme in an engineering undergraduate degree. This version of the Ethics Explorer is focused on the UK higher education context, but it may be adapted for use in other countries.

The Ethics Explorer is a free to use resource, accessible to all. Start exploring here.

Have you used the Ethics Explorer? Tell us about your experience – what you loved, what is missing, and what could be improved. Fill out our feedback form, or email w.attwell@epc.ac.uk.

 

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Authors: Professor Sarah Hitt SFHEA (NMITE); Dr Nik Whitehead (University of Wales Trinity Saint David); Dr Matthew Studley (University of the West of England, Bristol); Dr Darian Meacham (Maastricht University); Professor Mike Bramhall (TEDI-London); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Trade-offs in the energy transition.

Engineering disciplines: Chemical engineering, Electrical engineering, Energy.

Ethical issues: Sustainability, Honesty, Respect for the environment, Public good.

Professional situations: Communication, Bribery, Working cultures.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Practise ethical reasoning. Ethical reasoning applies critical analysis to specific events in order to consider, and respond to, a problem in a fair and responsible way.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case requires an engineer with strong convictions about sustainable energy to make a decision about whether or not to take a lucrative contract from the oil industry. Situated in Algeria, the engineer must weigh perspectives on environmental ethics that may differ from those informed by a different cultural background, as well as navigate unfamiliar workplace expectations. The engineer’s own financial wellbeing is also at stake, which may complicate decision-making. As a result, this case has several layers of relations and potential value-conflicts. These include values that underlie assumptions held about the environment and its connection to human life and services.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: 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 case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities as desired. To prepare for activities related to environmental ethics, teachers may want to read, or assign students to pre-read the following academic articles: ‘Environmental ethics: An overview’ or ‘Mean or Green: Which values can promote stable pro-environmental behavior?’

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

 

Summary:

You are an electrical engineer who had a three-year contract with a charity in Algeria to install solar systems on remote houses and farms that were not yet connected to the grid. The charity’s project came to an end and you have set up your own company to continue the work. It has been difficult raising money from investors to fund the project and the fledgling business is in debt. It is doubtful that your company will survive for much longer without a high-profit project.

During your time in Algeria, you have made many local and regional contacts in the energy industry. Through one of these contacts, you learn of an energy company operating a large oil field in the region that is looking to convert to solar energy to power its injection pumping, monitoring, and control systems. In doing so, the oil field will eliminate its dependency on coal-fired electricity, increasing production while boosting the company’s environmental credentials. It also hopes to make use of a governmental tax credit for businesses that make such solar conversions.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: What is your initial reaction to using solar energy for oil and gas production? What might your initial reaction reveal to you about your own perspectives and values?

2. Discussion and activity: List the potential benefits and risks to implementing this technology. Are these benefits and risks the same no matter which country they are implemented in?

3. Activity: Research the trend for using solar energy in oil and gas production. Which companies are promoting it and which countries are using this technology?

4. Discussion and activity related to optional pre-readings: Consider how your perspective is related to the following environmental values, and pair/share or debate with a peer.

 

Dilemma – Part one:

The following week you receive a phone call in your home office. It is a representative of the energy company named Sami. He asks you to bid for the solar installation contract for the oilfield. At first you are reluctant, it doesn’t seem right to use solar power to extract fuel that will contribute to the ongoing climate emergency. You explain your hesitation, saying “I got into the solar business because I believe we have a responsibility to future generations to develop sustainable energy.” Sami laughs and says “While you’re busy helping people who don’t exist yet, I’m trying to provide energy to the people who need it now. Surely we have a responsibility to them too?”

Sami then quotes a figure that the company is willing to pay you for the project work. You are taken aback at how large it is – the profit made on this contract would be enough to pay off your debts and give your business financial security moving forward. Still, you hesitate, telling Sami you need some time to think it over. He agrees and persuades you to attend dinner with him and his family later that week.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Have you done anything wrong by accepting Sami’s dinner invitation?

2. Discussion: Environmental ethics deals with assumptions that are often unstated, such as the obligation to future generations. Like Sami, some people find that our obligation is greater to people who exist at this moment, not to those that don’t yet exist. Do you agree or disagree with this position? Why? Can we maintain an obligation to future generations while simultaneously saying that this must be weighed against the obligations in the here and now?

3. Activity: Both cost-benefit and value trade-off analyses are valuable approaches to consider in this case.  Determine the possible courses of action and undertake both types of analysis for each position by considering both short- and long-term consequences. [use the Mapping actors and processes article to help with this activity].

4. Activity: Using reasoning and evidence, create arguments for choosing one of the possible courses of action.

5. Activity: Undertake technical calculations in the areas of chemical and / or electrical engineering related to carbon offset and solar installations.

 

Dilemma – Part two:

When you arrive at Sami’s house for dinner you are surprised to find you aren’t the only guest. Leila, a finance manager at the oil company is also present. During the meal, she suggests they are considering investing in your business. “After all,” she points out, “many of our employees and their families could really use solar at their homes. We have even decided to subsidise the installation as a benefit to them.”

You are impressed by the oil company’s commitment to their workers and this would also guarantee you an income stream for 3-5 years. Of course, to guarantee the investment in your company, you will have to agree to undertake the oil field installation. You comment to Leila and Sami that it feels strange to be having these formal discussions over a family meal. “This is how we do business here,” says Sami. “You become part of our family too.”

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Do you accept the contract to complete the installation? Do you accept the investment in your company? Why, or why not?

2. Discussion: Is this bribery? Why, or why not?

3. Activity: Role-play the conversation between Sami, Leila, and the engineer.

4. Activity: Use heuristics to analyse possible courses of action. One heuristic is the Environmental ethics decision making guide. Another is the 7-step guide to ethical decision-making.

 

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: Professor Dawn Bonfield MBE (Aston University); Johnny Rich (Engineering Professors’ Council); Professor Chike Oduoza (University of Wolverhampton).

Keywords: Ethical principles; Code of conduct; Engineering professionals; Ethical decision-making; Ethical behaviour.

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 module design. It will also help to prepare students with the integrated skill sets that employers are looking for.

 

Premise:

The Statement of Ethical Principles published by the Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2005 (revised in 2017) contains the recommendations to which all UK engineers should comply. It sets out four fundamental principles that all engineering professionals should aspire to follow in their working habits and relationships.

At the launch of the revised document, the Chair of the Engineering Council said “The profession needs to ensure that the principles are embedded at all stages of professional development for engineers and those technicians, tradespeople, students, apprentices and trainees engaged in engineering.”

These principles are based on the premise that engineering professionals work to enhance the wellbeing of society, and in so doing they are required to maintain and promote high ethical standards, as well as to challenge unethical behaviour. The principles are the foundation for making decisions when faced with an ethical dilemma in engineering.

 

The four principles:

The code defines four fundamental principles of ethical behaviour: Honesty and integrity; Respect for life, law, the environment and public good; Accuracy and rigour; and Leadership and communication.

The requirement for engineers to embody honesty and integrity is based on the expectation that engineers can be trusted. It seeks to position the engineering community as one that possesses the respect and confidence of the public. People should feel confident that the word of an engineer is a reliable one, and that decisions taken by engineers are fair and without compromise or conflict.

Respect for life, law, the environment and public good demands that engineers are law-abiding and have the public’s best interests at heart. This allows people to feel safe when they drive over bridges, fly in aircrafts, and use electrical equipment. It reassures them that engineering designs have been tested, are legally compliant, and that the engineer puts, above all else, the wellbeing of the public, future generations, other members of the profession, and the environment in which we live. This principle also covers the protection of data and privacy of the public.

Accuracy and rigour ensures that engineers are trained, competent and knowledgeable, and that they do not pass themselves off as experts in areas where they are not competent. It requires that engineers keep their knowledge up-to-date, and share their knowledge and understanding with others in their profession. It calls for engineers to take a broad approach to problem-solving, considering a variety of external factors which may influence the risks of any project.

And finally, the principle of leadership and communication ensures that engineers lead by example, that diversity and inclusion are valued, and that people are treated fairly and with respect. It is concerned with the impact of engineering on society in the broadest sense – with how the public sees engineering and how engineering addresses public, social and environmental justice concerns. It requires engineers to be considerate and truthful when acting in a professional capacity, and to raise concerns where necessary.

These four principles underpin professional codes of conduct for engineers, and they provide guidance on how ethical decisions should be made, giving a set of values against which engineers can behave.

 

Using the principles to unpick right from wrong and make the best decision:

While these principles can form a useful basis for ethical decision-making within engineering, it is often the case that conflicts arise that prevent the decision pathway from being straightforward, when there is no obvious right or wrong answer. There may be other principles that need to be considered, relating to the organisation or the institution that the engineer is working for. Furthermore, there may be other considerations associated with a person’s religion, culture or belief system. We shouldn’t forget that other constraints such as cost and time will also impact on the possible options available.

So, decision-making in engineering is rarely straightforward. It is not like a mathematical equation with right and wrong answers, but rather with degrees of rightness, balances of pros and cons and, often, with some costs incurred for the sake of a greater good. Various tools and frameworks exist to help the decision-maker with ethical problems. Probably the simplest logical method considers each of the possible solutions against the ethical principles that are to be complied with. These can then be considered in relation to the stakeholders affected, and a list of pros and cons can be developed. They can even be scored and weighted.

What if a decision is required quickly? How do we ensure that we are likely to make the best one? These questions are partly due to the values that we subscribe to as engineers, and as individuals. They become embedded in our subconsciousness through our training and practice. When decisions need to be made in a hurry, we rely on heuristics, or simple rules or instincts that feel consistent with the ethical knowledge and expertise that we have built up during our career. These heuristics, however, are subject to cognitive biases – psychological patterns of thought that divert us from purely rational approaches. Being aware of these biases can help to minimise or compensate for them.

 

Conclusion:

Engineers should utilise the Statement of Ethical Principles and knowledge of the specific context they are working in, to make the best decisions on the situation or dilemmas at hand. Ultimately, decisions that we make as a professional engineer are our individual responsibility, and whatever decision results, we should be prepared to justify and stand by them, knowing that we have taken these in good faith and for the right reasons. Ethical decision-making can be practised throughout an engineer’s education by using a variety of case studies to explore a range of scenarios an engineer could face. The Royal Academy of Engineering and Engineering Professors’ Council’s Engineering ethics case studies can be used for this.

 

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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