Authors: Sarah Junaid (Aston University); Yann Serreau (CESI); Alison Gwynne-Evans (University of Cape Town); Patric Granholm (Åland University of Applied Sciences); Kathryn Fee (Queen’s University Belfast); Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

Keywords: Pedagogy.

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

 

Using a constructive alignment tool to plan ethics teaching:

Incorporating ethics into an already-packed engineering curriculum can be an overwhelming prospect. But as more accreditation bodies are requiring engineering programmes to evidence the inclusion of ethics, this activity is becoming essential. Recently, a planning tool has been developed by a team of academics that you can use to constructively align your learning outcomes with activities and assessments that positively reinforce the inclusion of ethics.

For instance, in a year 2 Mechanical Engineering course, an existing outcome might read: “Use CAD modelling and additive manufacturing in the product development process and embed control sensors, actuators and physical hardware into a complete system.” As it is written, it contains no reference to ethics. But after comparing this outcome against language found in AHEP4, the CDIO Syllabus, and the Learning Landscape found in this Toolkit’s Ethics Explorer, you might revise it to read: “Use CAD, modelling and additive manufacturing in the product development process and embed control sensors, actuators and physical sensors to design a safe and complete system to address a societal need.” The minor changes to the language (shown in italics) ensure that this outcome reinforces the ethical dimension of engineering and encourages the ethical development of engineers. These changes also then inform the language used in activity briefs and the criteria by which students are assessed.

This tool has been used in workshops at Aston University and the 2023 SEFI conference, and is endorsed by CDIO.

Download this planning tool:

 

Engineering Ethics Teaching – Planning Tool Worksheet

Stage1: Resources – Tabulate all relevant resources and their Learning Outcomes or Programme Outcomes:

What are your Learning Outcomes for the topic you will teach? Please list them here.

Highlight the verbs in blue and the ethical topics in red; this will help highlight any potential gaps.

Program level (My module, course, class, or lecture)  

Accreditation level

 

National or Professional level ethics map or framework (optional) International level
Reference/ Source [Your University and course title] [Your national accreditation board] [e.g. codes of conduct, code of ethics, ethical principles, suggested teaching approaches] [e.g. CDIO Syllabus, ABET, Washington Accord]
Learning Outcome 1 [Write current Learning Outcome here] [Copy and paste the relevant competency here] [Copy and paste the relevant guidance here] [Copy and paste the relevant competency/skill here]
Learning Outcome 2 Enter text here Enter text here Enter text here Enter text here
Learning Outcome 3 Enter text here Enter text here Enter text here Enter text here

 

Stage 2: Re-write Learning Outcomes (LOs): 

Learning Outcomes Re-worded Learning Outcomes Rationale
LO1.

[Copy and paste LO from Stage I table here]

LO1.

[Re-write LO and highlight verbs in bold here]

[Justify your changes or if unchanged, justify why here]
LO2. LO2. Enter text here Enter text here
LO3. LO3. Enter text here Enter text here

 

Stage 3: Ethics Teaching Tools – Evidence-based tools and resources to help with teaching engineering ethics:

 

Three Examples of Ethics Teaching Models:

1. The Rest Model for Ethical Decision Making – Individual (Jones, 1991).

2. The Ethical Cycle – Problem-solving (Van de Poel & Royakkers, 2007).

3. The Innovent-E Model – Competencies – Language: French
(For access to competences in ethics contact Yann Serreau: yserreau@cesi.fr)

Note: you can use other models.

 

Stage 4: Constructive Alignment – Tabulate the LOs, activity and assessment, and ensure alignment:

My module – Learning Outcomes Learning & teaching activity Assessment
LO1.

[Copy and paste new LO from Stage II table here]
[What activity will support and prepare the student for the assessment?] [What assessment would be needed to demonstrate this new LO?]
LO2. Enter text here Enter text here Enter text here
LO3. Enter text here Enter text here Enter text here

 

 

Download this planning tool:

 

 

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. Jude Bramton (University of Bristol); Elizabeth Robertson (University of Strathclyde); Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

Keywords: Collaboration; Pedagogy.

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.

 

How to organise class sessions:

Engineering educators can find a wealth of ethics case studies in the Engineering Ethics Toolkit. Each one focuses on different disciplines, different areas of ethics learning, and different professional situations, meaning there is almost certainly a case study that could be embedded in one of your classes.

Even so, it can be difficult to know how to organise the delivery of the session. Fortunately, Toolkit contributors Jude Bramton of the University of Bristol and Elizabeth Robertson of the University of Strathclyde have put together diagrams that demonstrate their approaches. These processes can act as helpful guides for you as you integrate an Ethics case study in one of your engineering class sessions.

 

Jude Bramton’s class session organisation looks like this:

You can read more about her approach here.

 

Elizabeth Robertson’s class session organisation looks like this:

You can read more about her approach here.

 

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.

Elizabeth Robertson, Teaching Fellow in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at The University of Strathclyde, discusses how we need to move past our discomfort in order to teach ethics in engineering.

 

I could wax lyrical about the importance of engineering ethics for today’s students who are tomorrow’s engineers. However, there are lots of other articles that will do it much better than I can. All I’d say in short is that as educators, we know it’s important, our graduate employers tell us it’s important, and our accrediting bodies are looking for us to include it through our curriculum because they know it’s important too.

The task for us as educators then is to demonstrate the importance of ethics to our students and to offer students a learning experience that is relevant to them at whatever stage they are and that that will also offer the most impact – but as with so many things, that is easier said than done.

 

Getting comfortable with what the toolkit is and how to use it

I have used the Engineering Ethics Toolkit since its launch, and I cannot be a bigger proponent for its usefulness for staff or its impact on students’ learning. Educators are always challenged to design sessions that are engaging, participatory and have real student impact. With its range of case studies and really useful advice and guidance documents, the Engineering Ethics Toolkit does all three.

The documentation in the toolkit contains a mix of introductory material on what ethics is and why to integrate ethics education into modules alongside practical considerations including the ‘hows’ – best practice in teaching ethics and methods for assessment and evaluation.

 

Choosing a case study for your students

The suite of broad engineering ethics case studies means that there is a case study for a range of student needs (and there are often new ones on the horizon too). In my teaching that means sometimes I use case studies that are related to discipline-specific learning the students are currently undertaking so they can pull in technical knowledge and experience they have, and in other cases I choose something totally removed in order to allow students to spend more time with the ethical dimensions of a case and not get preoccupied with the technical.

 

The case studies I’ve used

During the last academic year we used the case study ‘Glass safety in a heritage building conversion’ with my first year groups, and that’s pretty far removed from the electrical, mechanical and computer science modules they take. That decision was intentional; the aim was to get students to concentrate on the principles of ethics, stakeholder mapping, stakeholder motivations and interpersonal dynamics and not be ‘distracted’ by the technical aspects. This was one class in a module centred around a sustainable design challenge and we used the Ethics toolkit to help students develop an understanding of the importance of economic, environmental and social factors. Working with a case study not in their exact engineering field helped students see that they must look beyond the technical to understand people – be they stakeholders, end users or community members. Students worked to make decisions on actions with honesty and integrity and to respect the public good. The students engaged really well in the session and there were some vibrant discussions on which actions were ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and vitally the students grasped how stakeholder dynamics and dynamics of power in projects can affect outcomes.

In comparison, for my third year undergraduate students I intentionally chose a case study that would link to their hardware/software project that was upcoming, and connect closely to learning in their communications module: ‘Smart homes for older people with disabilities’. This meant that alongside stakeholder mapping we identified technical factors looking into possible routes of data leaks. Students engaged so well and were actively debating possible actions to take covering ethical, technical and legal implications. It pained me every time I had to cut conversations short so we could cover the full case study – so much so that this year we’re going to try and give them longer than an hour for the process.

 

Getting comfortable with the students in the lead

I use a participatory teaching methodology often. This means starting our 50 minutes together with student reflection, having 5/10 minutes of introductory talk and then rounds of group discussions. The students are therefore in the driving seat in the classroom – students set the tone and the pace. If they are having valuable, meaningful and worthwhile discussions and demonstrating valuable ethical discussions, my plans change. This means maybe not covering all parts of the case study  maybe skipping a stage or two of discussions that were in my plans. As long as the session’s objective are met, the students can write their own journey.

 

What my sessions look like

As the song goes, we start at the very beginning as it’s a very good places to start. That means first asking the students their current understanding of what ethics is – we did this first by using a word association activity, and asked what came to mind when they hear the term ‘ethics.’ Their answers in the word cloud below demonstrate a good maturity of thought to work from in the session. We then moved on to discuss when we should consider ethics – for us as individuals, members of society and as engineers.

What they said:

Building on from our prompting questions we then introduced the Statement of Ethical Principles published by the Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering and covering the four fundamental principles of ethics defined therein.

From there we worked with the toolkit and our case study of choice. Most case studies come in 2-4 ‘phases’, each with a bit more of the story that I’d briefly talk over, which we gave them printed and electronically. The phases often include a ‘dilemma’ for the protagonist and some questions for provoking thought and discussion or more technical work as is suitable. The questions and activity prompts that are within the case studies are invaluable to educators and students in helping design the session and for giving student groups a place to start if they are not sure how to tackle part of the story. We worked on a think-pair-share model asking individuals to think, groups to discuss, and then asking a few groups to report back to the room. One thing I want to do more of is asking different groups to role play as different stakeholders. Asking students to embed themselves in different perspectives can lead to some very valuable insights.

 

Getting comfortable in a room of differing views

Students worked in small groups with the case study and an important stage was asking groups to report back their thoughts. These were volunteered rather than cold-called and in asking for more groups to share I would prompt if anyone had a different view to make sure that a range of perspectives were heard. Though in fairness to the students they engaged so readily and enthusiastically that I often ran short of time rather than being left with ‘dead air’.

I have delivered ethics sessions to groups of 12, 30 and 100. In all cases it is important that all students feel heard and all views and perspectives respected. You need to make sure that an open, honest, and non-judgemental tone is set. This allows all students to feel they are free to ask questions and importantly share their perspectives, meaning that there is a big onus on the educator to act as a facilitator as much as a teacher.

Good facilitation is key. Some things to think about:

 

Getting comfortable with no absolutes

What is vital in running these sessions is offering some sort of conclusion when there is no ‘right’ answer. My third-year cohort knew that a class on ethics was in the schedule – that I was going to get them to answer Menti polls, work in small groups and report back to the room. These are my established teaching styles and by halfway through the semester the students are well used to it. What they weren’t prepared for was that in the end I wasn’t going to tell them a ‘right’ answer.

All the students I have worked on ethics with were somewhat disappointed when in the end they were not offered the ‘right’ answer for the ethical dilemmas posed. What I did do though was still offer them a conclusion to their learning. I point out some of the excellent examples of consideration and thought offered by groups to highlight themes from the four principles. It’s useful here too to point students to where they’ll apply their learning from the session in the short and long term. For my students their future projects all require ethics, inclusion and sustainability statements. It’s important though to also evidence where the learning will go beyond the classroom.

There are examples of cases that in hindsight there are clear cases of ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ (you can pull examples of fields relevant to you, often cited is the Challenger tragedy and Ford Pinto Memo). What we conclude on though is getting comfortable with a lot of decision making professionally being in the ‘middle’ – a complex space with multiple competing factors. Engineers need to work with the principles of ethics to guide us to make sound and well-informed judgements.

It’s essential that tomorrow’s graduate engineers understand that ethics is not a ‘tack on’ statement at the end of a project proposal but rather that ethics is a core part of the role of an engineer. Using the Engineering Ethics Toolkit to help integrate ethics into the core of their education today is a very good way to do that. I recommend the Engineering Ethics Toolkit to all educators – the wealth of the resource cannot be understated in its support to a teacher’s session design and, most importantly, to a student’s learning.

You can find out more about getting involved or contributing to the Engineering Ethics Toolkit here.

 

This post is also available here.

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.

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.

 

This post is also available here.

 

Dr. Jude Bramton of the University of Bristol discusses her first-hand experience of using the Engineering Ethics Toolkit and what lessons she learnt.

 

Starting off

Let me set the scene. It’s a cold January morning after the winter break and I need to prepare some Engineering Ethics content for our third year Mechanical Engineers. The students have never been taught this topic, and I have never taught it.

I’m apprehensive – many of our students are fantastic engineering scientists/mathematicians and I’m not sure how they will engage with a subject that is more discussive and, unlike their more technical subjects, a subject with no single correct answer.

Nonetheless, my task is to design a 50-minute session for ca. 180 undergraduate Mechanical Engineers to introduce the concept of Engineering Ethics and start to build this thinking into their engineering mindset. The session will be in a flatbed teaching space, where students will be sitting in groups they have been working in for a number of weeks.

For a bit more context, the content is assessed eventually as part of a group coursework where students assess the ethical implications of a specific design concept they have come up with.

 

Designing the session with the help of the Toolkit

From doing a little bit of research online, I came across the Engineering Ethics Toolkit from the EPC – and I was so grateful.

I started off by reviewing all 8 case studies available at the time, and reading them in the context of my session. I picked one that I felt was most appropriate for the level and the subject matter and chose the Solar Panels in a Desert Oil Field case study.

I used the case study in a way that worked for me – that’s the beauty of this resource, you can make it what you want.

I put my session together using the case study as the basis, and including the Engineering Council’s principles of Engineering Ethics and some hand-picked tools from some of Toolkit’s guidance articles – for example, I used the 7-step guide to ethical decision making.

I used the text directly from the case study to make my slides. I introduced the scenario in parts, as recommended, and took questions/thoughts verbally from the students as we went. The students then had access to all of the scenario text on paper, and had 15-20 minutes to agree three decisions on the ethical dilemmas presented in the scenario. Students then had to post their group’s answers on PollEverywhere.

The overall session structure looked like this:

 

How did it go?

When I ran the session, one key component was ensuring I set my expectations for student participation and tolerance at the start of the session. I openly told students that, if they feel comfortable, they will need to be vocal and participative in the session to get the most from it. I literally asked them – “Is that something we think we can do?” – I got nods around the room (so far, so good).

Overall, the session went better than I could have expected. In fact, I think it was the most hands up I have ever had during a class. Not only did we hear from students who hadn’t openly contributed to class discussion before, but I had to actively stop taking points to keep to time. It made me wonder whether this topic, being presented as one with no wrong or right answers, enabled more students to feel comfortable contributing to a large class discussion. Students were very tolerant of each others’ ideas, and we encouraged differences of opinion.

For the small group discussions, I left a slide up with the three ethical dilemmas and the 7-step guide to ethical decision making as a prompt for those that needed it. During the small group discussions, I and supporting teaching staff wandered around the room observing, listening and helping to facilitate discussion, although this was rarely needed as engagement was fantastic. The small group sessions also allowed opportunities for contribution from those students who perhaps felt less comfortable raising points in the wider class discussion.

To my delight, the room was split on many decisions, allowing us to discuss all aspects of the dilemmas when we came to summarise as a larger class. I even observed one group being so split they were playing rock-paper-scissors to make their decision – not quite the ethical decision making tool we might advertise, but representative of the dilemma and engagement of students nonetheless!

 

Student feedback

I asked our Student Cohort Representative to gather some informal feedback from students who attended the session. Overall, the response was overwhelmingly positive, here are a few snippets:

“It was the best lecture I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

“The most interesting session, had me engaged.”

“It was the first time learning about the connections between engineering and ethics and it was really useful.”

“I enjoyed the participation and inclusion with the students during the lesson. It has favoured the growth of personal opinions and a greater clarity of the subject and its points of view.  Furthermore, the addition of real-life examples gave more depth to the topic, facilitating listening and learning.”

“The session was very engaging and I liked the use of examples… This whole unit has showed me how there are more aspects of engineering to consider apart from just designing something. Engineers must always think of ethics and I believe this session has demonstrated that well.”

And finally, when asked “What was your overall impression of the session?” a student replied Interesting and curious.” – what more could you ask for?

It was such a pleasant surprise to me that not only did students engage in the session, but they actively enjoyed the topic.

 

I’ve run it once, how would I improve it?

One thing I would do differently next time would be to allow even more time for discussion if at all possible. As discussed, I had to stop and move on, despite the engagement in the room at certain points.

I also reflect how it might have gone if the students weren’t as engaged at the start. If you have other teaching staff in the room, you can use them to demonstrate that it’s ok to have differences of opinion. A colleague and I openly disagreed with each other on a topic, and demonstrated that this was ok. Additionally, if larger class engagement doesn’t work for you, you could also go straight to the small group discussion.

 

In summary (and top tips!)

I now feel very comfortable, and excited, to be teaching engineering ethics. It has now also catalysed more content to be created to embed this theme further in our programme – so it doesn’t just become that “one off” lecture. However, I think providing specific time on this subject was very beneficial for the students, it gave them time and space to reflect on such a complex topic.

My takeaways and recommendations from this experience have been:

All in all, I would recommend the resources on the Engineering Ethics Toolkit to anyone. They can be easily adapted to your own contexts and there is a plethora of resources and knowledge that are proven to engage students and get them thinking ethically.

You can find out more about getting involved or contributing to the Engineering Ethics Toolkit here.

 

This blog is also available here.

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.

In this blog, Dr Matthew Studley, Associate Professor of Technology Ethics at UWE, looks at using case studies from the Engineering Ethics Toolkit to engage students.

Over the last two years, I have been part of the team that created the Engineering Ethics Toolkit for the Engineering Professors Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering. The toolkit is based around case studies, which let students flex their ethical muscles on problems concerning a variety of applications of technology in different fields, and are structured for delivery with examples of exercises, discussion points, and further reading.

We have integrated ethics teaching into all our programmes in the School of Engineering at UWE, Bristol, and this has given me the chance to build lessons on the case studies.  I first delivered a session to around 100 Degree Apprentices from a variety of industrial backgrounds.  This was exciting!

We first warmed up by discussing how ‘ethics’ is different from ‘morals’, and I suggested that we could view ethics in some ways as like any engineering process; we’re optimising for moral good, rather than cost, strength, or some other non-functional metric.  The big difference of course is that it’s hard to determine moral value – how do we measure it?

We discussed if ideas of good and bad are culturally determined and change with time, and whether there might be any universally accepted definitions.  We agreed that it would be hard to argue against a course of action if my opinion holds the same weight as yours.  Not only is ‘good’ hard to measure, but we can’t agree what it is.  So what’s the answer?

The big revelation.  The advantage of applied ethics is that we can call upon an external standard which solves part of this problem for us, defining the behaviours and outcomes which are desirable. The Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering have created a Statement of Ethical Principles for all engineers, which gives weight to our arguments about moral worth.  We now know what ‘good’ is.

I used one of the case studies in the toolkit to frame an open discussion in the lecture theatre, with groups discussing the points suggested by the authors.  Although our students were from a variety of backgrounds, it wasn’t a disadvantage to use the same case study for all. Feedback from the module leader suggested that the students found the session enjoyable and engaging (apparently, I should do a regular podcast).

After this pilot we have delivered a similar session on a wider scale by tutors to groups of all our final year students.  My colleagues suggested that some students were less engaged. I think we might use some role-play next time; get them moving round the room, get them to use their bodies, get them to own the issues. Ethics should engage the heart!

The great biologist E. O. Wilson said, “The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Palaeolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology.” With more people, having greater resource needs, and the possibility that AI will accelerate our technological development still faster, it seems to me more important than ever to train engineers who are confident and empowered to make ethical decisions.

If you would like to contribute a resource to the Engineering Ethics Toolkit, you can find out how to get involved here.

 

This blog is also available here.

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.

Author: Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

Keywords: Collaboration; Pedagogy.

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.

 

Premise:

Most engineers and engineering educators have experienced or read about a situation that makes them think, “that would make a great case study for students to learn from.” Examples of potential cases can be found in the news, in textbooks, and in the workplace. However, it can be difficult to translate a real world situation into an educational resource. This article sets forth a “recipe” based on recent educational scholarship that can be used to create case studies ideal for classroom use.

 

Case study purpose:

Recipes are created for different reasons – sometimes you want comfort food, sometimes it’s a healthy detox meal, sometimes it’s a stand-out celebratory feast for a special occasion. In a similar way, case studies should be written with a deliberate purpose in mind. To help you consider these, ask yourself:

Next, it’s important to remember that there are different kinds of learning within ethics education. The Ethics Explorer highlights these with its focus on graduate attributes which specify what characteristics and attitudes we hope engineering graduates will develop through this learning. For example, do you want to focus on students’ abilities to identify or identify with an ethical situation? Or do you want them to be able to reason through options or make a judgement? Or is it important for them to learn ethical knowledge such as professional codes or practices? Any of these could be a good focus, but in general, it is useful to write a case study aimed at one particular purpose, otherwise it can become too unwieldy. Plus, case studies that have a specific learning aim can make it easier to devise assessments related to their content. 

 

Case study ingredients:

Just as cooks do when preparing to make a meal, case study writers assemble ingredients. These are the components of a case that can be mixed together in different proportions in order to create the desired result. And, as in cooking, sometimes you should use more or less of an ingredient depending on the effect you want to create or the needs of your audience. But in general, educational scholars agree that these elements are necessary within a case study to promote learner engagement and to achieve the desired educational outcomes. 

1. Setting / Context.  Ethical issues in engineering don’t happen in a vacuum. Often they are exacerbated by the setting and context in which they occur, whether that’s a start-up tech company in London or an aid organisation in Brazil or in a research lab in Singapore. An authentic environment not only makes the case more realistic, but it also can add important extra dimensions to the issues at stake (Valentine et al., 2020). However, to ensure you don’t run afoul of IP or other legal concerns, it can be best to fictionalise company names and invent hypothetical (yet realistic) engineering projects.

2. Characters. Ethics is a fundamentally human concern; therefore it’s important to emphasise the emotional and psychological elements of engineering ethics issues (Walling, 2015; Conlon & Zandervoort, 2011). In real life, every person brings their role, point-of-view, and background to their consideration of ethical dilemmas, so case studies should replicate that. Additionally, aspects like age, gender, and ethnicity can add complexities to situations that replicate the realities of professional life and address issues relevant to EDI. Case studies can help students imagine how they might negotiate these. 

3. Topic. Besides the overarching ethical issue that is related to an engineering discipline, case studies are most effective when they incorporate both macro- and micro-ethical considerations (Rottman & Reeve, 2020). This means that they require students to not only deliberate about a particular scenario (should I program the software to allow for users to see how their data is used?), but also about a wider concern (how should transparency and privacy be negotiated when consenting to share data?). The chosen topic should also be specific enough so that there is opportunity to integrate elements of technical learning alongside the ethical dilemma, and reference broader issues that could relate to ethics instruction more generally (Davis, 2006; Lawlor, 2021). 

4. Cause for Conflict. An ethical dilemma could arise from many kinds of conflict. For instance, an employee could feel pressured to do something unethical by a boss. A professional could believe that a stance by an institution is unjust. A person could experience internal conflict when trying to balance work and family responsibilities. A leader could struggle to challenge the norms of a system or a culture. In simplest terms, ethical dilemmas arise when values conflict: is efficiency more important than quality? Is saving money worth ecological harm? Case studies that highlight particular conflicts can help promote critical thinking (Lennerfors, Fors, & Woodward, 2020).

 

Narrative:

Once the ingredients are assembled, it’s time to write the narrative of the case study. Begin with a simple story of around 250-500 words that sets out the characters, the context, and the topic. Sometimes this is enough to gesture towards some potential ethical issues, and sometimes the conflict can be previewed in this introductory content as well.

Then, elaborate on the conflict by introducing a specific dilemma. You can create an engaging style by including human interests (like emotion or empathy), dialogue, and by avoiding highly technical language. Providing different vantage points on the issue through different characters and motivations helps to add complexity, along with adding more information or multiple decision-making points, or creating a sequel such as justifying the decision to a board of directors or to the public. 

Ultimately, the narrative of the case study should be engaging, challenging, and instructional (Kim et al., 2006). It should provide the opportunity for students to reconsider, revisit, and refine their responses and perspectives (Herreid, 2007). Most of all, it should provide opportunities to employ a range of activities and learning experiences (Herkert, 2000). Your case study will be most effective if you suggest ideas for discussions or activities that can help learners engage with the issues in a variety of ways. 

 

Putting the frosting on the cake:

The community of professionals committed to integrating ethics in engineering education is strong and supportive. Running your ideas by an expert in the topic, a colleague, or a member of our Ethics Ambassadors community can help strengthen your case study. Most of all, discussing the issue with others can help you develop your own confidence in embedding ethics in engineering. The more case studies that we develop from more perspectives, the more diversity we bring to engineering education and practice – we can all learn from each other. We hope you start cooking up your own case study soon!

You can find information on contributing your own resources to the toolkit here.

 

References:

Conlon, E. and Zandvoort, H. (2011). ‘Broadening ethics teaching in engineering: Beyond the individualistic approach’, Science and Engineering Ethics, 17, pp. 217-232.

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

Herkert, J.R. (2000) ‘Engineering ethics education in the USA: Content, pedagogy, and curriculum’, European Journal of Engineering Education 25(4), pp. 303-313.

Herreid, C.F. (2007) Start with a story: The Case study method of teaching college science. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Kim, S. et al. (2006) ‘A conceptual framework for developing teaching cases: A Review and synthesis of the literature across disciplines’, Medical Education 40, pp. 867-876.

Rottman, C. and Reeve, D. (2020) ‘Equity as rebar: Bridging the micro/macro divide in engineering ethics education’, Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education 20, pp. 146-165. 

Valentine, A. et al. (2020) ‘Building students’ nascent understanding of ethics in engineering practice’, European Journal of Engineering Education 45(6), pp. 957-970.

Walling, O. (2015) ‘Beyond ethical frameworks: Using moral experimentation in the engineering ethics classroom’, Science and Engineering Ethics 21, pp. 1637-1656.

 

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Author: Konstantinos Konstantis (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens). 

Keywords: Ethical theories; Societal impact; Privacy; Freedom; Security; Pedagogy; Risk. 

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 prepare students with the integrated skill sets that employers are looking for.  

 

Premise: 

It goes without saying that the way we design and use technology plays a crucial role in our daily lives. Engineers and their decisions have a huge impact on society (Unger, 2005). Technology is presented as a very promising solution for many societal problems, such as the environmental crisis and poverty. At the same time, many ethical challenges arise. The imminent possibility of artificial intelligence (AI) and robots replacing humans in a vast array of professions, and the everyday cyber-related issues concerning privacy, freedom, property, and security, are just a few of the challenges that the information revolution has bequeathed to us. Furthermore, advances in biomedical technology and, in particular, genetic engineering and developments in reproductive procedures, raise very similar issues including the reconfiguration of the distinction between the artificial and the human. Without a consideration of ethics, engineering could be inadequately or inappropriately designed to address these challenges. 

Walczak et al. (2010) assert that ethical development comes as an output of three components. First, the knowledge of ethics refers to the ability of engineers to understand what is ethical and what is not ethical. In this component belongs the understanding of the professional responsibility of engineers and of codes of ethics for engineers. Second, ethical reasoning refers to the ability of engineers to first understand ethical problems and then to deal with them. Third, ethical behaviour refers to the ethical intentions that engineers have during an ethical problem and ethical solutions that engineers provide to that problem (Walczak et al., 2010). According to Walczak et al. (2010), formal curricular experiences, co-curricular experiences, student characteristics, and institutional culture are four aspects that influence ethical development of engineering students.  

However, there is a disconnection between these four aspects and ethical development. There are five obstacles that are responsible for this disconnection (Walczak et al., 2010, p. 15.749.6). First, “the curriculum is already full, and there is little room for ethics education,” second, “faculty lack adequate training for teaching ethics,” third, “there are too few incentives to incorporate ethics into the curriculum,” fourth, “policies about academic dishonesty are inconsistent,” and fifth, “institutional growth is taxing existing resources.” Among other ways to overcome these obstacles, Walczak et al. (2010, p. 15.749.9 – 15.749.10) recommend the integration of curricular and co-curricular activities. Student organisations and service learning are two examples of how to integrate ethics in engineering education effectively. For instance, student organisations could organise lectures in which engineering students have the chance to listen to engineers talk about real life ethical problems and dilemmas. Secondly, service learning is a way for engineering students to combine ethics education with their engineering practice. Participating in community service activities offers the opportunity for students to understand the role of engineers and their responsibility towards society. Finally, integrating ethics alongside technical curriculum and within the context of engineering projects can help students understand the ethical context of their work.   

This is an important reason for integration, because as van de Poel and Royakkers (2011) describe, ethics helps engineers to deal with technical risks. Martin and Schinzinger (2009) show us how different subfields of engineering, such as computer and environmental engineering, could benefit from the inclusion of ethics. Baura (2006) analyses how engineers could have acted in concrete ethical dilemmas that have been presented in the past, in order not to lead to some of the engineering disasters that have happened. Martin and Schinzinger (1983) highlight engineering as “social experimentation,” requiring the need for the ethical education of engineers in order for them to be ready to take the right decisions in dilemmas they will have to deal with in the future. According to Fledderman (2011), codes of ethics of engineers and an array of ethical theories could be combined to offer ethical problem-solving techniques (for example ‘line drawing’ and ‘flow charts’) to engineers.  

However, ethics should be integrated in engineering for another reason as important as those listed above. Technology not only shapes society, but it is shaped by society too. Therefore, engineering ethics should be twofold. First, engineering ethics should address ‘disaster ethics,’ and second, it should be about “the social aspects of everyday engineering practice” (Kline, 2001, p. 14). Traditionally, engineering accidents become the cause for engineers and engineering ethicists to analyse the ethical implications of technology and the ways that engineers could take decisions that will not lead to disasters again. These examples are called ‘disaster ethics’. The “social aspects of everyday engineering practice” have to do with the fact that technology is not made in a single time when an engineer has to take a serious decision that may cause an accident or not, but rather in daily and regular practice. These aspects are referring to the co-constitution of technology and society and how engineers can “deal with everyday issues of tremendous significance regarding the ethical and social implications of engineering” (Kline, 2001, p. 19).  

The Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering have published the Statement of Ethical Principles, which should be followed by all engineers in the UK. Statements like this are useful to encourage engineers to act ethically. But, ethics in engineering should be integrated in the whole “engineering life”. From research to implementation, ethics should be part of engineering (Kline, 2001).  

If courses relevant to engineering ethics are absent from the curriculum, engineering students take the message that ethics is not important for their education and therefore for their profession (Unger, 2005). In contrast with the claim that ethics is innate and therefore cannot be taught (Bok, 1976), ethics should be integrated in engineering teaching and practice. The fields of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and History of Technology could play a crucial role in covering the twofold aspect of engineering ethics as presented in this article. Scholars from these fields, among others, could give answers on questions such as “How do engineering practices become common, despite the fact they may be risky?” This is what Vaughan (1997), in her analysis of the Challenger disaster, calls “normalisation of deviance”. This is the only way for engineers to understand the bidirectional relationship between technology and society, and to put aside the dominant ideology of neutral technology that affects and shapes society and doesn’t get affected by it. No matter if engineers want to add ethics into the making of technology, “in choosing a solution, engineers are making an ethical judgement” (Robison, 2014, p.1). 

To conclude, there are many engineering challenges that need to be addressed. Integrating ethics in engineering is one of the best ways to address these challenges for the benefit of the whole of society. This is also the way to overcome problems relevant with the difficulty to add ethics into the engineering curriculum, such as the fact that the engineering curriculum is already full. Ethics has not only to do with the way that technology affects society, but also with the fact that society shapes the way that engineers design and develop technology. If ethics is integrated in engineering education and the curriculum, students perceive that their actions in engineering are not only technical, but at the same time have to do with ethics too. They don’t perceive ethics as a separate ‘tick-box’ that they have to fill during engineering, but instead they perceive ethics as a fundamental part of engineering. 

 

References: 

Baura, G. D. (2006) Engineering Ethics: An Industrial Perspective. Academic Press. 

Bok, D. C. (1976) ‘Can Ethics Be Taught?’ Change, 8(9), pp. 26–30.  

Fleddermann, C. B. (2011) Engineering Ethics (4th ed.). Pearson. 

Hagendorff, T. (2020) ‘The Ethics of AI Ethics: An Evaluation of Guidelines’, Minds and Machines, 30(1), pp. 99–120.  

Kline, R. R. (2001) ‘Using history and sociology to teach engineering ethics’. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 20(4), pp. 13–20.  

Martin, M. W. and Schinzinger, R. (1983) ‘Ethics in engineering’. Philosophy Documentation Center, 2(2), 101–105. 

Martin, M. W. and Schinzinger, R. (2009) Introduction to Engineering Ethics. McGraw-Hill. 

Poel, I. van de, and Royakkers, L. (2011) Ethics, Technology, and Engineering: An Introduction. Wiley-Blackwell. 

Robison, W. L. (2014) ‘Ethics in engineering’, 2014 IEEE International Symposium on Ethics in Science, Technology and Engineering, pp. 1–4.  

Unger, S. H. (2005) ‘How best to inject ethics into an engineering curriculum with a required course’, International Journal of Engineering Education, 21(3), 373–377.  

Vaughan, D. (1997) The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA. University of Chicago Press. 

Walczak, K., Finelli, C., Holsapple, M., Sutkus, J., Harding, T., and Carpenter, D. (2010) ‘Institutional obstacles to integrating ethics into the curriculum and strategies for overcoming them’, ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, pp. 15.749.1-15.749.14.  

 

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.

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.

Author: Dr Gill Lacey (Teesside University). 

Keywords: Pedagogy; Societal impact; Personal ethics; Research ethics. 

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 prepare students with the integrated skill sets that employers are looking for.  

 

Premise: 

Ethics is defined in many ways but is generally agreed to be a set of moral (right or wrong) principles that govern social behaviour. While this is not the place for a discussion of ethical philosophies and theories that analyse what we mean by “moral”, or how we define social behaviour, it is pertinent to consider the nature of engineering ethics so that we understand why it should be integrated into modules. Davis gives us a rather pared down explanation: “Integrating ethics into science and engineering courses is largely a matter of providing context for what is already being taught, context that also makes the material already being taught seem ‘more relevant,’” (Davis, 2006).  

Despite this, very often ethics is considered as an afterthought – sometimes it only comes up when a solution to a technical problem results in unintended consequences. Rather, we need our students to look at any technical solution through an ethical lens – as well as through an economic one. This generally involves considering what effect any technical project might have on society, especially on those who use that technology. Teaching students to consider the technology through an ethical lens makes them true engineers, not just technicians. And as Davis implies, relevance provides motivation. 

 

Some principles for integrating ethics:

Consideration needs to be given to improving our students’ ethical learning throughout their course/programme (Hess and Fore, 2018). We argue that ethics can and should be embedded into most modules in a natural way, giving as much or as little time to it as necessary. A planned progression should be aimed for throughout the course, and the Ethics Explorer in this Toolkit provides suggestions as to how this can be accomplished. A more sophisticated understanding will be arrived at over time by exposing them to more and more complex cases where the outcome is not obvious. A graduate engineer should be able to give a considered response to an employer’s question about an ethical position during an interview.  

Other principles for integrating ethics include:  

1. State your assumptions and moral position at the start of a course/module 

This is not the same as taking a moral stance. Some moral issues can be universally agreed, but not all, so we need an approach to morally disputed issues.  We must be clear about the ethical framework in which the course is being taught. An ethically neutral engineering course is neither advisable nor possible. 

For instance, it needs to be baldly stated that climate change is real, that all the modules in the course make that assumption, and low carbon solutions are the only ones that will be considered. Some students will be challenged by that. This is a case of stating the moral position of the course and asking the students how they are going to ‘be’ with that position, because it will not be argued for (Broadbent, 2019).  

Many lecturers start a module with an “expectations” list, especially with new students; it could be argued this is a first exposure to engineering ethics as it relates to social and professional behaviour in the teaching space. There is no room for discussion or reflection here; this is a statement of how things are going to be in this community. Sharing accepted moral values is assumed here. 

There are general standards of behaviour to which everyone is expected to conform around respect and disagreeing constructively; there is a professional standard to which we can conform. The advantage of doing this is that it provides certainty and weight to our judgement in report writing as well as practice in professional ethical conduct in the workplace. 

2. Provide resources 

A survey regarding the teaching of ethics showed agreement between the students that provision of resources, such as case studies and examples, were needed to allow ethics to be considered. They want guidance and access to receiving ethical approval for projects or research, and an opportunity for reflection on personal ethics and how these relate to professional attitudes or projects (Covill et al., 2010). Examples include: 

3. Allow for opportunity to reflect 

This can be achieved by requiring a reflection in every level of an engineering degree. It could be part of an assessment at the end of a project or module in the form of a short, written reflection. It could be approached by asking the student in an interview to consider the ethics of a situation and the interviewer can then challenge the student on their journey to become ethically literate.  

Finally, for advice on assessing ethics in an engineering module, see this guidance article. 

 

References: 

Broadbent, O. (2018). ‘Delivering project based learning: Teaching resources and guidance for academics.’ Engineers without Borders and Think-up. 

Covill, D., Singh D.G., Katz, T., and Morris, R. (2010). ‘Embedding ethics into the engineering and product design curricula: A Case study from the UK,’ International Conference On Engineering And Product Design Education, 2 & 3 September. Norwegian University Of Science And Technology, Trondheim, Norway. 

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

Hess, J.L., and Fore, G. (2018) ‘A Systematic Literature Review of US Engineering Ethics Interventions,’ Science and Engineering Ethics 24, pp. 551–583.  

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 of the SEFI 49th Annual Conference: Blended Learning in Engineering Education: challenging, enlightening – and lasting? European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI), pp. 274-282. 

Lundeberg, M.A., Levin, B.B. and Harrington, H.L. (eds.), (1999). Who learns what from cases and how? The research base for teaching and learning with cases. Routledge. 

Prince, M.J. and Felder, R.M. (2006) ‘Inductive teaching and learning methods: Definitions, comparisons, and research bases,’ Journal of Engineering Education 95, pp. 123-138. 

 

Additional resources: 

 

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