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A Graduate-level Engineering Ethics Course: An Initial Attempt to Provoke Moral Imagination

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Cross-cultural Sensitivity, Moral Imagination, and Diversity in Engineering Ethics Education

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Engineering Ethics

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Yousef Jalali Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Yousef Jalali is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. He received a B.S. and M.S. in Chemical Engineering and M.Eng. in Energy Systems Engineering. His research interests include interaction between critical thinking, imagination, and ethical reasoning, interpersonal and interinstitutional collaboration, diversity, equity, and inclusion, systems thinking, and chemical engineering learning systems. Yousef taught chemical engineering courses for a few years in his home country, Iran, and first-year engineering courses for several semesters at Virginia Tech. He has provided service and leadership in different capacities at Lehigh University and Virginia Tech.

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Christian Matheis Guilford College

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I serve as a visiting assistant professor of Community and Justice Studies in the Department of Justice and Policy Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. My research and teaching specializations bridge theoretical, empirical, and practical subjects informed by social and political philosophy, ethics, public policy, and direct-action organizing. In particular, my work emphasizes how both philosophy of liberation and practical strategies enacted in liberatory movements can play a key role in addressing contemporary ethical, political, and economic problems. Teaching and research concentrations include topics such as solidarity, refugees, feminism, race, indigeneity, power and policy, and global justice. In addition to my regular teaching and research, I also provide training and consulting in areas of human relations facilitation, intergroup dialogue, grassroots direct-action organizing, and other similar topics.

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Marc Edwards Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Dr. Marc Edwards received his bachelor’s degree in Bio-Physics from SUNY Buffalo and an M.S./Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of Washington. His M.S. thesis and Ph.D. dissertation won national awards from the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors and the Water Environment Federation. In 2004, Time Magazine dubbed Dr. Edwards the "Plumbing Professor” and listed him among the four most important “innovators” in water from around the world. The White House awarded him a Presidential Faculty Fellowship in 1996. In 1994, 1995, 2005 and 2011 Edwards received Outstanding Paper Awards in the Journal of American Waterworks Association and he received the H.P. Eddy Medal in 1990 for best research publication by the Water Pollution Control Federation (currently Water Environment Federation). He was later awarded the Walter Huber Research Prize from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2003, the State of Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award in 2006, a MacArthur Fellowship from 2008 to 2012, the Praxis Award in Professional Ethics from Villanova University in 2010, and the IEEE Barus Award for Defending the Public Interest in 2012. His paper on lead poisoning of children in Washington D.C., due to elevated lead in drinking water, was judged the outstanding science paper in Environmental Science and Technology in 2010. Since 1995, undergraduate and graduate students advised by Dr. Edwards have won 23 nationally recognized awards for their research work on corrosion and water treatment. Dr. Edwards is currently a University Distinguished professor of Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech, where he teaches courses in environmental engineering ethics and applied aquatic chemistry.

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A graduate level engineering ethics course developed by the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF) has been offered in the last eight years at a large land-grant university. The course aims to address relationships between engineering, science, and society and incorporates listening exercises, personal reflections, individual and group projects, and case studies within four major units of inquiry: Learning to Listen, Responsible Conduct of Research, Responsible Conduct of Practice, and Witnessing Wrongdoing and the Obligation to Prevent Harm. We started a project centered around moral imagination in 2019 to enhance the previous curriculum. The major changes included two learning modules, each for two and half hours, developed explicitly to provoke and encourage imagination, which is one of the major goals of ethics instruction. The course provides a context for rather unconventional intervention in the form of these modules, and there is a hope that students will benefit from explicit attention to the concept of imagination by incorporating some philosophical and fiction pieces. Imagination discussed as an essential character of thinking and understanding urges us to pay attention to otherwise obscured patterns of human suffering. The modules make a connection and expand the existing discussion on bias, institutional culture, and power relations. The first module is in connection with everyday decision-making, how we think, and the role of bias. Two readings were considered for the first module: "Moral Insight" by Josiah Royce and an excerpt from I and Thou by Martin Buber. The second module highlights institutional culture and systematic oppression. The intent in this module is to make a shift from negative ethic-- passive role/do not harm-- to a more positive ethic-- active role/add good-- and emphasize the importance of power relations and collective responsibility. Two readings were chosen for the second module: "The Ones Who Walk Away" from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin and "From Cruelty to Goodness" by Philip Hallie.

In this paper, we first discuss the concept of imagination informed by the literature. Then, we present an overview of the course, including a narrative from the perspective of a student, and review the modules and pedagogical methods. Finally, we report on the data collected from students' pre- and post-surveys in 2019 and 2020.

Jalali, Y., & Matheis, C., & Edwards, M. (2021, July), A Graduate-level Engineering Ethics Course: An Initial Attempt to Provoke Moral Imagination Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36583

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