June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
14.60.1 - 14.60.15
A MODEL FOR ETHICS INTEGRATION INTO AN ENGINEERING CURRICULUM
Ethics education is currently of major concern in higher education and in engineering in particular. There are many reasons for this, such as the seeming increase of cheating and plagiarism among students. Simultaneously, the level of trust in public and private institutions, in terms of the honesty and integrity of those in leadership, is dwindling. For engineers, whose occupation allows them potential for positive or negative societal impacts, it is critical that their decisions involve sound ethical judgment. Despite this obvious need, the amount of time given to ethics in an engineering curriculum is minimal. With all the knowledge and skills needed in engineering, it seems as if there is neither time nor space to teach ethics.
Consequently, the results are predictable. During a recent meeting of engineering students, the students were asked what kinds of ethical questions they encountered at work or in their studies. The majority indicated they had never encountered any ethical issues at all. When questioned further, it was clear that they considered ethics merely a “set of rules” – do’s and don’ts for specific situations. If they encounter no situation precisely described by these rules, then no ethical issue existed.
Ethics, however, is not a “set of rules”. Ethics is an inquiry into how to create a good life. Thus, ethics is a necessary part of every human decision.
How can we convey the importance of ethics to our students?
Our approach is based upon a problem involving communication skills. The ability to communicate effectively is fundamental and has also been deteriorating among undergraduates. In response, Drexel University instituted a Writing Intensive (WI) program, by which all undergraduates are required to take at least three WI classes for graduation. These classes are a standard part of their curricula but contain specific writing components. Specially trained student-tutors work with their fellows to ensure writing skills are being developed.
We propose a similar idea with ethics education.
The critical part of our program is a three-phase tutor-training program for upper division and graduate students. In Phase I, students are introduced to the major ethical philosophies by instructors playing the leading thinkers of those traditions. For example, an instructor might play Socrates or Confucius or Augustine or Kant, thus providing a more personal introduction to each philosophy. In Phase II, students are given a set of ethical issues and
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