June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Educational Research and Methods
14.189.1 - 14.189.14
An Examination of Student Experiences Related to Engineering Ethics: Initial Findings
Key words: engineering ethics, focus groups, interviews, survey development
In today’s technological society, the ethical behavior of engineers is more important than ever. The need to graduate engineers who are conscious of their ethical and professional responsibilities is evidenced by The Engineer of 2020 report7 produced by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). The report concluded that future engineers would need to “possess a working framework upon which high ethical standards and a strong sense of professionalism can be developed.” Another NAE report, Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering6, concluded that future engineers will be trained to advance technologies, but will not be trained to address the “social and ethical implications” of these technologies. This growing emphasis on producing more ethical engineers is further evidenced in the nationwide engineering accreditation standards (established by ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Those standards require engineering graduates to have “an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility2,” and Lattuca and colleagues report that these standards have resulted in an increase in students’ awareness of ethics and professionalism4. However, awareness of ethics and professionalism is not enough, as it focuses on students’ knowledge of ethics rather than their ability to analyze and resolve ethical dilemmas or, more importantly, their subsequent behavior as ethical professionals.
The importance of graduating more ethical engineers underscores the necessity to assess the current state of engineering undergraduates’ ethical development and to identify factors that have a positive impact on this proficiency. Therefore, in order to determine both how engineering programs promote development of ethical decision-making skills and the level of success of those efforts, our research team is undertaking a multi-year study to measure students’ participation in curricular and co-curricular activities meant to affect ethical development, their knowledge of engineering ethics, and their moral reasoning ability. The critical objective of this study is to enact educational reform by widely disseminating to the engineering education community the specific curricular and co-curricular activities and experiences that most positively affect students’ ethical decision-making skills.
The project described in this paper is the initial stage of the multi-year study in which we visited ten engineering programs and collected data which will inform the development of a national survey to be administered in the spring of 2010. Although the overall study is only in its second year, the data collected in the first year provide us with both a platform upon which to build the national survey and cultural context which will inform analysis of the survey data.
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