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Arguing to Solve Engineering Ethics Problems

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Issues Part One

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.226.1 - 22.226.13



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Paper Authors


David H. Jonassen University of Missouri

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Dr. David Jonassen is Curators’ Professor at the University of Missouri where he teaches in the areas of Learning Technologies and Educational Psychology. Since earning his doctorate in educational media and experimental educational psychology from Temple University, Dr. Jonassen has taught at the University of Missouri, Pennsylvania State University, University of Colorado, the University of Twente in the Netherlands, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Syracuse University. He has published 35 books and hundreds of articles, papers, and reports. His current research focuses on the cognitive processes engaged by problem solving and models and methods for supporting those processes during learning, culminating in the book: "Learning to Solve Problems: A Handbook for Designing Problem-Solving Learning Environments."

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Arguing to Solve Engineering Ethics ProblemsEthical issues pervade engineering practice. Engineering ethics problems are ill-structured with alternative solutions, perspectives, and rationales. In order toprepare engineering students for practice, ABET requires that engineeringeducation programs address ethical responsibilities based on economic,environmental, ethical, social, and political factors. Previous studies by the authors showed that arguing for solutions toethical problems is an effective strategy for requiring students to addressmultiple perspectives in support of ethical problems. However, a significantweakness on student solutions to ethical problems is conceiving of and rebuttingcounterarguments. Therefore, these studies investigated alternative methods forfacilitating the identification and rebuttal of counterarguments. In two experiments, engineering students enrolled in an introductoryengineering education class constructed argumentative solutions to everydayengineering ethics problems in a hypertext, Engineer Your Ethics (EYE). EYEintegrates everyday ethics scenarios with personal perspectives on the problem,applications of theories and ethical canons, and various tasks for engagingethical problem solving. Students identify ethical issues by applying differentethical theories and professional codes of ethics, identify stakeholders and theirperspectives on the issue, generate solutions according to ethical theories, andmake ethical decisions by referring to the various optional solutions, perspectivesand theories. Experiment 1 compared the effects of arguing against one’s own solutionversus solutions recommended by others. Results showed that students developmore and higher quality counterarguments to arguments produced by someoneelse. Because of myside bias, students find it difficult to argue against their ownsolutions. Experiment 2 evaluated the effects of providing examples ofcounterarguments on students’ justifications for their solutions. Results showedthat examples of counterarguments are not effective in helping student generatecounterarguments. Rather, constructing their own counterarguments is moregenerative and therefore more effective. Engineering programs must not only push their students to becomeconcerned about the public health and safety of others, but also to 1) help theirstudents to defend their solutions to ethical problems, 2) acquire the ability toevaluate alternative solutions from different perspectives, and, 3) enhancestudents’ divergent thinking (e.g., understanding situations from otherstakeholders’ points of view). Engineering students can learn to meaningfullyaddress ethical issues. However, in both experiments, the effects of treatmentwere not sustained over time. In order to sustain training effects, ethical problemsolving must be integrated more fully into engineering classroom interactions.

Jonassen, D. H. (2011, June), Arguing to Solve Engineering Ethics Problems Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17507

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