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Assessing a Scaffolded, Interactive, and Reflective Analysis Framework for Developing Ethical Reasoning in Engineering Students

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Ethical Reasoning and Responsibility

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Lorraine G. Kisselburgh Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Lorraine Kisselburgh (Ph.D., Purdue University) examines organizing and communicative practices in sociotechnical contexts, particularly collaboration in engineering design teams, spatial and material influences on organizing, and gendered practices in technological settings. She has backgrounds in communication, human performance, and computer science, and over twenty years experience designing and supporting learning environments in academic settings. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation (an Ethics in Science and Engineering project to develop frameworks for developing ethical reasoning in engineers, and a Cyberlearning project to develop collaborative design environments for engineers), and by corporate foundations, the Department of Homeland Security, the College of Engineering, and the Purdue Research Foundation. She has been recognized as the inaugural Butler Faculty Scholar, a Faculty Fellow in the CERIAS institute, a Service Learning Faculty Fellow, Diversity Faculty Fellow, and recipient of the Violet Haas Award (for efforts on behalf of women), all at Purdue University. This year she is a visiting research scientist in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, visiting faculty in the Center for Entrepreneurship, and a visiting Fellow in the Center for Education and Research in Information Security at Purdue University.

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Justin L. Hess Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Justin L. Hess received his PhD from Purdue University's School of Engineering Education along with his Master's of Science and Bachelor of Science from Purdue's School of Civil Engineering. Justin is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher in the STEM Education Research Institute at IUPUI. Justin's research interests include developing pedagogical strategies to improve STEM students' ethical reasoning skills; exploring the role of empathy within design, innovation and sustainability; synthesizing the influence of societal and individual worldviews on decision-making; assessing STEM students' learning in the spaces of design, ethics, and sustainability; and exploring the impact of pre-engineering curriculum on students' abilities and career trajectories.

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Carla B. Zoltowski Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Carla B. Zoltowski, Ph.D., is Co-Director of the EPICS Program at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering and Ph.D. in engineering education, all from Purdue University. She has served as a lecturer in Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Dr. Zoltowski’s academic and research interests broadly include the professional formation of engineers and diversity and inclusion in engineering, with specific interests in human-centered design, engineering ethics, leadership, service-learning, assistive-technology, and accessibility.

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Jonathan Beever University of Central Florida Orcid 16x16

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Jonathan Beever is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and faculty with the Texts & Technology Program at The University of Central Florida. He has held postdoctoral positions with Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute and with Purdue University’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering before joining UCF. He has held fellowships with the Kaufmann Foundation, the Aldo Leopold Foundation, and the Global Sustainable Soundscape Network. Jonathan works and publishes at the intersection of environmental ethics and bioethics, focusing on questions of ethics, science, and representation. He teaches a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate courses on related topics.

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Andrew O. Brightman Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Andrew O. Brightman serves as Assistant Head for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Engineering Practice in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. His research background is in cellular biochemistry, tissue engineering, and engineering ethics. He is committed to developing effective pedagogies for ethical reasoning and engineering design.

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Educating future engineers to effectively reason through complex ethical decisions encountered in the design and development of new technologies is a critical and relevant challenge. However, a coherent framework to analyze ethical issues with emerging technologies has not been widely adopted. Over three years, we developed and tested an innovative approach to teaching ethical reasoning that integrates a reflexive process of evaluation in a cyber-enabled learning environment. We posited that ethics should: be taught as a reasoning process; allow significant interaction between students; and include reflective application of ethical principles as part of a coherent, reflexive framework. To respond to this need, we developed: a) a pedagogical framework for ethics education of Scaffolded, Interactive, and Reflective Analysis (SIRA) that extends beyond case-based analyses; b) a coherent ethical reasoning approach, Reflexive Principlism (RP), applicable within engineering; and c) four case-based modules, integrating the SIRA/RP approach, with a novel, multimedia learning platform, each deliverable in a hybrid format for stand-alone course or embedded curricular applications.

Previously, we have demonstrated that ethical reasoning scores of engineering students increase significantly as a result of participating in our SIRA/RP courses. In this paper, we explore the research question: “Which characteristics of the SIRA approach contribute to changes in ethical reasoning.” To assess our framework we designed a SIRA assessment scale that uses student reported ratings of effectiveness of the scaffolding, interactivity, and reflective analysis characteristics of the course. After pilot-testing and refinement, the 12-item scale and sub-scales were found to be highly consistent (α = .847). To determine which SIRA characteristics contributed to increased ethical reasoning scores we ran a hierarchical multiple regression analysis with satisfaction and SIRA efficacy scores as predictors. Controlling for GPA, course semester, and native language, we modeled pre-course satisfaction with the quality of ethics education and ethical concepts taught, and the SIRA subscales for scaffolding, interactivity, and reflectivity. The model was statistically significant in predicting ethical reasoning scores, accounting for 32% of the variance in the data. The strongest predictor was the reflectivity component of our framework (ß=.433), indicating that reflectivity elements of the course are significantly important to ethical reasoning change. We also analyzed student rankings of activities associated with the learning framework. Findings indicate that our integration of novel multimedia presentations of the case studies and the case study discussions were the two most important activities contributing to engagement, understanding, critical thinking, and guiding decision-making.

These findings suggest that a coherent pedagogical framework grounded in reflexive principlism and emphasizing interactivity and reflectivity can effectively enhance the ethical reasoning of future engineers in a cyber-enabled delivery of just four cases, in as little as eight weeks. We contribute an evidence-based solution to address curricular needs of engineering ethics, and extend understanding of contributing factors to ethical reasoning development.

Kisselburgh, L. G., & Hess, J. L., & Zoltowski, C. B., & Beever, J., & Brightman, A. O. (2016, June), Assessing a Scaffolded, Interactive, and Reflective Analysis Framework for Developing Ethical Reasoning in Engineering Students Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26288

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