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Class Exercises Involving Ethical Issues Reinforce the Importance and Reach of Biomedical Engineering (and the Impact of the Coronavirus on Teaching Strategy and Measures of Assessment)

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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

Moral Development and Ethics Assessment in Engineering

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Paper Authors


Charles J. Robinson Clarkson University Orcid 16x16

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IEEE Life Fellow, AIMBE Founding Fellow, U.N.E.S.C.O. Academician.
Director, Center for Rehabilitation Engineering, Science, and Technology (CREST), and Shulman Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY.
(Retired) Senior Rehab Research Career Scientist, VA Medical Center, Syracuse, NY. Adjunct Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY.
Registered Professional Engineer (Ohio).

Robinson's ethics teaching style comes from an amalgam of academic, industrial (Bell Labs), governmental (VA) and clinical experiences, plus an interest in ethics from his undergraduate days.

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Loretta Driskel Clarkson University

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Since the late 1990's Loretta's passion has been to create engaging, diverse teaching and learning experiences for students and faculty. As the senior instructional designer at Clarkson University, she has presented at conferences such as the Online Learning Consortium and over the past two decades, she has also presented at a wide variety of other venues including ADEIL; Sloan-C International Online Learning; Sloan-C Blending Learning; eLearning Consortium of Colorado Conference; SUNY Online Learning Summit (SOL); DOODLE; the Teaching and Learning with Technology Conference (TLT), and the Conference on Instructional Technologies (CIT).

All of her presentations focused upon the various topics that support her mission for student success and efficient class management. Loretta has been recognized by Open SUNY as an Open SUNY Fellow Expert Online Instructional Designer. In addition, she is a member of the MERLOT Teacher Education Editorial Board and a MERLOT Peer Reviewer Extraordinaire. As a certified Quality Matters Master Reviewer and peer reviewer in general, she peer reviewed numerous online and blended courses using various checklists including the OSCQR. Her own course, Virtual Learning for the P-12 Classroom was QM certified in 2021. And in conjunction with Erin Blauvelt, Loretta was the winner of the OLC Effective Practice Award for 2021.

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Erin Blauvelt Clarkson University


Laura Perry Clarkson University

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Laura J. Perry is Director of Academic Technology and Support in the Office of Information Technology at Clarkson University, Potsdam, New York. In this role, Laura led the founding of the Teaching and Learning Corner (TLC), Clarkson’s first service center aimed to support the adoption of instructional technology and design practices for undergraduate and graduate education at Clarkson. Laura and her TLC team of senior instructional designers successfully campaigned to have Clarkson align with Quality Matters as an institutional member in 2017. The TLC has gone on to train dozens of faculty to apply the QM rubric in their own course. In the wake of COVID19, this foundation aided the University's pivot to remote learning in Spring 2020, as well as helped faculty prepare for the transition of 300+ courses to various instructional delivery modes with TLC’s design and delivery of an institution wide faculty training initiative called RISE: Reframing Instruction for Success Everywhere in Summer 2020. These and other efforts led to a successful restart of class instruction for the Fall 2020 term.

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This paper builds on the ethical aspects of an introductory engineering course — BR200 — an Introduction to Biomedical and Rehabilitation Engineering. Various details of this course have been presented at ASEE Conferences in 2011, 2019 and here in 2021 and elsewhere. The course structure was described in 2011; one ethical innovation (story-writing) in 2019; and here in 2021 the didactic changes needed to adapt to a partial or full online presence as the result of the COVID pandemic. This present paper focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 on the teaching strategy used to introduce and discuss medical engineering ethical issues within the class as it abruptly transitioned from face-to-face instruction to completely remote in Spring 2020 (S20), and as it reappeared as a hybrid course in Fall 2020 (F20) and Spring 2021 (S21).

The focus of this present paper is not on the instructional changes required by COVID (and discussed in our companion paper), but rather on how those in turn changed the approach to the handling of ethical questions and to the assessments of students’ responses to those scenarios. One hypothesis is whether the content or style of the pre-post scenario answers and of the reflections changed between an answer handwritten under time-pressure and one electronically captured with little time constraint. Did the answers or reflections measurably change if more time were to be allowed for consideration? Another hypothesis was that the ethical dilemmas presented increased students’ integration and appreciation of the biomedical engineering field regardless of comment modality.

Biomedical engineering ethics can certainly be taught face-to-face, in a hybrid setting or completely online — but how well? Did ethics instruction suffer depending on modality? Our conclusion seemed clear — It didn’t matter especially if each method employed a blended learning management system like Moodle or other similar platforms. An instructor receives qualitative feedback in the classroom (i.e., a sense of how students are responding). Data from off-line grading of responses can be assessed and quantified. In sum, the major consideration brought about by a switch among in-person, online and hybrid instruction was how to handle the interactive, immersive ethical vignettes that the students were required to respond to, sometimes as an in-class exercise and sometimes as a post-lecture submission. That is a major focus of this paper.

Ethical vignette assignments used in BR200 were authentic assignments, a term used to describe assignments that often focused on messy, complex real-world situations and their accompanying constraints. The concepts of authentic assessment and authentic teaching are also explored in this paper, especially as they relate to ethical scenarios and the student’s grasp of ethical principles. Our results indicate that applying authentic assignments, assessments and teaching strategies to the teaching of ethical principles and practices might prove to be a beneficial adjunct to packaged ethical case studies.

Robinson, C. J., & Driskel, L., & Blauvelt, E., & Perry, L. (2021, July), Class Exercises Involving Ethical Issues Reinforce the Importance and Reach of Biomedical Engineering (and the Impact of the Coronavirus on Teaching Strategy and Measures of Assessment) Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36796

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