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Creating And Measuring An Awareness Of Professional Ethics

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.179.1 - 5.179.7



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Richard Layton

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2793

Creating and Measuring an Awareness of Professional Ethics

Richard A. Layton North Carolina A&T State University


This paper presents an approach for creating in students an awareness of the ethical responsibili- ties of practicing engineers. Using a case study in professional ethics, students in a junior-level mechanical engineering design course are given two consecutive writing assignments which are the basis for four classroom discussion periods that focus on student responses to the case study. The student assignments are in addition to, and do not necessarily commingle with, the technical content of the course. The results are that the percentage of students with an understanding of ethical responsibility increases from 45% to 68% after these assignments. This approach is read- ily implemented by an individual instructor and can be part of a comprehensive effort to teach ethics across the curriculum. The approach should be considered an introductory component of an ethics instruction strategy where the learning objective is awareness rather than mastery.

I. Introduction

Engineering educators are obliged to introduce their students to the precepts of professional eth- ics. This obligation has been codified in the ABET Engineering Criteria 2000 which states, under Criterion 3(f), that “engineering programs must demonstrate that their graduates have an under- standing of professional and ethical responsibility.”1

In response to this need, educators can adopt a number of strategies. Among them are the fol- lowing, paraphrased from Alenskis2:

• A stand-alone course in ethics. • An ethics component in a stand-alone course in professionalism. • An ethics component in a senior project, thesis, or capstone course. • Integration of ethics across the curriculum. • Commingling ethics instruction in technical courses.

Each approach has advantages and disadvantages (reference 2 cites studies that investigate each of these approaches). As Alenskis states, “The issue is often how to present ethics as an impor- tant aspect of the technical profession, without hindering the learning of more technical mat- ters.”2 It becomes increasingly difficult for faculty to devote time to ethics instruction given that state legislatures are imposing lower credit-hour caps on baccalaureate degrees. Another diffi-

Layton, R. (2000, June), Creating And Measuring An Awareness Of Professional Ethics Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8249

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