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Developing Engineering Ethics through Expert Witness Role Plays

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Teaching Approaches for Ethics

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.400.1 - 24.400.13



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Paper Authors


Bradley J. Brummel The University of Tulsa

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Bradley Brummel is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at The University of Tulsa. His research interests include using role plays and other simulations to teach responsible conduct of research. He conducts interdisciplinary research with Mechanical Engineering, Neuroscience, and Computer Science. His work has appeared in journals such as Science and Engineering Ethics, Personnel Psychology, Human Relations, and Journal of Management

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Jeremy S. Daily P.E. The University of Tulsa

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Developing Engineering Ethics through Expert Witness Role PlaysThe paper describes the development and assessment of an expert witness role play based oncrash reconstruction designed to develop engineering ethics. Following the description of thisprogram, the paper describes future steps to develop the approach and provide other educatorswith the tools to build and conduct expert witness role plays in their areas of expertise.Ethics education in science and engineering is vital component of programs. The goal of theseprograms is to produce not only technically competent, but also ethical professionals. Standardpedagogies expose students to broad ethical dilemmas that provide valuable practice in ethicalreasoning related to these problems. However, expert witness role plays expand on this base ofknowledge to help students develop practical skills to deal with the ethical challenges ofmaintaining scientific objectivity as an expert witness in their specific area of study. The realismand specificity of these role plays has the potential to make ethics education more personal, skill-based, and memorable.We developed our expert witness role play based on our expertise in crash reconstruction. Firstwe adapted materials and evidence taken from a real traffic crash. These materials includedrecreated images from the scene, a summary of the accident, and a summary of the current lawsuit. The engineering students were asked to act as expert crash reconstructioninsts. The studentsanalyzed the case and submitted a written expert report regarding the case. Then engineeringstudents were deposed by law students on one side of the case based on the contents of theirreport. Over three years of teaching using this approach, we explored the effects of havingengineering students act alone or in teams and the influence of submitting a complete Rule 26report prior to the deposition.These expert witness role plays were videotaped and participants were surveyed about theirexperiences following the experience. The results of these analyses indicated that most ofparticipants found the experience to be worthwhile (47/48; 98%). They also reported differinglevels of difficulty communicating their findings to the lawyers and temptation to alter theirresults to please the lawyer. The reported advantages included hands-on experience and realism,while the disadvantages included not knowing if the results presented were actually correct andhaving only one member of the team give the testimony in the group version. Some participantsfound the experience to be scary, but most said that real-world pressure was good. Overall, theformative data shows that role play is effective in providing a personal, skill-based, andmemorable experience with engineering ethics.As part of a recently awarded NSF grant, we are developing a framework to aid other educatorsin developing expert witness role plays on additional engineering expert topics. This frameworkwill include suggestions for roles and the necessary components to elicit ethical dilemmas in theexpert witness role play. We will present the initial framework for other teachers interested indeveloping and evaluating expert witness role plays in their own areas of expertise.

Brummel, B. J., & Daily, J. S. (2014, June), Developing Engineering Ethics through Expert Witness Role Plays Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20291

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