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Don't Give Up "Teaching Principles" To Teach Ethics

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Professional Ethics in the Classroom

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.481.1 - 9.481.9



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Paper Authors

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Robert Houghtalen

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

Session xxxx

Don’t Give Up Good “Teaching Principles” To Teach Ethics Robert J. Houghtalen, P.E., Gloria M. Rogers

Department of Civil Engineering / Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Abstract Teaching engineering students professional ethics is a challenge. Most of our students think ethics is common sense and does not need to be taught. Furthermore, the topic is not easy to make interesting. However, principles of good teaching can be applied to any topic, including this one. This paper explores two ways to teach professional ethics; one way is through a mock public meeting, the other is through personal testimony. Both have proven to be interesting to students and effective in revealing the subtleties of compromising situations that arise in engineering practice. The dual goals of exposing students to the ASCE Code of Ethics and applying the Code to an ethical situation are being accomplished based upon assessment results from the RosE-portfolio, the system set up for documenting student learning outcomes.

The two methods we have used to inject enthusiasm and relevance into the topic of professional ethics are proven teaching techniques. One method is the mock public meeting. A student team, working on one of our senior design projects, is instructed to hold a public meeting. Their role is to present their project, which is somewhat controversial, on behalf of their client. Other students are given roles in the meeting such as city or county engineers, state agency representatives, property owners, clients, and representatives of the public, some of which are rather surly. Invariably, the student engineers step over an ethical line when fielding difficult questions. Unbeknownst to the class, this leads into a discussion on the subtleties of professional ethics. The second method involves the personal testimony of a practicing engineer who has faced a career threatening ethical situation. Students love stories, and a true story told by a practicing engineer that involves the vagaries of ethics grabs their attention. It also causes students to reflect on the Code of Ethics in more depth than they generally think is necessary.

Introduction At Rose-Hulman, we have been exposing our civil engineering students to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Code of Ethics1 for a number of decades. In the early years, this took the form of a cursory introduction to the code. That is, we let the students know that such a code existed, and they would be bound by this code when they entered professional practice. This exposure was not formalized and ended up the responsibility of whoever taught our senior capstone design class as an add-on. It took the form of a short lecture, and student excitement could hardly be contained!!

In the last decade, there has been a renewed emphasis on teaching the topic of professional ethics. This renewed emphasis is due to three factors:

“Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2004, American Society for Engineering Education”

Houghtalen, R. (2004, June), Don't Give Up "Teaching Principles" To Teach Ethics Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--12804

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