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Engagement With Ethics In A Large Engineering Program: A Status Report

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Integrating Engineering Ethics into the Curriculum

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.467.1 - 15.467.18



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Paper Authors


Steven Culver Virginia Tech

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Steve Culver is the Associate Director of the Office of Academic Assessment at Virginia Tech. He is involved in evaluation activities across the university and has been an evaluation consultant to such diverse organizations as the Education Ministry of Finland, the National Community College Center for Cooperative Education, Eastern Mennonite College (VA), the Junior Engineering Technical Society, the West Virginia Department of Education, the United States Department of Education, and the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia. As a part of his current job responsibilities, Dr. Culver conducts focus groups and surveys campus-wide and provides in-depth analyses of those projects to multiple audiences.

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Vinod Lohani Virginia Tech


Ishwar Puri Virginia Tech

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Ishwar K. Puri is Professor and Department Head of Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM) at Virginia Tech. He obtained his Ph.D. (1987), and M.S. (1984) degrees in Engineering Science (Applied Mechanics) from the University of California, San Diego after obtaining a B.Sc. (1982) in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Delhi. He joined the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in 1990 as an Assistant Professor in its Mechanical Engineering Department before moving to Virginia Tech in 2004. Puri is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

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Engagement with Ethics in a Large Engineering Program: A Status Report


Virginia Tech offers one of the largest engineering programs in the country. As per ABET criterion 3f, an engineering graduate should demonstrate an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility. However, specific guidelines to achieve this objective are not provided. Engineering freshmen at Virginia Tech are introduced to professional ethics using in-class discussion of ethics case studies, ethics videos, reading and writing assignments, and online instructional materials. However, coverage of ethics instruction in upper level courses has not been documented or assessed. An interdisciplinary faculty group received an NSF grant in 2008 to enhance ethics instruction in undergraduate and graduate engineering curricula, and they have taken a number of steps to achieve this objective. This paper has two main objectives: (i) review the status of ethics instruction at Virginia Tech’s large engineering program and suggest a framework to cover ethics instruction throughout the curriculum, and (ii) discuss results of a college-wide survey administered to gauge the perceptions of undergraduate and graduate engineering students regarding their current ethics instruction.

The Need for Ethics Instruction in Engineering

There have been numerous calls for improved instruction in ethics in engineering over the last several years, especially given the pace of technological advances and accompanying consequences. Typically these calls focus on more broad training in ethics, rather than micro-ethical problem solving [1]. Suggestions also include a wide range of solutions, including faculty development programs for ethics instruction [1a], required social sciences coursework [2], and the incorporation of an open ethics dialogue within engineering courses [3]. It has been suggested to consider professional codes of ethics in engineering as a useful framework for thinking about the student learning outcomes in the area of ethics and professional responsibility [4]. Service learning has been proposed as the learning pedagogy for effectively teaching professional skills and need to continue research is the area of assessment of professional skills is emphasized [5]. In a recent article, ethics instructions in engineering, health, business, and law professions are compared and it is observed that professionals in all disciplines continue to debate about the ethics instructional methods, curricular methods, and instructor qualifications with no clear-cut resolution [6]. Online ethics instruction modules have been suggested for graduate students, particularly from foreign countries, in engineering [7].

We have instituted several projects at Virginia Tech that provide a unique approach to instituting ethics education. The uniqueness derives from three particular characteristics: first, representatives from across the university are engaged as a collaborative team to help guide the process; second, the work builds on previous curricular work in the college; and third, a multi-dimensional evaluation was built into the process from the

Culver, S., & Lohani, V., & Puri, I. (2010, June), Engagement With Ethics In A Large Engineering Program: A Status Report Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16056

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