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Engineering Ethics And Moral Theories: A Student Perspective

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

New Horizons in Academic Integrity

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.562.1 - 11.562.14



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Paper Authors


William Jordan Baylor University

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WILLIAM JORDAN is Professor and Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Baylor University. He has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Metallurgical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. He has an M.A. degree in Theology from Denver Seminary. His Ph.D. was in mechanics and materials engineering from Texas A & M University. He teaches materials oriented courses and his main research area deals with the mechanical behavior of composite materials. He also writes and does research in the areas of engineering ethics and engineering education. He is a registered metallurgical engineer in the state of Louisiana.

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Bill Elmore Mississippi State University

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BILL ELMORE, Ph.D., P.E., is Associate Professor and Hunter Henry Chair, Mississippi State University. His teaching areas include the integrated freshman engineering and courses throughout the chemical engineering curriculum including unit operations laboratories and reactor design. His current research activities include engineering educational reform, enzyme-based catalytic reactions in micro-scale reactor systems, and bioengineering applied to renewable fuels and chemicals.

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

Engineering Ethics and Moral Theories : A Student Perspective


As engineering educators we must responsibly promote competent and ethical engineering practice by our engineering graduates. For our current students ethical practice in pursuit of engineering education is foundational to ethics in the workplace.

We have previously analyzed student perspectives on academic misconduct1,2. Surveys were taken at a public university in the southern United States at two instances separated by a 14 year interval. We contrasted the changes in student attitudes that occurred during the time period between the two papers (1990-2004). In this paper we have expanded our analysis to three different universities in the southern United States. Two of them are public and one of them is private. We have also expanded the survey to include questions about different moral theories. As a basis of comparison, we included the following moral theories: utilitarian ethics, respect for persons ethics, duty ethics, and virtue ethics. Since these are new terms for most engineering students, we used adapted summaries of these four theories from the engineering ethics book by Martin and Schinzinger3. We have made correlations between the moral theories that the students chose and their decisions on several different academic misconduct issues.

Solving problems through the use of tools such as decision matrices is familiar to engineering students. We have therefore found that the approach taken by Dr. Norman Geisler is appealing to engineering students4. He asks a series of questions, and then assigns people to different categories based on their answers. These questions include such ones as: • Are there absolute standards as to how people should behave? • Are there general standards as to how people should behave? • If there are absolute standards, do they ever conflict? If so, how do you decide which standard to obey? We have also correlated how students responded to Dr. Geisler’s questions and how they responded to questions of academic misconduct.

It appears that many students have adopted a post-modern perspective on ethical behavior. They claim they are not cheating because they are obeying their definition of what cheating is; the professor’s stated policy on cheating is not as important. This conclusion has significant bearing on the sufficiency of ethical codes of conduct.


Cheating in the engineering class room is not a new phenomenon. The difficulty is in how to combat it. As engineering educators we have the responsibility to promote the competent and ethical practice of engineering by our students as they enter the workplace. To effectively do this, we need to understand their perspective on ethical issues. In this paper we report on our students’ attitudes concerning several cheating related issues. We surveyed engineering students at Louisiana Tech University in 1986-19901 and again in 20042. We have followed this up with

Jordan, W., & Elmore, B. (2006, June), Engineering Ethics And Moral Theories: A Student Perspective Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--597

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2006 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015