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Engineering Ethics in Engineering Design Courses: A Preliminary Investigation

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Best in DEED

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Andrew Katz Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Andrew Katz is an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. He leads the Improving Decisions in Engineering Education Agents and Systems (IDEEAS) Lab, which uses multi-modal data to characterize and improve decision-making processes throughout engineering education ecosystems.

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Isil Anakok Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Ms.Anakok is Ph.D. student in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She has a Ms. degree in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech, and Bs. in Mechatronics Engineering from Kocaeli University, Turkey.

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Umair Shakir Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Umair Shakir is a Ph.D. student in Engineering Education. Prior to pursuing doctoral studies, he worked in the construction industry for five years in Pakistan and Dubai, UAE. He then joined the School of Civil Engineering, The University of Lahore, Pakistan as an Assistant Professor. He is working on a cross-national comparative study of engineering ethics and education systems in North America, Europe, and China.
His passion also includes revitalization of the education system of developing countries for the welfare of underprivileged people. Currently, he is developing a financial support model for the education of low socioeconomic status students of south Asian countries, especially Pakistan.

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Homero Murzi Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Orcid 16x16

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Homero Murzi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech with honorary appointments at the University of Queensland (Australia) and University of Los Andes (Venezuela). He holds degrees in Industrial Engineering (BS, MS), Master of Business Administration (MBA) and in Engineering Education (PhD). Homero is the leader of the Engineering Competencies, Learning, and Inclusive Practices for Success (ECLIPS) lab. His research focuses on contemporary, culturally relevant, inclusive pedagogical practices, industry-driven competency development in engineering, and understanding the experiences of Latinx and Native Americans in engineering from an asset-based perspective. Homero has been recognized as a Diggs Teaching Scholar, a Graduate Academy for Teaching Excellence Fellow, a Diversity Scholar, a Fulbright Scholar, and was inducted in the Bouchet Honor Society.

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Engineering design entails countless decisions. A subset of those decisions involves ethical dimensions. While the answers to those decisions may not be self-evident, practice and education can help improve decision quality of engineers during design processes.

This research paper helps answer the question: what topics are engineering students exposed to when they learn about ethics in their design courses? Specifically, in what ways do design and ethics co-occur in engineering design courses?

To answer this question, we collected course information from 60 universities and five disciplines. In particular, we looked at the program requirements for the top 60 engineering degree-granting universities. Across each university, we focused on the five most popular engineering programs. According to ASEE By the Numbers, in 2018 these disciplines were: chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical engineering, and computer science. For each program at each university (where applicable, since some universities did not have a degree program in one of these disciplines), we collected information about any course that mentioned ethics (or a lexical derivative) in either its title or course description. Examples include courses called “Introduction to Engineering Ethics” or “Professional Seminar” that mentioned ethics in its course description. For this paper, we looked at the subset of courses that also mentioned design in either the title or description. In total, this comprised a subset of 145 courses.

From this collection of courses, we analyzed the course description text with several methods as a coarse, high-level overview of the language used to describe the intersection of ethics and design. The first technique involved forming text networks of co-occurring words and phrases. Next, we identified text network communities to capture persistent themes or topics. The second technique involved topic modeling as an alternative method to identify topics in contrast with the text networks. The third technique involved clustering based on description similarity in order to identify similar kinds of courses.

From our results, several lessons emerged. First, not unexpectedly, engineering ethics appears differently in design courses conditional on the specific discipline. Second, almost regardless of discipline, issues of professionalism - what it means to be a member of a profession - also appear with these same issues. Third, these design courses tend to include not only design but also an array of other topics that traditionally fall under the umbrella of “professional skills” such as communication and teamwork. Future work based on these results can take this high-level evidence from course descriptions and look for more systematic variation within engineering design courses to provide more fine-grained details about observed intersections of engineering design and ethics in engineering classrooms.

Katz, A., & Anakok, I., & Shakir, U., & Murzi, H. (2021, July), Engineering Ethics in Engineering Design Courses: A Preliminary Investigation Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37058

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