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Ethical Issues Awareness for Engineers in Practice

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Professional Issues in Ethics Education

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.584.1 - 25.584.15



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Paper Authors


A. Dean Fontenot Texas Tech University

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A. Dean Fontenot directs a professional development center for K-12 teachers as part of the Texas STEM (T-STEM) initiative in order to bring about educational reform in secondary schools. The Texas Tech T-STEM Center focuses on project-based learning with the integration of the engineering design process. As Senior Director, she has brought together three Texas Tech professional development centers that have a history of training teachers, and built partnerships with five Educational Service centers as well as other organizational and industry partners who help implement the professional development training. The Center provides professional development training for 46 T-STEM Academies, five T-STEM Early College High Schools, and all Texas school districts, public and private. She collaborates with Whitacre College of Engineering Faculty, as well as faculty from other universities writing grant proposals. Over 10 years, Fontenot has secured more than $3.8 million for STEM education ($3,133,000 of this in the last five years). Fontenot teachers Professional Communications for Engineers: practical applications to written, oral, and internet communications, as well as an introduction to engineering ethics and service learning (2001-current).

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Richard A. Burgess National Institute for Engineering Ethics

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Richard Burgess currently works as a Research Associate and Deputy Director at the Murdough Center for Engineering Professionalism (MCEP) and National Institute for Engineering Ethics (NIEE) at Texas Tech University. He oversees the day to day operations of the center’s distance learning courses for both engineering students and practicing engineers. Additionally, he provides lectures on ethical theory and other topics in an on-campus engineering ethics course. Burgess was also a member of the Ethics in the Curriculum Task Force for Texas Tech’s Quality Enhancement Plan. The Quality Enhancement Plan was a crucial component of Texas Tech’s accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. A theme throughout these roles is the importance of teaching ethics and promoting ethical reflection in a way that is both accessible and substantive. This is a challenge that Richard is keenly interested in. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degree in philosophy. He placed an emphasis on ethics, both theoretical and applied, in his studies.

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Ethical Issues Awareness for Engineers in PracticeAs a discipline, engineering ethics is a relatively young one. Younger still is the question of howto teach engineering ethics. Like other applied disciplines, the challenge of engineering ethics isto offer content that is both useful to practitioners and genuinely substantive (i.e. moves beyondglossy generalizations about the importance of honesty, non-malfeasance, etc.). Additionally,engineering ethics education, it is hoped, will make students 1) less likely to engage in academicdishonesty 2) more likely to succeed on the ethics portion of the F.E. and 3) more aware of theobligations and issues they are likely to face in engineering practice. While each of theseadditional desiderata is important, the last is arguably the most important. It can also be the mostpedagogically challenging.In this paper, we will explore the challenges posed by the third goal above in the context of anassignment used in both an engineering communications course and an engineering ethics courseat a research institution. In this assignment, the Social Impact Analysis (SIA), students are askedto identify and research a current engineering design, product, or concept that is (or soon will be)impacting society. The design, product or concept must be documented and patented orcopyrighted. Students are also required to identify the actual and/or potential negativeimplications of the design/product/concept. Prima facie, this assignment promises to helpacquaint students with the complexity of deploying new technology in society. However, asanalyses and discussions become more nuanced (in light of complexity), they can also becomemore abstract and, therefore, less practically important to students. If not handled properly, anassignment like the SIA can be viewed as an exercise in intellectual curiosity and little more.Worse still, it may actually lead to exasperation with attempts to carefully explore ethicalobligations in engineering. To be most effective, then, the SIA requires the right setup.We will explore several iterations of the SIA based on different contexts (e.g. use in anengineering writing/communications course, use in an engineering ethics course, and use as astand-alone assignment). We will enumerate what we take to be reasonable goals for the SIAgiven these contexts. These goals will determine how the assignment is to be completed andevaluated. Finally, we will explore the use of the SIA in a K-12 setting. Despite the potentialcomplexity the SIA can lead to, it may be most effective when used in K-12 STEM education.

Fontenot, A. D., & Burgess, R. A. (2012, June), Ethical Issues Awareness for Engineers in Practice Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21341

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