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Ethical Reasoning in First-Year Engineering Design

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Division Technical Session - Ethics in the First Year

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Paper Authors


Amir Hedayati Mehdiabadi University of New Mexico

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Amir Hedayati is an Assistant Professor at Organization, Information & Learning Sciences program at College of University Libraries & Learning Sciences at University of New Mexico. He received a Ph.D. in Human Resource Development from University of Illinois. He has a B.S. degree in Computer Engineering from Sharif University of Technology and an M.B.A. degree from University of Tehran. He has presented his research in past years at multiple conferences including American Society for Engineering Education, American Evaluation Association, International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, and Academy of Human Resource Development.

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Jordan Orion James University of New Mexico

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Jordan O. James is a Native American Ph.D. student in the Organization, Information, and Learning Sciences (OILS) program as well as a lecturer at the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning in the Community & Regional Planning program. He has served as a graduate research assistant on an NSF-funded project, Revolutionizing Engineering Departments, and has been recognized as a Graduate Studies student spotlight recipient and teaching scholar. Jordan studies learning in authentic, real-world conditions utilizing Design-Based Research methodologies to investigate design learning and social engineering, in which he studies urban planners who design real-world interventions for communities and students who use design to learn. A member of the Grand Portage Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Jordan obtained both his Masters of Community & Regional Planning and Bachelor of Media Arts from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque where he lives with his wife and three daughters.

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Vanessa Svihla University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Vanessa Svihla is a learning scientist and associate professor at the University of New Mexico in the Organization, Information & Learning Sciences program and in the Chemical & Biological Engineering Department. She served as Co-PI on an NSF RET Grant and a USDA NIFA grant, and is currently co-PI on three NSF-funded projects in engineering and computer science education, including a Revolutionizing Engineering Departments project. She was selected as a National Academy of Education / Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow and a 2018 NSF CAREER awardee in engineering education research. Dr. Svihla studies learning in authentic, real world conditions; this includes a two-strand research program focused on (1) authentic assessment, often aided by interactive technology, and (2) design learning, in which she studies engineers designing devices, scientists designing investigations, teachers designing learning experiences and students designing to learn.

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Purpose. Ethics is too-often relegated to a stand-alone course taken late in engineering programs, rather than effectively integrated into core coursework [1, 2]. Faculty sometimes have concerns that such integration will be challenging for students to manage or might distract them from core content. However, ethics-across-the-curriculum helps students understand the link between the engineering work and its positive and negative impacts and also see ethical considerations as part of engineering, rather than an add-on [2, 3]. In this study, therefore, we investigated opportunities for integration of ethics education into design challenges.

Methodology. We collected data in a first-year, 1-credit chemical engineering course that included an entrepreneurial design challenge (OPE challenge) and a community-based design challenge (AMD challenge). Both challenges culminated in short, video-recorded team pitches of their design solutions. We conducted qualitative analysis, coding the videos from five semesters (N= 69 four- to five-member teams). Specifically, we attended to ethical reasoning (nonmaleficence, beneficence, stakeholder agency and just distribution of risks and benefits). We compared the design challenges in terms of the kinds of ethical considerations students made using a two-tailed sign test.

Results. In both challenges, students consider multiple points of view and described the benefits of their design solutions. Few students considered nonmaleficence. Some students provided detailed perspectives of needs or benefits for those form marginalized or vulnerable populations (children with special needs, elderly, Navajo Nation). In the acid mine drainage challenge, a few teams proposed expensive solutions and warranted these costs by emphasizing the damage to people and planet. Most teams proposed feasible solutions and considered specific community concerns. We found that the entrepreneurial challenge prompted significantly more teams to use beneficence in their arguments, z = 3.92, p < .001.

Conclusions and Implications. Our results demonstrate that even with limited prompting to do so, a realistic design challenge can support students to employ ethical reasoning. We found that few students considered nonmaleficence, suggesting the need for scaffolding. Likewise, although some students provided considered accounts of the needs of marginalized or vulnerable populations, specific scaffolding could better support this.

Hedayati Mehdiabadi, A., & James, J. O., & Svihla, V. (2019, June), Ethical Reasoning in First-Year Engineering Design Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32757

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