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Ethics by the Dose: Medical Treatment Metaphor for Ethics in Engineering

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Ethical and Global Concerns

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Elizabeth A. Reddy Colorado School of Mines

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Elizabeth Reddy is a Teaching Assistant Professor in the Division of Engineering, Design and Society at Colorado School of Mines. She is a social scientist, holding a PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of California at Irvine.

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Stephen Campbell Rea Colorado School of Mines

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Dr. Stephen C. Rea is a cultural anthropologist whose research focuses on the implications of digital technologies and automated decision-making for labor and finance. He works as a Research Assistant Professor at the Colorado School of Mines.

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Qin Zhu Colorado School of Mines Orcid 16x16

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Qin Zhu is an Assistant Professor in the Ethics Across Campus Program and the Division of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences at Colorado School of Mines, where he is co-directing the Daniels Fund Program in Professional Ethics Education that provides scholarly and grant support for faculty to integrate ethics into applied science and engineering curricula. Qin serves as a graduate faculty member in the Master's Program in Natural Resources and Energy Policy at Mines. Qin is also Associate Editor for International Perspectives at the National Academy of Engineering's Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science and Book Review and Digital Platforms Editor for the Journal of Engineering Studies. Qin's research interests include the cultural foundations of engineering ethics, global engineering education, and ethics and policy of emerging technologies such as robotics and nanotechnology.

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Developing effective ethics training for engineers is an important but challenging proposition. When engineering educators teach ethics, we hope we are doing so in ways that will have powerful effects for our students: not just familiarizing them with tools they can use to navigate workplace legal structures, but also changing how they perceive engineering as a field for ethical action. In this paper, we consider the degree to which ethics are integrated into engineering courses. To this end, we examine the popular use of the medical metaphor of “dosage” in relation to ethics in the engineering classroom. We identify this usage pattern and use thematic analysis to consider its implications in engineering education literature. Taking medical metaphors seriously can sensitize us to certain troubles related to the limited integration of ethics into engineering classrooms. This has implications for projects related to education research and engineering education reform. Focusing on what we expect ethics education to do can help us to undertake, evaluate, and communicate about our work as educators, and to imagine new possibilities. Concluding, we reflect on the ethical “wellness” of a whole engineer–and, indeed, whole communities in which engineers live and work—to frame questions about what ethics education could mean if we approached it differently.

Reddy, E. A., & Rea, S. C., & Zhu, Q. (2020, June), Ethics by the Dose: Medical Treatment Metaphor for Ethics in Engineering Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34588

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