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Ethics in Engineering Students' Design Considerations: Case Studies of Electric Power Systems for the "Developing World"

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.687.1 - 26.687.18



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Paper Authors


Ryan C. Campbell University of Washington

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Ryan is a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Washington's interdisciplinary Individual Ph.D. Program. His research interests include: engineering education, ethics, humanitarian engineering, and computer modeling of electric power and renewable energy systems.

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Ken Yasuhara Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching, University of Washington


Denise Wilson University of Washington

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Denise Wilson is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her research interests in engineering education focus on the role of self-efficacy, belonging, and other non-cognitive aspects of the student experience on engagement, success, and persistence and on effective methods for teaching global issues such as those pertaining to sustainability.

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This work explores engineering ethics empirically in a “developing world” context through a framework of care ethics. Care ethics, a.k.a., the ethic(s) of care, is particularly suitable for the “developing world” context because it helps draw attention to imbalances of power (e.g., inequality, differential opportunity, and limitations on autonomy) that are often neglected by other ethical frameworks. In this work, we selected one element of care ethics (responsibility) and operationalized it in several ways: the language of responsibility; notions of paternalism; and awareness of key, influencing stakeholders. These lenses were developed and refined iteratively by employing them in case study analyses of two design project reports written by teams of senior undergraduate engineering students. Our interpretive analysis of this data outlined significant differences in care-ethical responsibility as viewed through each lens. For example, one group demonstrated little paternalism and considered several key, influencing stakeholders in their report, while the other group employed a more paternalistic approach and considered fewer key influencing stakeholders. In the interest of broadening ethical awareness in engineering, the findings and outcomes of this work can be used by educators to inform the design of course materials, exercises, and evaluation/grading criteria, such as by adapting these lenses for use in self- and/or peer-assessment. This work can also be used by researchers interested in care ethics and/or engineering student responses to issues of humanitarian or social justice nature to inform interview question and survey item design. Finally, this work contributes to the discourse of engineering ethics by developing and applying an ethical framework from the wider literature that has not received much attention in engineering ethics to date.

Campbell, R. C., & Yasuhara, K., & Wilson, D. (2015, June), Ethics in Engineering Students' Design Considerations: Case Studies of Electric Power Systems for the "Developing World" Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24024

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