Asee peer logo

Ethics Instruction and the Role of Liberatory Praxis and Theory

Download Paper |


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 Engineering Curriculum

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Yousef Jalali Virginia Tech

visit author page

Yousef Jalali is a Ph.D. student in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. He received a B.S. and M.S. in Chemical Engineering and M.Eng. in Energy Systems Engineering. His research interests include critical thinking, ethics, and process design and training.

visit author page


Christian Matheis Guilford College

visit author page

Visiting assistant professor, Justice and Policy Studies.

visit author page


Vinod K. Lohani Virginia Tech

visit author page

Dr. Vinod K. Lohani is a Professor of Engineering Education and also serves as the Director of education and global initiatives at an interdisciplinary research institute called the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS) at Virginia Tech. He is the founding director of an interdisciplinary lab called Learning Enhanced Watershed Assessment System (LEWAS) at VT. He received a Ph.D. in civil engineering from VT. His research interests are in the areas of computer-supported research and learning systems, hydrology, engineering education, and international collaboration. He has served as a PI or co-PI on 16 projects, funded by the National Science Foundation, with a $6.4 million research funding participation from external sources. He has been directing/co-directing an NSF/Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site on interdisciplinary water sciences and engineering at VT since 2007. This site has 95 alumni to date. He also leads an NSF/Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) site on interdisciplinary water research and have 10 alumni. He also leads an NSF-funded cybersecurity education project and serves as a co-PI on two International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) projects funded by the NSF. He has published over 90 papers in peer-reviewed journals and conferences.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Stimulating students’ imaginations and promoting their ability to navigate ambiguities are among some of the major goals of teaching ethics. Yet, often imagination and ambiguity do not get treated as crucial in ethics instruction for engineers. Rather, the primacy of eliminating ambiguities through empirical and reductive methods dominates STEM education paradigms. In this paper, we argue that scholars of liberatory praxis and theory, in particular the approaches outlined by Paulo Freire and Gloria Anzaldúa, offer unique contributions for creating an environment that encourages imagination and engagement with ambiguity. Though it remains an open question whether imagination and ambiguity benefit technical aspects of engineering design, learning and practicing ethical reasoning requires imaginal reasoning that supports adaptive responses to ambiguous circumstances. We present our experiences with developing a specific lesson plan aimed at bolstering imaginative modes for an ethics module that has been implemented in a NSF-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in a large land-grant university. The sample ethics discussion session was developed as part of the professional development activities in the program. Some major topics discussed in the session included ethical theory, ethical reasoning, bias, power, oppression, identity, and two case studies on environmental injustice. During the session, students were engaged in several freewrite tasks and reflected on their thoughts and feelings. After the program, students were invited to complete a post-program survey and participate in a focus-group interview. Students reflected on their research experiences, social experiences, and different professional development activities including the ethics discussion session. With regards to the session, our intention was to learn about students’ experiences rather than exploring a particular question or quantifying the effectiveness of the session. Overall, we received positive and unexpected responses from participants that may shed light on the importance and relevance of liberatory praxis and theory as a key resource in bridging conventional STEM design paradigms and ethics.

Jalali, Y., & Matheis, C., & Lohani, V. K. (2019, June), Ethics Instruction and the Role of Liberatory Praxis and Theory Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32758

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2019 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015