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Examining the Relationships Between How Students Construct Stakeholders and the Ways Students Conceptualize Harm from Engineering Design

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Imagining Others, Defining Self Through Consideration of Ethical and Social Implications

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Alexis Papak University of Maryland, College Park

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Alexis Papak is a Research Assistant at the University of Maryland, College Park with the Physics Education Research Group. They completed their Bachelor's Degree in Engineering Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Their research interests lie at the intersection of ethnic studies, critical pedagogies, and STEM teaching and learning.

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Ayush Gupta University of Maryland, College Park

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Ayush Gupta is Assistant Research Professor in Physics and Keystone Instructor in the A. J. Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland. Broadly speaking he is interested in modeling learning and reasoning processes. In particular, he is attracted to micro-genetic and socio-cultural models of learning. He has been working on how learners' emotions are coupled with their conceptual and epistemological reasoning. Lately, he has been interested in engineering design thinking, how engineering students come to understand and practice design, and how engineering students think about ethics and social responsibility.

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Chandra Anne Turpen University of Maryland, College Park

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Chandra Turpen is a research assistant professor in physics at the University of Maryland in the Physics Education Research (PER) Group. Turpen’s work involves designing and researching contexts for learning within higher education (for both students and faculty). Her research draws from perspectives in anthropology, cultural psychology, and the learning sciences. Through in-situ studies of classroom practice and institutional practice, she focuses on the role of culture in science learning and educational change. She pursues projects that have high potential for leveraging equitable change in undergraduate STEM programs and she makes these struggles for change a direct focus of her research efforts. She also serves on several national leadership bodies: the Physics Education Research Leadership Organizing Council (PERLOC), the American Association of Physics Teachers’ Committee on Diversity in Physics, the National Learning Assistant Alliance, and the Access Network.

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Engineering ethics educators have developed a wealth of curricula that engages engineering students in learning about codes of ethics and micro-ethical issues. However, much of this curricula does not engage how technology's design and implementation is reflective of sociopolitical systems and never value-neutral or how ethical design requires foregrounding care and empathy for stakeholders (Herkert, 2005). Some scholars have begun examining the ways stakeholder perspectives and care ethics can be important in professional practice (di Norcia, 2002) and developing curricula that emphasizes care and empathy. Others have documented how canonical curricula does not prepare students to engage in an ethics of care (Campbell and Wilson, 2017) or to recognize the harms that engineering practice produces (Lachney and Banks, 2017). Engineering's dominant "culture of disengagement" (Cech 2012, Slaton 2015) toward social responsibility makes it challenging for educators to develop courses that engage students in considering stakeholders empathetically. To counter this "culture of disengagement" and develop curricula that prepares students to engage in their profession with responsibility, empathy, and care, educators must analyze how engineering students reason about the relationships between engineering practices and the harm it produces, a question that is currently underexamined within the field of engineering education (Lachney and Banks, 2017).

In this paper, we analyze video data from a series of focus group sessions centered around the 2012 case-study in which statisticians and engineers at Target developed predictive analytics software capable of identifying pregnant women and new mothers. Engineering students read about the case of a young pregnant woman in high school whose father found out she was pregnant through expecting mother ads targeting her as a result of Target’s statistical software. Students then discussed the ethical implications of this case to engineering over the course of three two-hour focus sessions. We analyzed the sessions using tools from discourse analysis and interaction analysis (Jordan & Henderson, 1995). Through a process of progressive refinement of hypotheses (Engle et al., 2007), we analyzed the ways that students ideologically construct various actors in the case-study such as engineers, corporations, and pregnant women. From this analysis, we find that students don’t construct the individual actors in the case-study independently. Rather, students construct these actors simultaneously and in relation to other actors, and students form these constructions collectively through the joint action and dialogue.  Additionally, the way students relationally constructed these actors constrained the ways students were able to understand any one of the actors as producing harm or being harmed. We also find that certain constructions were dominant and manifested more easily in conversation (e.g., engineers benefit and serve people and pregnant women need commercial products and help), and others were weaker and took longer to develop (e.g., engineers cause harm and pregnant women are harmed by corporate advertising). These dominant constructions reflect many of the assumptions built into the language of engineering ethics (e.g., engineers serve the advancement of society and the welfare of the public). This language reifies constructions of engineers as knowledgeable deliverers of public good and is especially problematic when engineers fail to represent the people they intend to impact.

Papak, A., & Gupta, A., & Turpen, C. A. (2018, June), Examining the Relationships Between How Students Construct Stakeholders and the Ways Students Conceptualize Harm from Engineering Design Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30471

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