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Research in engineering ethics has tended to focus on the effects of ethics pedagogies and programs on ethical reasoning and knowledge among engineering students primarily in the US. However, neither ethical reasoning nor knowledge necessarily results in more ethical judgments or behaviors. Furthermore, research based on samples from a particular country, such as the US, are poorly representative of global populations. This is a problem, since engineering is increasingly cross-cultural and international, with peoples from different countries and cultures working together as never before, where disagreements can arise about (in)appropriate behaviors related to technology. To address these issues, a five-year research project is exploring the development of ethical reasoning and moral intuitions among engineering students in the US, Netherlands, and China, to better understand the relations between ethical reasoning and moral intuitions in cross-cultural contexts, and how these are affected by language and educational experiences. To do so, cohorts of first-year engineering students from the Colorado School of Mines, University of Pittsburgh, Delft University of Technology, and Shanghai Jiaotong University have been recruited to complete the ESIT (Engineering and Science Issues Test) assessing ethical reasoning, and MFQ (Moral Foundations Questionnaire) assessing moral intuitions, during their first semester in university. Half of the students in the Netherlands and some of the students in China completed these instruments in Dutch and Chinese. These surveys will be administered on a yearly basis at the same institutions over four years of engineering education, reassessing the initial cohorts and recruiting new ones.
This paper will report some first-year findings, specifically, the effects of culture on the relations between ethical reasoning and moral intuitions. Previous research with participants in the US has found positive relations between ethical reasoning and intuitions connected with fairness and caring, and negative relations between ethical reasoning and intuitions connected with loyalty, authority, and sanctity. For this reason, ethical reasoning would be somewhat more intuitive/natural to the former than the latter. This is problematic, since politically conservatives and non-WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic) individuals tend to emphasize sanctity, authority, and loyalty. If the same relations between moral intuitions and ethical reasoning hold among non-WEIRD populations, then engineering students from countries such as China and India – which graduate and employ more STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) majors than any other countries – would be disadvantaged in engineering curricula that emphasize ethical reasoning skills as a major outcome. This makes visible the role of students’ cultural backgrounds for the efficacy of programs in engineering ethics education.
Clancy, R., & Zhu, Q., & Gammon, A., & Thorpe, R. (2022, August), Exploring the Relations between Ethical Reasoning and Moral Intuitions among First-Year Engineering Students across Cultures Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. https://peer.asee.org/41487
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