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Exploring the Relations between Ethical Reasoning and Moral Intuitions among First-Year Engineering Students across Cultures

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Division: Ethics Education Assessment

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Rockwell Clancy Colorado School of Mines

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Rockwell F. Clancy conducts research and teaches courses at the intersection of moral psychology, technology ethics, and Chinese philosophy. He explores how education and culture affect moral judgments, the causes of unethical behaviors, and what can be done to ensure more ethical behaviors regarding technology. Central to his work are insights from and methodologies associated with the psychological sciences and digital humanities.

Rockwell is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at the Colorado School of Mines and Guest Researcher in the Department of Values, Technology, and Innovation, at Delft University of Technology. In the Fall, he'll become a Research Scientist in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Before Mines Rockwell was a Lecturer at Delft, and previously an Associate Teaching Professor at the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute and Research Fellow in the Institute of Social Cognition and Decision-making, Shanghai Jiao Tong University. He completed his PhD iat Purdue University in 2012, and worked as a long-term educational to set up a course and write a corresponding textbook on global engineering ethics for a grant project at Purdue.

His research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of moral psychology, engineering and technology ethics, and Chinese philosophy. His papers have appeared in Nature Human Behaviour, Science and Engineering Ethics, International Journal of Ethics Education, Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology, New Directions in Children & Adolescent Psychology, Philosophy and Literature, the Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy, Modernity/modernism, Metapsychology Online Reviews, and the Journal of Philosophy.

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Qin Zhu Colorado School of Mines

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​Dr. Zhu is Assistant Professor of Ethics and Engineering Education in the Department of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Engineering, Design & Society and the Robotics Graduate Program at the Colorado School of Mines. Dr. Zhu is Editor for International Perspectives at the Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science, Associate Editor for Engineering Studies, Chair of American Society for Engineering Education's Division of Engineering Ethics, and Executive Committee Member of the International Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum. Dr. Zhu's research interests include the cultural foundations of engineering (ethics) education, global engineering education, and ethics and policy of computing technologies and robotics.

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Andrea Gammon Delft University of Technology

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Ryan Thorpe

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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. 10.18260/1-2--41487

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