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Exploring Values and Norms of Engineering Through Responsible Innovation and Critiques of Engineering Cultures

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Socially Responsible Engineering I: Context, Innovation, and Reflection

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Rider W. Foley University of Virginia

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Dr. Rider W. Foley is an assistant professor in the science, technology & society program in the Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia. He is the principal investigator at University of Virginia on the ‘4C Project’ on Cultivating Cultures of Ethical STEM education with colleagues from Notre Dame, Xavier University and St. Mary’s College. He is also the co-leader of the ‘Nano and the City’ thematic research cluster for the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University. Rider is a Research Collaborator with the Sustainability Science Education program at the Biodesign Institute. His research focuses on wicked problems that arise at the intersection of society and technology. Rider holds a Ph.D. in Sustainability from Arizona State University, and a Master's degree in Environmental Management from Harvard University and a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from University of New Hampshire. Before earning his doctorate, he has worked for a decade in consulting and emergency response for Triumvirate Environmental Inc.

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Rachel Sinclair University of Virginia

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Rachel Sinclair is a graduate with a Master of Public Health and Bachelor of Arts, major in Psychology, from the University of Virginia. She is beginning her professional career as an Associate Clinical Research Coordinator at the Mayo Clinic. Prior research experience has involved neurodegenerative disorders, pathogens, mental health outcomes and policies, and engineering ethics education.

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Araba Dennis Purdue University

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Araba Dennis is a second-year PhD student studying race, culture, and institutional definitions of inclusion.

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Engineers are often taught that ethics entail the adherence to a code of conduct, which can guide their professional behavior. Alternatively, engineers may learn that research ethics are represented by the principles of Responsible Conduct of Research. Both of these approaches ask for engineers to learn, accept and conform to values that are instantiated by external organizations. This is intended to support an individual’s decision-making in the face of discrete moral or ethical quandaries. Prior scholarship by Donna Riley, Erin Cech and Amy Slaton offer critiques of engineering culture that point to the myth of objectivity, reductionism, and grit, while underscoring an uncritical acceptance of authority. Cech’s work on the “culture of disengagement” and the pillars of depoliticization, socio-technical dualism and meritocracy demonstrated shifts in values among students at four very different universities in Massachusetts. Out of political science and technology assessment the concept of responsible innovation is gaining traction as a means to bring values and norms into the center of innovation activities, exemplified in works by Rene von Schomberg and David Guston. However, the critiques of engineering cultures are often absent from concepts of responsible innovation. For if responsible innovation is a normative shift towards a better future, then understanding what is undesirable about the cultures of engineering and innovation must be equally important. This research explores how engineering students at a university in Virginia express values and norms when asked the question: “What is engineering?” The research design captured long-form essays prior to and after taking an engineering ethics course. Those essays were coded thematically for dimensions of irresponsible innovation, e.g., myth of objectivity, depoliticization and reductionism, as well as for dimensions of responsible innovation including stakeholder engagement, future anticipation of consequences, and adaptiveness. Methodologically, the results suggest that long-form essays, in addition to the surveys used by Cech and the case studies offered by Riley, offer an intriguing method to analyze the emergent values and norms among engineering students. Secondarily, the empirical results suggest subtle shifts in the discourse about what engineering is and, thus recognition of values that might underpin cultures of responsible innovation.

Foley, R. W., & Sinclair, R., & Dennis, A. (2021, July), Exploring Values and Norms of Engineering Through Responsible Innovation and Critiques of Engineering Cultures Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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