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Fostering Engineering Ethics Problem Solving Through Cognitive Flexibility Hypertext: An Application Of Multiple Perspectives, Making Connections And Crisscrossing

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics II

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.622.1 - 13.622.19



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Paper Authors


Rose Marra University of Missouri

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ROSE M. MARRA is an Associate Professor in the School of Information Science and Learning
Technologies at the University of Missouri. She is PI of the NSF-funded Assessing Women and
Men in Engineering (AWE) and Assessing Women In Student Environments (AWISE) projects.
Her research interests include gender equity issues, the epistemological development of college
students, and promoting meaningful learning in web-based environments.

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Demei Shen University of Missouri

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DEMEI SHEN is a doctoral candidate in Information Science and Learning Technologies at the
University of Missouri. Her research interests include social computing and
motivation in web-based learning.

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David Jonassen University of Missouri

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Jenny Lo Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Vinod Lohani Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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VINOD K. LOHANI is an associate professor in the Department of Engineering Education and an adjunct faculty in Civil & Environmental Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). He received a Ph.D. in civil engineering from Virginia Tech in 1995. His areas of teaching and research include engineering education, international collaboration and hydrology & water resources.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Fostering Ethics Problem Solving in Engineering Trough Cognitive Flexibility Hypertext: An Application of Questioning as Links

Abstract This paper describes a new computer-based learning environment, E.Y.E. (Engineering Your Ethics), to support the instruction of engineering ethics, and a study that examined the effectiveness of this environment. The online learning environment includes several engineering ethics cases and is designed to support the ill-structured nature of engineering ethics problem solving. Two versions of E.Y.E were used in first-year level engineering course; one version facilitated case analysis through hyperlinks phrased as questions (designed to encourage students to consider the relationships amongst various case elements such as the conflicting perspectives of the players and engineering ethics theories) and the other version used statement as links. We found statistically significant differences between the two groups as measured by students’ analysis of an assessment case with the students who used the “questions” version of the environment outperforming the “plain link” group.


Engineering, as a profession, involves problem solving in practice on a daily basis1. Most of the problems that engineers encounter in their workspace are ill-structured2. Ill-structured problems are those that occur in specific contexts with loosely defined problem space, vague goals and multiple answers3. The ethical issues that arise in the engineering workplace make engineering practices more complicated and ill-structured. Engineering ethics is “(1) the study of the moral issues and decisions confronting individuals and organizations involved in engineering; and (2) the study of related questions about moral conduct, character, policies, and relationships of people and corporations involved in technological activity” 4 (p.23).

The importance of engineering ethics is supported by the ABET5. EC 2000 criteria require that engineering curricula incorporate engineering ethics components6. Various approaches exist for training students in engineering ethics, however, all the instructional approaches retain weaknesses, including omitting the complexity of ethical issues, ignoring alternative solutions to ethical problems, and obscuring the skills for resolving engineering ethical dilemmas7.

Ethical problems in engineering are ill-structured and complex3. One underlying weaknesses of the engineering ethics instructional approaches may derive from overlooking the ill-structuredness of ethical problems. Ill-structuredness means that various concepts are interrelated and these interconnection patterns may vary in each case or each problem situation8, which causes complexity for learning and poses challenges for transfer to new situations. According to existing research7, ignoring the complexity of ethical issues is one of the essential weaknesses.

Therefore this study implemented a learning environments (called E.Y.E. Engineer Your Ethics) to facilitate ethics problem solving at a large eastern university and investigate the effects

Marra, R., & Shen, D., & Jonassen, D., & Lo, J., & Lohani, V. (2008, June), Fostering Engineering Ethics Problem Solving Through Cognitive Flexibility Hypertext: An Application Of Multiple Perspectives, Making Connections And Crisscrossing Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3145

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: © 2008 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