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Hands On Ethics: Experiences With Cases In The Classroom

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.233.1 - 1.233.9



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Paper Authors

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Julie M. Stocker

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Edmund P. Russell III

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

1 Session 1661

Hands-On Ethics: Experiences with Cases in the Classroom

Edmund P. Russell III, Julie M. Stocker University of Virginia

This paper describes classroom experiences using two ethics cases (A.C. Rich and DesignTex) developed by Michael German and his team.1 Edmund Russell describes why he uses case studies in general and how he has used these two cases in particular.z Julie Stocker describes the way she and others evaluated the cases and the results they obtained.

Why do I use cases? Because students like and learn from them. The core curriculum for fourth-year engineering students at the University of Virginia includes study of engineering ethics.s The frost time I taught that 4 subject, students read a standard textbook. Like many textbooks, it stressed ethical theory and presented short case studies to illustrate key ideas. I liked the textbook, perhaps because it presented material in a way that suits my style of learning: it was deductive, theoretical, and organized. For variety and depth, I had students analyze several longer cases, too. They included studies of the Challenger disaster, plant siting, and water pollution.

For the last case, I had students play roles. They pretended they represented various interest groups and debated what should be done. Students took the task very seriously. (A couple students argued so strenuously for their assigned points of view that they came up tome after class to say that they were not really so hard-hearted as they sounded.) It was gratifying to learn that students enjoyed taking a variety of points of view, including ones they did not agree with. They seemed to like “trying out” ideas without feeling that they had to defend them as their own. In particular, students who had little patience for managers (“they just care about money, not good engineering” summed up a common attitude) seemed to develop a greater appreciation for the multiple demands facing management.

After completing the ethics part of the course, I asked the Teaching Resource Center of the University of Virginia to help me assess its success. The associate director of the center (a member of the drama department 5 faculty) talked to my class while I was out of the room. She asked what was working well, what was getting in the way of learning, and what suggestions they had. The students discussed these questions in small groups, and then as an entire class. The assessor recorded, and relayed to me, points on which the class reached consensus.

I gained three insights from that assessment. First, students loved playing roles. This result was mildly surprising. I had thought they liked the experience, but I had not known that they liked it quite so much. The second and third insights were related: students disliked the textbook, and they loved the in-depth cases. Again, I was mildly surprised. I had not thought they were thrilled with the textbook, but it had seemed adequate. And they had seemed to like the in-depth cases, but I had not known they liked them quite so much. What was going on?

Findings from psychologists helped me interpret the results.c Faculty members tend to like intriguing ideas (whether or not they are “practical”), theory, and deductive reasoning. Most people, however, like and learn best by approaching problems from another angle. They like to deal with real-world issues, learn ideas that will help them solve concrete problems, and reason from their own experience (i.e., inductively). Neither approach is “better.” A balance between the two probably contributes to the most successful endeavors. Organizations that

$iiiii-’. 1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings ) ‘J31U:.$ .

Stocker, J. M., & Russell III, E. P. (1996, June), Hands On Ethics: Experiences With Cases In The Classroom Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia. 10.18260/1-2--6080

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