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High School STEM Teacher Perspectives on the Importance and Obstacles to Integrating Engineering Ethical Issues in Their Courses

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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

Critical Reflections on Engineering Ethics Education

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Paper Authors


Jake Walker Lewis

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Graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder with a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering and a master's degree in civil engineering. Was involved with undergraduate research regarding ethics in engineering education, presented work in the form of a poster at the 2018 Zone IV ASEE Conference. Defended and published master's thesis examining if/how ethics are being introducted in K12 STEM education in November 2019. Co-authored paper entitled "Educating Civil Engineering Students about Ethics and Societal Impacts via Cocurricular Activities." This paper was recognized by the Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice as an Editor's Choice. Currently working with Dr. Angela Bielefeldt as a research assistant. Preparing to submit three papers regarding ethics in engineering education as co-author at the 2020 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition.

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Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE) and Director for the Engineering Plus program. She has served as the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education in the CEAE Department, as well as the ABET assessment coordinator. Professor Bielefeldt was also the faculty director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where students learned about and practice sustainability. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

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Engineering topics are increasingly being integrated into K12 STEM education. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrate engineering into science education such as defining engineering problems, designing solutions, and the “influence of engineering, technology, and science on society and the natural world.” The NGSS make no explicit mention of ethics in the context of engineering, although societal and environmental impacts regarding engineering are considered to be macroethical themes. Though Colorado adapted the NGSS in K12 education statewide, the fourth standard of engineering was not adopted. It was of interest to determine whether Colorado high school teachers believe that it is important to integrate ethical and/or societal issues into STEM courses they teach, and any obstacles they perceived to this integration. This exploratory research interviewed 14 STEM teachers from 13 different high schools in Colorado, including 7 who primarily taught engineering. Interview transcripts were analyzed using emergent coding methods. Most teachers believed that ethics, environmental, and/or societal impacts (EESI) are important in K12 STEM education. The extent of importance and why EESI was believed to be important varied among the teachers, with some teachers viewing environmental/societal impacts and ethics as congruent, and others viewing these as distinct and having different importance. Each teacher interviewee identified one or more obstacles to engineering ethics integration. The obstacles fell into seven categories. For all seven, one or more teachers described these as challenges that were able to be overcome. However, five of these obstacles were considered barriers that were not presently being overcome for one or more teachers (e.g. teaching standards, comfort level, negative perceptions by students and/or parents, students struggle to understand ethics). The research findings highlight that incoming engineering students may have different views about the importance or lack of importance of ethical issues in the design process, and highlight opportunities to enhance the integration of EESI into STEM.

Lewis, J. W., & Bielefeldt, A. R. (2021, July), High School STEM Teacher Perspectives on the Importance and Obstacles to Integrating Engineering Ethical Issues in Their Courses Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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