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Improved Pedagogy For Ethics Instruction

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Teaching Ethics II

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.847.1 - 12.847.13



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Paper Authors


Richard Freeman Valparaiso University

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Richard Freeman is an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Valparaiso University. Professor Freeman joined the department in 2003. He has taught GE301 four semesters and was part of the ad hoc Committee formed to address curriculum changes in GE301. Professor Freeman is the Chair of IEEE’s Calumet Section in Northwest Indiana.

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Peter Johnson Valparaiso University

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Kenneth Leitch Valparaiso University

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

Improved Pedagogy for Engineering Ethics Instruction


GE 301- Principles of Engineering Practice is a required course for Valparaiso University College of Engineering students. The course was revamped in Spring 2005 to better emphasize engineering aspects of ethics, economics, sustainability, and sociopolitical issues.

As part of teaching ethics, students have traditionally been assigned an individually written ethics paper. Since students were allowed to select their own cases, it was not uncommon for some students to select the same case. There was also limited discussion between students regarding the cases they chose, or how they would judge the behaviors of engineers in these cases.

Starting with the Spring 2005 Semester, ethics instruction increased from six to twelve hourly sessions. Additionally, students were assigned to a group. Each group was given a particular case from NSPE and asked to write and present an opinion as if they were an NSPE Board of Ethical Review (BER): summarizing the case, identifying the ethical questions and appropriate ethical canons, researching similar cases, and citing how other BERs ruled and determining whether the engineers involved in the case acted in an ethical manner. If the team could not come to a unanimous decision, they would have to write both a majority and minority opinion. Unlike the previous assignment prior to the Spring 2005 semester, students were required to vigorously discuss and defend their opinions on the cases.

Changing the ethics assignment from an individual to a group assignment changed the dynamics in the second half of the GE 301 course. This paper will explore the changes in student interest and behavior introduced by changing the ethics assignment and expanding the number of class periods of ethics instruction. The authors will also explore any impacts this change had on student performance in the course and on the civil engineering departmental assessment of student understanding of ethics.


ABET’s Engineering Criteria 2000 requires that all engineering program graduates be able to demonstrate “an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.1 ” It is left up to individual institutions to implement this required outcome in light of what is frequently a very tightly packed four years of a typical engineering curriculum. While many church-related, independent, and state-supported institutions mandate coursework in theology, religious studies, or philosophy2, engineering ethics coverage seems to be hit or miss at a time when its importance is magnified by rapid technological, societal, and environmental changes occurring at the current time.

Catalano reviews the current state of leading engineering societies’ codes of ethics and what it means to be an “ethical engineer in a morally deep world.” Development of this

Freeman, R., & Johnson, P., & Leitch, K. (2007, June), Improved Pedagogy For Ethics Instruction Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2861

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