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Improving Ethics Studies Through A Spiral Curriculum: Piloting An Ethics Discussion At The Senior Level

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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

Innovations in Biological/Agricultural Education-II

Tagged Division

Biological & Agricultural

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.716.1 - 13.716.15



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Paper Authors


Kumar Mallikarjunan Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Dr. Kumar Mallikarjunan is an associate professor in Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. He is interested in understanding and implementing a spiral theme based engineering curriculum for the Biological Systems Engineering program, engineering ethics, and promotion of undergraduate research.

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Christan Whysong Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Ms. Christan Whysong, a graduate student of Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, has been actively engaged in learning about curriculum development in addition to pursuing her engineering research related to noninvasive testing and biomedical applications.

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Jenny Lo Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Dr. Jenny Lo, assistant professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, is interested in understanding and improving engineering curriculum at the freshman level, engineering ethics, and promotion of undergraduate research.

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

Improving Ethics Studies through a Spiral Themed Curriculum: Piloting an Ethics Discussion at the Senior Level Abstract

The Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) and Engineering Education departments at Virginia Tech have identified the need to enhance undergraduate student exposure to engineering ethics. It was decided the best method for improving ethics training is to have students continuously revisit engineering ethics material at increasing levels of complexity through a four-year spiral themed curriculum. This is one goal of Virginia Tech’s Department Level Reform (DLR) project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Previous work has consisted of compiling a library of related ethics case studies, particularly related to Bioprocess Engineering, along with different methods for implementing these case studies. An ethics exercise was implemented at the BSE sophomore level during the fall 2006 semester. This work has been presented at the 20061 and 20072 ASEE Annual Conference and Expositions. As the project moves into its final phases, these departments have continued to expand their library of ethics case studies and piloted an exercise to be used during the fourth phase of the spiral.

BSE students focusing in Bioprocess Engineering are required to take a Food Process Engineering course taught during the fall semester of their senior year. Some appropriate ethics case studies for this course include the conflicting views of the food industry and consumers. Companies often add controversial ingredients, such as trans-fat and diacetyl, to their products to make them tastier and typically target youth who often influence family purchases. If successful in attracting a younger consumer to a product, a company will usually have a customer for life.

Students were asked to complete a pre-survey, designed to gauge their understanding of the above ethical issue. Students then read the provided resources and individually completed an informal written assignment, of which the goal was to have students form their own opinions about the topic. When students returned to class, they shared their views with the class during a discussion. Students were then asked to complete the pre-survey questions as a post-survey to gauge their learning experience from this exercise. This activity increased student exposure to the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) Code of Ethics for Engineers and also increased awareness of ethical issues related to food companies adding questionable ingredients for the purpose of creating lifelong consumers for their products.

Background and Spiral Approach

At an institution, 1200+ engineering students enter a general engineering program and participate in a common first semester course offered by the Department of Engineering Education (EngE). Each year approximately 30 of these students elect to enter into the Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) with about half focusing in the Bioprocess Engineering area of the department. A collaborative effort between some faculty of EngE and BSE, funded by the department-level reform (DLR) program of the National Science Foundation (NSF), is currently underway. The goal of the DLR program for these two departments is to reformulate curricula within the EngE and BSE programs by utilizing a theme-based spiral curriculum approach. Jerome Bruner, the twentieth-century psychologist, proposed the notion of a spiral curriculum in

Mallikarjunan, K., & Whysong, C., & Lo, J. (2008, June), Improving Ethics Studies Through A Spiral Curriculum: Piloting An Ethics Discussion At The Senior Level Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4194

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