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Improving Ethics Studies Through A Spiral Themed Curriculum: Implementing Ethics Discussion At The Sophomore Level

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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

Engineering Ethics and Global Issues

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.854.1 - 12.854.13



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Paper Authors


Christan Whysong Virginia Tech

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CHRISTAN WHYSONG, 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.

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Jenny Lo Virginia Tech

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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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Kumar Mallikarjunan Virginia Tech

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KUMAR MALLIKARJUNAN, associate professor of Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, is interested in improving the bioprocess curriculum using a spiral themed approach.

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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: Implementing Ethics Discussion at the Sophomore Level Abstract

To enhance ethics training during the undergraduate career, engineering ethics material should be presented throughout the engineering curriculum. In continuation of the Department Level Reform (DLR) project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), two departments at Virginia Tech aim to implement ethics throughout a four-year program by utilizing a spiral- themed curriculum. Preliminary work consisted of compiling a library of ethics case studies related to Biological Systems Engineering (BSE), particularly Bioprocess Engineering, along with different methods of implementing these ethics case studies. This work was presented during the 2006 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition.1 As the project moved to its second phase, the two departments have begun incorporating the library of ethics case studies in a designated sophomore course.

Initial work focused on genetically modified products because they incorporate several key ethical issues. A key theme of the spiral curriculum, sustainability can be observed as students review genetic modification of major food crops, such as cottonseed. Students may also study how different countries view genetically modified products while looking at labeling laws found in each country. Patents can be studied when looking at the patenting of specific genes and the idea of the terminating gene.

It was concluded the best method for incorporating ethics training into the BSE curriculum is to utilize already existing labs and projects by adding ethics material to them. Sophomores in BSE are currently required to take an Introduction to Biological Systems Engineering course in which they perform an oil extraction laboratory with cottonseed. As part of this laboratory, students were provided with a brief introduction to genetically modified products. They were then asked to consider potential differences that might occur in the production of cottonseed oil if genetically modified cottonseed were used as the raw material instead of the naturally occurring cottonseed as part of an informal written assignment and class discussion. For example, students were asked about labeling and marketing of the oil and if the production waste should be treated any differently.

Additionally, students completed a survey at the end of the ethics exercise to provide their feedback. Of interest was whether the students felt there was even an ethical issue present, the complexity of the thought process used when responding to the questions, students’ openness to the discussion format, and the successes and challenges of implementing ethics material with this specific laboratory. A summary of these findings are presented in this paper.

Background and spiral approach

At an institution, 1200+ engineering intents enter the General Engineering (GE) program and have a common first semester offered by the Department of Engineering Education (EngE). Some of these students matriculate into the Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE). There exists a collaborative effort between some faculty of EngE and BSE, which is

Whysong, C., & Lo, J., & Mallikarjunan, K. (2007, June), Improving Ethics Studies Through A Spiral Themed Curriculum: Implementing Ethics Discussion At The Sophomore Level Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2790

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