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Improving Ethics Studies Through A Spiral Themed Curriculum In Biological Systems Engineering

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Moral Development, Engineering Pedagogy and Ethics Instruction

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.735.1 - 11.735.9



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Paper Authors


Christan Whysong Virginia Tech

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Christan Whysong is an undergraduate student in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. She has been involved with multiple undergraduate research projects including one to enhance engineering ethics education at the undergraduate level.

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Jenny Lo Virginia Tech

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Jenny Lo is an assistant professor with the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech.

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Kumar Mallikarjunan Virginia Tech

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Kumar Mallikarjunan is an associate professor with the Deparmtent of Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech.

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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


To enhance ethics training during the undergraduate career, engineering ethics material should be presented throughout the engineering curriculum. The Departments of Engineering Education and of Biological Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech aim to implement ethics throughout a four-year program by utilizing a spiral curriculum, that is to continue revisiting the same subject material with increased difficulty at each occurrence. This is one of the goals of the Department Level Reform (DLR) project at this university, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The two departments have started to compile a library of ethics case studies related to Biological Systems Engineering, particularly Bioprocess Engineering, along with different ways to implement these ethics case studies. The preliminary work was performed as part of an undergraduate research project during summer 2005.

As initial work, genetically modified products were chosen as the main topic because it includes several key ethical issues. Sustainability can be observed when students review the genetic modification of major food crops, such as corn and soybeans. Students may study how different countries view genetically modified products while looking at the labeling laws found in each country. Intellectual property can be studied when looking at the patenting of specific genes and the idea of the terminating gene. Animal rights can be discussed when looking at different transgenic animals and how they are used once produced. The aforementioned issues may be addressed by including ethics training into the Biological Systems Engineering curriculum through existing labs and projects. These ideas may be incorporated in the form of a class discussion, a posting to an electronic portfolio, an online discussion, an assignment of a research project, and questions as part of a write up.

Background and spiral approach

At Virginia Tech, engineering intents enter the General Engineering (GE) program and have a common first semester; GE students are required to take a first semester, introductory engineering course, which is offered by the Department of Engineering Education (EngE). One of the main objectives of the course is: Having successfully completed this course, the student will be able to demonstrate an understanding of professional ethics and application to real-life situations. Hence, the freshman year is an opportunity to introduce students to professional ethics, which becomes a foundation for ethical training received in upperclassman years. Because the 1200+ entering freshman students who are enrolled in the common engineering course will enter one of twelve different departments after their first year of studies, the ethics instruction given by EngE faculty must be broad enough to serve a wide audience.

Some of these 1200+ students will matriculate into the Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE). There exists a collaborative effort between some faculty of EngE and BSE, which is funded under the department-level reform (DLR) program of the NSF. The goal of the

Whysong, C., & Lo, J., & Mallikarjunan, K. (2006, June), Improving Ethics Studies Through A Spiral Themed Curriculum In Biological Systems Engineering Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--526

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