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Incorporation of Corporate Social Responsibility into Problem-based Learning in a Semiconductor Device Course

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Course Transformation in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Stephanie A. Claussen Colorado School of Mines

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Stephanie Claussen’s experience spans both engineering and education research. She obtained her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005. Her Ph.D. work at Stanford University focused on optoelectronics, and she continues that work in her position at the Colorado School of Mines, primarily with the involvement of undergraduate researchers. In her role as a Teaching Professor, she is primarily tasked with the education of undergraduate engineers. In her courses, she employs active learning techniques and project-based learning. Her previous education research, also at Stanford, focused on the role of cultural capital in science education. Her current interests include engineering students' development of social responsibility and the impact of students' backgrounds in their formation as engineers.

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Jessica Mary Smith Colorado School of Mines

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Jessica M. Smith is Associate Professor in the Engineering, Design & Society Division at the Colorado School of Mines and Co-Director of Humanitarian Engineering. She is an anthropologist with two major research areas: 1) the sociocultural dynamics of extractive and energy industries, with a focus on corporate social responsibility, social justice, labor, and gender and 2) engineering education, with a focus on socioeconomic class and social responsibility. She is currently completing a book manuscript on the intersection of engineering and corporate social responsibility. She is the author of Mining Coal and Undermining Gender: Rhythms of Work and Family in the American West (Rutgers University Press, 2014), which was funded by the National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2016 the National Academy of Engineering recognized her Corporate Social Responsibility course as a national exemplar in teaching engineering ethics. Professor Smith holds a PhD in Anthropology and a certificate in Women’s Studies from the University of Michigan and bachelor’s degrees in International Studies, Anthropology and Latin American Studies from Macalester College.

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There are frequent calls for fostering ethics and social responsibility among engineering students. Many of these efforts focus on personal behavior (or microethics) at the exclusion of broader, more structural concerns about the impact of professions, industries, and companies on a variety of stakeholders (Herkert 2001). The corporate context of most engineering work offers both opportunities and challenges when it comes to teaching students to engineer in a socially responsible way. At times, this centrality of corporate endeavors provides a front for students to not value or consider social responsibility, as they perceive the potential for impact within a corporate context to be limited. Unsurprisingly, students anticipate that, upon entering industry, their personal responsibility will be drowned out by corporate interests. In the face of such challenges, corporate social responsibility (CSR) provides a means of simultaneously conditioning our students to incorporate social considerations into their technical work and preparing them for work in a corporate setting.

The engineering education research community has increasingly given attention to CSR, especially in the context of the extractive industries (Smith et al 2017; N. Smith et al. 2018; J. Smith et al 2018). But little work has happened in other engineering disciplines. To our knowledge, this effort is the first time CSR has been explicitly incorporated into the semiconductors classroom. We accomplished this integration using project-based learning (PBL), which provides a constructive avenue for authentic learning about the sociotechnical dimensions of engineering (Heinricher et al. 2013; Vaz and Quinn 2015).

This paper addresses two research questions:

RQ1) How do undergraduate engineers account for CSR in their designs of semiconductor devices? RQ2) How does attention to CSR affect the ways in which students think about the ethical dimensions of their profession?

We begin by presenting an overview of the PBL assignment we designed and implemented in Fall 2018. We also share the rubric written to assess student work on the assignment. In order to achieve the authenticity which is necessary for successful PBL, our assignment was vetted by two experts in the field of CSR, one of which works in the electronics industry. During the course of this work, we also collaborated with the instructor of a course on corporate social responsibility at our institution. Her students gave the semiconductors students feedback on drafts of their PBL final deliverables, lending additional authenticity to the assignment.

We then describe preliminary findings from the implementation of this assignment and new course design. To answer our first research question, we examine two sets of student work: a homework assignment which asked students to rewrite a prior homework problem so that it accounts for some aspect of CSR, and a deliverable for their final project in which they are expected to incorporate CSR into their design of a semiconductor device. We use emergent coding to qualitatively analyze these data. To answer our second research question, we provide and analyze the pre- and post-course survey responses that assessed students’ knowledge and opinions of CSR, including its place in their future careers. We conclude by offering preliminary assessments of potential best practices for integrating CSR into student learning about semiconductors.

Heinricher, A. C., & Quinn, P., & Vaz, R. F., & Rissmiller, K. J. (2013, June), Long-term Impacts of Project-Based Learning in Science and Engineering Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

Herkert, J. R. (2001). Future directions in engineering ethics research: Microethics, macroethics and the role of professional societies. Science and Engineering Ethics, 7(3), 403–414.

Smith, J. M., McClelland, C. J., & Smith, N. M. (2016). Engineering Students’ Views of Corporate Social Responsibility: A Case Study from Petroleum Engineering. Science and Engineering Ethics, 1–16.

Smith, J. M., & Smith, N. M., & Rulifson, G., & McClelland, C. J., & Battalora, L. A., & Sarver, E. A., & Kaunda , R. B. (2018, June), Student Learning About Engineering and Corporate Social Responsibility: A Comparison Across Engineering and Liberal Arts Courses Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah.

Smith Nicole M., Smith Jessica M., Battalora Linda A., & Teschner Benjamin A. (2018). Industry–University Partnerships: Engineering Education and Corporate Social Responsibility. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 144(3), 04018002.

Vaz, R. F., & Quinn, P. (2015, June), Benefits of a Project-Based Curriculum: Engineering Employers’ Perspectives Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23617

Claussen, S. A., & Smith, J. M. (2019, June), Incorporation of Corporate Social Responsibility into Problem-based Learning in a Semiconductor Device Course Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32959

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