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Infusing Macroethical Ideas into a Senior Engineering Course

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Ethics Instruction in Context: Civil and Construction Engineering and Engineering Technology

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE). She serves as the ABET assessment coordinator for department and is the faculty director for the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where interdisciplinary students learn about and practice sustainability. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E.

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Engineering ethics education typically tends to focus on microethical ideas, with some notable exceptions described in the literature. There is a growing call to prepare students to consider macroethical issues of importance to engineering practice – ideas such as social responsibility, sustainability, and social justice. These are typically complex ideas that lack consensus. This paper presents a case study of a course designed to teach students about macroethical issues. This new senior-level Professional Issues in Civil Engineering course was taught for the first time in fall 2015. This new course was created, in part, to address the new ABET program specific criteria for civil engineering to “raise the bar” on ethics instruction. Two of the other learning goals for the course that are relevant to macroethical issues include striving for sustainable development and understanding the impacts of engineering on society. One of the methods used to teach students about these issues included a structured controversy on a proposed new water resources project in Colorado. There was also an extensive case study analysis of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans that spanned four weeks of the course, two lengthy written assignments, and in-class discussions. This included a discussion of the social justice issues related to the situation. A vast array of differing opinions were evident across the class. During the New Orleans case study, some students strongly felt that New Orleans should not have been rebuilt (using utilitarian ethics as justification), while others felt that rebuilding and improving the levee system was critical. During in-class discussions, there were clear differences in the extent to which students would engage. Some students seemed interested to discuss these issues, and believed that this was an important part of their education; other students sat back with expressions that indicated they felt this was a waste of their time. This paper will explore student opinions and challenges reaching students who believe that technical expertise alone is sufficient training for engineers.

Bielefeldt, A. R. (2016, June), Infusing Macroethical Ideas into a Senior Engineering Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25693

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