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Integrating Ethics Into An Engineering Technology Course: An Interspersed Component Approach

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.249.1 - 2.249.7

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Brian A. Alenskis

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

Session 2247

Integrating Ethics into an Engineering Technology Course: An Interspersed Component Approach Brian A. Alenskis Purdue University


The format or approach to teaching professional ethics in engineering or engineering technology can be troublesome. The issue is often how to present ethics as an important aspect of the technical profession, without hindering the learning of more technical matters. To accomplish this, institutions have employed a variety of approaches, each with its strengths and weaknesses.

Purdue University is successfully using an interspersed component approach to this challenge at one of its outreach sites. A three-week ethics component is woven into the capstone A.S. MET course. This component surveys ethical principles, reviews a professional code of ethics, teaches a structured case analysis strategy and requires student case analyses.

A number of aspects make this approach attractive. These include fitting it into an existing curriculum, connecting ethics to technical work, providing adequate case analysis time, and giving instructional flexibility. The detailed instruction component also overcomes many of the described weaknesses of other approaches.


The call for inclusion of professional ethics instruction has resulted in a variety of curriculum structures and instructors’ credentials.[1] Among them, are: • A free-standing ethics course (required or optional), by technical or philosophy faculty • An ethics component within a free-standing “professionalism” course [2] • An issue for review within a senior project/thesis [3] • Integration of ethics throughout the curriculum [4] • Commingling ethical issues and problems in technical courses [5] While these approaches evolve around local constraints and preferences, they also reflect the compromises made among somewhat conflicting methods.

For instance, few technical curricula can easily incorporate a required ethics course, even though such status can highlight the importance of ethics. And yet, segregating the subject—even within a “professionalism” course—tends to separate ethics from the core aspects of technical problem-solving. Injecting ethics into a student design project can prove too little, and perhaps too late. Integrating ethics throughout the curriculum can begin to overcome this, by bringing ethical considerations into many technical courses. However, dispersion can bring dilution, undermining effectiveness. Furthermore, practicing detailed, time-consuming, ethics case analysis can distract from and interfere with learning technical concepts and problem-solving skills.

Alenskis, B. A. (1997, June), Integrating Ethics Into An Engineering Technology Course: An Interspersed Component Approach Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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