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Integrating Ethics Into An Undergraduate Control Systems Course

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.736.1 - 8.736.7

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Paper Authors

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Peter Meckl

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

Session 1532

Integrating Ethics into an Undergraduate Control Systems Course

Peter H. Meckl

School of Mechanical Engineering Purdue University West Lafayette, IN 47907-2088


An approach to inserting an ethics component into a control systems course is described. Since the technical content is rather complex, only limited time is available to focus on ethical issues. However, even limited discussions provide an opportunity to reinforce the importance of ethics in a professional career. Portions of three lectures were devoted to ethical decision-making, with application to several control-oriented case studies. In addition, several homework exercises and the design project included an ethical component. At the end of the course, students were generally appreciative of the added ethical dimension and felt that the right amount of time was devoted to it in this course. Most importantly, a majority of the students commented that they had gained awareness of ethical issues and decision-making by taking this course.


Since 1999, the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University has articulated a set of Program Objectives, which define the capabilities that students should have upon completion of their undergraduate program. These fall into three categories: Technical Capabilities, Engineering Work Place Skills, and Professional Outlook. The first item under Professional Outlook is “a commitment to professional and ethical behavior in every endeavor.” Recognizing the importance of this program objective, the School of Mechanical Engineering has included an ethics discussion in the sophomore-level ME Professional Seminar. In addition, ethics is an integral part of the sophomore and senior design courses. Finally, a technical elective entitled “Technology and Values” is available for students who wish to engage in in-depth discussions of ethical issues, both personal and global.

While all these efforts are important, it is clear that for students to really internalize an ethical mindset, they need the opportunity to grapple with ethical issues throughout their undergraduate courses. With this in mind, I attended an Ethics Across the Curriculum Workshop1 in August 2002 to learn how to incorporate ethics into engineering science courses. I was scheduled to teach “Automatic Control Systems” in Fall 2002, so I decided to use this course as a test bed for inserting ethics discussions into a technical engineering class.

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Meckl, P. (2003, June), Integrating Ethics Into An Undergraduate Control Systems Course Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

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