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Integrating Ethics into Undergraduate Environmental Science and Economics Education

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Integration of Liberal Education into Engineering

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.906.1 - 22.906.13



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Paper Authors


Donald Arthur Brown Penn State University

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Donald A .Brown is Associate Professor, Environmental Ethics, Science, and Law, at Penn State University. Professor Brown's major interests include integrating ethical considerations into environmental policy formation and helping environmental professionals and civil society understand ethical issues that arise in scientific and economic descriptions of environmental problems. Professor Brown formerly worked as a systems engineer and environmental lawyer. He also has a graduate training in philosophy and ethics. Before coming to Penn State, Professor Brown worked for the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Departments of Environmental Protection and the U.S. EPA office of international environmental policy. His writing has been focused mostly on applied environmental ethics issues. For 15 years, he has been focusing on the ethical dimensions of climate change and international environmental issues. At EPA, he represented the United States on UN delegations negotiating a variety of environmental and sustainable development issues.

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Mary Lynn Brannon Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Mary Lynn Brannon, Instructional Support Specialist at the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at the Pennsylvania State University, has a Master of Arts Degree in Education and Human Development specializing in Educational Technology Leadership. Her work focuses on projects that measure and assess student perceptions of learning related to their experiences with engineering course innovations. She is a faculty development consultant with previous experience in instructional design and instructor of the Graduate Assistant Seminar for engineering teaching assistants.

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Integrating Ethics into Undergraduate Environmental Science and Economics EducationBased upon the premise that students with good critical thinking skills should be able to spotethical questions that often arise in environmental controversies, a program was developed at alarge research university to systematically improve critical thinking skills of undergraduatestaking environmental science and environmental economics courses. Students should have thecritical thinking skill that enables them to separate factual claims from normative and ethicalassumptions in descriptions of public policy issues. Yet environmental problems are oftendescribed in the “value-neutral” languages of sciences and economics. Other ethical issues,often hidden in scientific analyses of environmental problems, are who should have the burdenof proof and what quantity of proof should satisfy the burden of proof. Environmentalproblems, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity and forests, and degraded naturalresources, as are typically taught at the undergraduate level do not expressly integrate ethics inteaching about these issues. If environmental ethics is taught at all at the undergraduate level, itis usually not integrated into science, economics, and policy courses. The integration of ethicsinto environmental pedagogy is needed to strengthen the ability of students to identify andcritically evaluate ethical issues in policy discourses. The purpose of the program is to teachundergraduates the ability to identify ethical issues that often arise in environmental problems.These issues are rarely identified despite the fact that environmental science and economicsraises ethical questions.This paper will describe the development and assessment of a course module on teachingstudents how to identify ethical issues in environmental policymaking that are oftenhidden in science and economic descriptions of environmental problems, how the moduleis used in the teaching of environmental ethics, and the assessment plan conducted over athree year period. The assessment is composed of a pre and post test consisting of a casestudy designed to see if students could identify ethical questions embedded in aneconomic and scientific discussion of environmental problems. The pre-test isadministered prior to a lecture on ethical issues that arise in economic arguments aboutenvironmental programs, and issues related to scientific uncertainty that are typicallyencountered in environmental disputes. The post-test is administered again after thelecture to see if student’s ability to identify the ethical questions has improved orchanged. A student perception of learning survey was administered at the end of thesemester. The module, designed for a Science, Technology and Society (STS) coursewas also taught in two subsequent courses to test and assess the transferability of themodule across disciplines.The purpose of this paper is to share the lessons learned in teaching critical identificationof ethical issues embedded in environmental policymaking issues; and to shareassessment data of student performance and perceptions. Initial findings indicate that theawareness of students to ethical issues versus factual issues has improved. Individualswho teach science, technology and society courses, and ethics may be interested in thispaper.

Brown, D. A., & Brannon, M. L. (2011, June), Integrating Ethics into Undergraduate Environmental Science and Economics Education Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18227

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