Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
According to current ABET accreditation requirements, engineering students need to become aware of the social contexts of engineering and develop ethical and professional responsibilities during their undergraduate training. Concerns also persist about the moral and ethical commitments of engineers once they enter the workplace, as underscored by a number of recent ethics scandals involving engineers and technology. The education of ethically adept engineers therefore remains a pertinent issue for the engineering education community. Yet there remains relatively little research on how students’ prior experiences shape their ethical perspectives. Specifically, there is a lack of understanding of the role of pre-college and early college experiences and other influences in shaping first-year engineering students’ views on ethics. This paper reports select results from an NSF-funded project aiming to address some of these gaps in the literature. This longitudinal study was conducted across four universities and focused on the ethical development of undergraduate engineering students. Preliminary analysis of interviews from the first phase of this study identified a number of major themes in the data set, two of which are important to highlight here: 1) influences on students’ ethical perspectives (e.g., academic curricular, extracurricular activities, family, etc.) and 2) learned outcomes, defined as insights, learning, or realizations related to ethics, morality, and values. Deeper investigation of the relationship between specific influences and students’ insights related to ethics can provide a better understanding of first-year engineering students’ baseline ethical development. The goal of this paper is to characterize what specific ethical lessons are gained through various types of experiences, as well as to glean how this learning and growth occurs. Data for this study was drawn from 66 interview transcripts and consisted of sections coded simultaneously for influences and learned outcomes. The cross-coded data were analyzed using a thematic analysis approach. The types of influences impacting students’ ethical learning, and exemplars of how students report their lived experiences and ethical realizations, are discussed through the lens of what they learned and the mechanisms through which they gained these understandings.
Our analysis suggests that several pre-college (e.g., extracurricular activities, service/volunteer roles and social experiences) and early college experiences (e.g., academic courses, part-time employment) play a critical role in shaping students’ ethical perspectives. We more specifically present our findings organized around eight types of experiences and influences, which are in turn related to three categories of learned outcomes and three types of learning mechanisms. As we discuss in more detail below, the results of this study will likely be of interest to engineering educators, policymakers, and researchers with an interest in administering and studying high-impact ethics interventions for undergraduate engineering students. More specifically, our results underscore the importance of being more aware of how students’ background perspectives and experiences may play important roles in enabling or disabling their further ethical development.
Nittala, S., & Zephirin, T., & Howland, S. M. J., & Kim, D., & Katz, A., & Jesiek, B. K. (2018, June), Investigating Influences on First-year Engineering Students’ Views of Ethics and Social Responsibility Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/30722
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