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Let’s Get Ethical: Incorporating "The Office" and Engaging Practices into an Ethics Module for Capstone Students

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

New Media for Ethics Education

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Paper Authors


Joshua Gargac University of Mount Union

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Joshua Gargac is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Mount Union in Alliance, OH, where he advises the mechanical engineering senior capstone projects and SAE Baja team. In addition, Dr. Gargac teaches first-year engineering courses, computer-aided design, kinematics and dynamics of machinery, design of machine elements, and manufacturing science. He received his BSME from Ohio Northern University and a PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Notre Dame. Current interests include bone tissue mechanics, rehabilitation devices, engineering pedagogy, and robotic football.

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Ethics is at the core of successful engineering practice. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) requires graduating students to have “an ability to recognize ethical and professional responsibilities in engineering situations, and make informed judgements...” (Student Outcome 4). One way this outcome is addressed in the Mechanical Engineering program at SCHOOL NAME is through a short engineering ethics module in the senior capstone courses. In the past, this module was challenging because of low student engagement and a lack of perceived value in the content. The purpose of this paper is to describe changes made in the ethics module and to evaluate the effects on student engagement and performance. Specifically, the module was updated to include three main lectures.

Lecture 1: Engage To engage the students, the ethics module began with viewing the “Business Ethics” episode of NBC’s The Office. This episode provided a pessimistic view of ethics trainings in a business setting. After watching the show, the students discussed their opinions of engineering ethics and their expectations for the ethics module.

Lecture 2: Content To introduce the importance of philosophy to engineers, the lecture began with a spirited debate on the differing roles of science and philosophy in the search for truth. Afterward, ethical frameworks ranging from moral nihilism to moral absolutism were introduced. The goal of this lecture was to help the students understand how engineers are expected to view codes of ethics.

Lecture 3: Application To learn how to apply specific codes of ethics, contemporary engineering case studies, including the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, were discussed. This lecture ended with a debate about a common engineering student ethical dilemma.

Homework focusing on the knowledge and application of engineering codes of ethics was assigned between course meetings. Finally, students took a short test after the ethics module. Overall, student surveys revealed this new module improved both student engagement and the learning outcomes of the ethics portion of the course.

Gargac, J. (2020, June), Let’s Get Ethical: Incorporating "The Office" and Engaging Practices into an Ethics Module for Capstone Students Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34920

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