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Lowering The Barriers To Achieve Ethics Across The Engineering Curriculum

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Beyond Individual Ethics: Engineering in Context

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.858.1 - 13.858.10



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Paper Authors

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Kristyn Masters University of Wisconsin - Madison

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Sarah Pfatteicher University of Wisconsin - Madison

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

Lowering the Barriers to Achieve Ethics across the Engineering Curriculum Abstract Despite the importance of ethics training to accreditation agencies, future employers, instructors, and students themselves, many students graduate from engineering with only a cursory understanding of ethical issues and little experience in making ethical decisions related to their discipline/profession. Furthermore, many instructional obstacles exist to incorporating ethics into the engineering curriculum, including instructor hesitancy to teach about issues in which they may have little training, difficulty identifying which ethics teaching practices are effective, and already-packed syllabi that allow little room for introduction of new topics. Thus, in this paper, we describe a module in ethical problem-solving and an accompanying assessment mechanism developed by the authors. This ethical problem-solving module addresses the aforementioned obstacles and may be readily adapted to other courses and engineering disciplines to achieve ethics education across the engineering curriculum. Implementation of this ethics module in biomedical engineering courses led to measurable and significant improvements in students’ ethical problem-solving skills. In addition to providing an effective and measurable way to improve student understanding of ethical problem-solving, this module can be implemented by instructors who do not have formal training in ethics and smoothly integrated into a course’s tight schedule. Lastly, we discuss our communication of this ethics module to engineering instructors and their responses with respect to likelihood of adopting this module into their own courses.

A. Background A Glance at the Numbers Before we begin to talk about the details of our research, it is important to understand the context in which we are working. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a Research I institution, with an overall student population of 40,000, and a sizable College of Engineering consisting of approximately 4,500 students. A recent national study listed the UW-Madison as having the 2nd highest research expenditures of any US college or university, at roughly $830 million over the past year.1 That amounts to an average of over $400,000 per faculty member in an era when funding rates tend to be decreasing. The pressures to continue that achievement – and to produce the high quality research on which such funding depends – are enormous. Thus, while education is certainly an important component of the university (particularly given its status as a land- grant, public university), it is hardly the only one, and there are many faculty for whom research takes priority over education. This is particularly the case for certain educational topics, such as ethics, that are considered to fall outside of their immediate subject area or expertise.

The Engineering Curriculum In a positive step toward achieving an emphasis on ethics in the engineering curriculum, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) now requires that all engineering bachelor’s degree graduates possess “an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.”2 Furthermore, several other ABET criteria emphasize the need for students to understand the technical aspects of engineering in a broader context that includes safety, sustainability, and other issues closely related to engineering ethics.

Masters, K., & Pfatteicher, S. (2008, June), Lowering The Barriers To Achieve Ethics Across The Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4239

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