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Many Facets of Imagination: What Really Matters in Engineering Ethics Instruction?

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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

Reimagining Engineering Ethics

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Yousef Jalali Virginia Tech

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Yousef Jalali is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. He received a B.S. and M.S. in Chemical Engineering and M.Eng. in Energy Systems Engineering. His research interests include interaction between critical thinking, imagination, and ethical reasoning, interpersonal and interinstitutional collaboration, diversity, equity, and inclusion, systems thinking, and chemical engineering learning systems. Yousef taught chemical engineering courses for a few years in his home country, Iran, and first-year engineering courses for several semesters at Virginia Tech. He has provided service and leadership in different capacities at Lehigh University and Virginia Tech.

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Scott A. Civjan University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Scott Civjan is a faculty member at UMass Amherst where he has taught a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate courses over the past 20+ years. He has 4 years of consulting experience between obtaining his BSCE from Washington University in St. Louis and his MS and PhD in Structural Engineering from the University of Texas Austin.

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Engineering educators have used different strategies to incorporate ethics instruction into engineering curricula, often in response to the ABET requirements on students’ understanding of professional and ethical responsibility. The mainstream pedagogical approaches predominantly are case studies supplemented with moral theory and professional codes of ethics. Despite a greater emphasis on engineering culture, real-world practices, macroethics and the need for collective responses, and social justice in engineering ethics literature, it is still not surprising to see a continual reliance on presupposed “correct” responses for a given case; overemphasis on heroic actions and unusual mistakes without contextual considerations; and overlooking of the importance of society and peer culture in the teaching of ethics. In this paper, we argue that addressing imaginal capacity as a core component in ethics curriculum helps educators to move beyond isolated and product-oriented pictures of engineering ethics instruction and illustrate ways to bridge complexities embedded in how we think and how we relate to one another in society. The process of realization of different, and perhaps opposing, aims in everyday decision making and moving towards realization of another person’s existence and experiences should be a canon of the quality of ethics instruction. How can we then develop a dialogue to help engineers in dealing with ethical challenges? Ethics instruction that raises awareness of an individual’s process of making ethical decisions, presents ethics as a continuum from student experiences to professional ones, and humanizes conflicting perspectives is argued to effectively address higher level ethical decision processes. Student responses to macroethics and social justice decisions beyond the classroom can only be affected if ethics instruction goes beyond raising awareness of issues and instead influences student decision processes. We build on conceptual notions of the moral insight, illustrated by idealist and pragmatist scholar Josiah Royce, and the I-Thou and I-It attitudes, described by philosopher Martin Buber; and move to the resources in liberation theory and praxis and build on the notions used by Royce and Buber in connection with broader context. Then, we present preliminary ideas for converting theoretical perspectives into classroom praxis. Examples of modifications to an ethics curriculum that is currently in use for the senior-level engineering class, Design of Steel Structures, in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the United States are presented to initiate discussion. This curriculum has implemented a series of assignments that probe ethics development throughout the semester, complementing traditional ethics instruction in a companion course.

Jalali, Y., & Civjan, S. A. (2020, June), Many Facets of Imagination: What Really Matters in Engineering Ethics Instruction? Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34951

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