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On Teaching Engineering Ethics: A Challenge To The Engineering Professoriate

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Technology, Communication, & Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.888.1 - 8.888.12



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Paper Authors

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Billy Koen

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

Section 3430

On Teaching Engineering Ethics: A Challenge to the Engineering Professoriate

Billy V. Koen Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Texas/Austin, USA

1. Introduction

When the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) established Evaluation Criterion 3: Outcome #f, it signaled a renewed interest in instruction in ethics at colleges of engineering in the United States.[1] Outcome #f states that “Engineering programs must demonstrate that their graduates have an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.” Carefully reading this mandate, what do its authors want professors to teach? By “understanding” do they mean that our students are to be able to list and contrast the classical ethical systems? Are they to become sensitive to ethical issues? Are they to become more ethical engineers when they graduate? As members of the teaching profession we need guidance from ABET to give us enough information so that we can create the educational objects needed to construct the learning environment so students will achieve the outcomes it desires. Teaching a student about engineering ethics is quite different from teaching a student to be an ethical engineer. Many, if not most, traditional engineering ethics courses and books on engineering ethics teach about engineering ethics by reviewing some of the traditional ethics literature from antiquity to the present day and by examining a variety of barely related case studies. Some of these textbooks take as a basis classical virtue theory [2]; others suggest that we teach engineering ethics from the point of view of utilitarianism, rights ethics, and duty ethics.[3] The problem is that the most candid authors admit that the choice of underlying assumptions about which ethical system to use determines what is to be taken as ethical behavior. For example, the authors who wrote the first book cited above remind us that “After this selection [of principles and methods], a specific range of right action appears . . . Different sets of principles and methods yield different ranges that often overlap only partially.” This is not meant as criticism, but only to insist that if you want to develop “ethical engineers” this strategy is anti- theoretical. Behaving ethically is—well—behavior. Using a modern learning theory known as behaviorism and a widely accepted view of how to judge the performance of the engineer, this paper gives theoretical prescriptions for creating ethical engineers upon graduation using

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Koen, B. (2003, June), On Teaching Engineering Ethics: A Challenge To The Engineering Professoriate Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--12356

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