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Teaching Engineering Ethics, Values, Or Virtue?

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

ASEE Multimedia Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1075.1 - 7.1075.4



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Otto Helweg

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

Main Menu Session 2793

Teaching Engineering Ethics, Values or Virtue?

Otto J. Helweg College of Engineering and Architecture, North Dakota State University


One of the major concerns of almost every profession is the ethical practice of its members. One of the ways academia has addressed this concern is by teaching values. Especially in K-12 curriculum, "values clarification" has been widely practiced. However, values may be content-less ideas that do not promote virtue, character, or ethical behavior. Perhaps the most common practice in engineering curricula is to either have a course in engineering ethics or weave ethics into several courses. These courses, and all the texts are "code centered" with little or no emphasis on motivational strategies to promote ethical behavior. Preliminary data show that knowledge is not the primary cause of code violations because many, if not most violations are willful. This paper suggests the radical idea of bringing religion into classes on ethics in order to increase cognitive dissonance which, in turn, will encourage ethical behavior.


ABET curriculum requirements include ethics. 1 There have been a number of texts specifically written for a course on engineering ethics in recent years. 2,3,4,5,6 Papers on ethical issues regularly appear in professional journals and the National Society of Professional Engineers has a column on ethics in its monthly publication. Almost without exception, these books, articles and columns deal with knowing the codes and applying various case studies to practice making the correct decision.

Two samples of engineering violations indicated that most violations are willful and not due to ignorance of the codes. Figure 1 shows the percentage of violations that were willful for the country that were brought before the ASCE ethics board 7 and Figure 2 shows the violations for the state of Tennessee for all engineering professions that were brought before the Board of Registration.8 This does not, of course, mean that engineering classes should ignore the codes and the standard practices of teaching engineering ethics, but it does indicate that if the objective of a course is to encourage engineers to be ethical, there should be some inclusion of why ethical practices are important. In other words, there should be some motivational aspect in the curriculum.

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Helweg, O. (2002, June), Teaching Engineering Ethics, Values, Or Virtue? Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--11125

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