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Teaching Ethics To Undergraduate Engineering Students: Understanding Professional Responsibility Through Examples

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.414.1 - 1.414.3

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Paper Authors

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Ingrid H. Soudek

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

Session 1661


Ingrid H. Soudek University of Virginia

I . The context of engineering ethics in TCC 401-402

II. Why use case studies?

University of Virginia undergraduate engineering students study engineering ethics in their senior year as part of a required year-long course in the Division of Technology, Culture, and Communication. This course, TCC 401-402, helps prepare students for leadership roles in our increasingly more complex and highly technological society. The course emphasizes communication skills and develops a more comprehensive view of science and technology by learning to understand the power of myth in western technological society and defining engineering students’ social roles and ethical responsibilities to society.

An important component of this broader understanding of science and technology is the senior thesis. All undergraduate students are required to write a senior thesis, usually on a topic in their field, under the supervision of a technical advisor and an advisor from the Division of Technology, Culture, and Communication. The research for the thesis can be done individually with the advisor, or as part of a group project. Even when working on a group project, each student is required to have his or her own part of the project and an individual thesis report. An exercise related to the thesis report is an “impact study” of each student’s project. This is to make students think of possible consequences of their work beyond the obvious impact on themselves. If a particular thesis is part of a larger project, then students look at the impact the larger project has on themselves, the community and possibly society at large. This may even raise some ethical issues that a student needs to address in his or her paper.

The thesis project, in the form of a lengthy proposal, is started in TCC 401, “Western Technology and Culture.” While students are deciding the topic of their research or design projects, they are introduced to the larger context of science and technology through readings and discussions in the course. They are required to consider that broader view when choosing the kind of project and specific topic on which they will focus their work. They learn to be more reflective about their chosen profession and senior project by asking questions about the

underlying assumption in our culture that all science and technology is progress in and of itself. The course encourages the students to view engineering from different perspectives, for example, from history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, comparative literature and philosophy. The concept of “progress” is examined in the context of western culture, sometimes by comparing it to other cultures.

When defining the essence and the boundaries of progress, students inevitably are confronted with the issue of human values: What are the human values that drive our view of progress and how does this relate to engineering work? What are the values associated with a particular senior thesis project or the kind of work that the project represents?

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Soudek, I. H. (1996, June), Teaching Ethics To Undergraduate Engineering Students: Understanding Professional Responsibility Through Examples Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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