Asee peer logo

The Development and Evaluation of Expert Witness Role Play Instruction for Teaching Engineering Ethics

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Interactive Approaches to Ethics

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Alison J. Kerr University of Tulsa

visit author page

Alison Kerr is a graduate student at The University of Tulsa. She is pursuing a doctoral degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Her research interests include training development and evaluation as explored across a variety of academic disciplines and organizational settings. She is currently assisting on a number of training projects aimed at developing engineering students on relevant non-technical professional skills including ethical practice and presentation.

visit author page


Bradley J. Brummel University of Tulsa

visit author page

Dr. Brummel is an Associate Professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology at The University of Tulsa. He received his PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He conducts research on training and development with a specific focus on professional development, ethics, and coaching.

visit author page


Jeremy S. Daily P.E. University of Tulsa

visit author page

Jeremy Daily is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Tulsa in Oklahoma where he is researching Traffic Crash Reconstruction, Vehicle Digital Forensics and Commercial Vehicle Cyber Security. He teaches Automotive Design, Machine Dynamics, and Finite Element Analysis. A couple years ago, Jeremy was able to transition some of the University research on heavy vehicle digital forensics to practice by starting a technology company, Synercon Technologies, LLC.

visit author page

Download Paper |


There have been continuous calls for enhancing ethics instruction in the fields of science and engineering. However, it has proven difficult to integrate ethics into the curricula of these fields in ways that promote the actual practice of skills students will need in order to recognize and respond to ethical dilemmas in their careers. In response to this challenge, this paper presents a method of ethics instruction which uses expert witness role plays to promote a greater educational experience. Under a NSF funded research project, this method has been systematically analyzed and adjusted in order to optimize the student experience and enrich skill development. Multiple scenarios and instructional designs have been tried and a variety of assessment methods have been utilized. This paper presents the ways in which formative assessments have informed the current instructional framework. It provides an in-depth description of the current framework and its most recent evaluation. The paper concludes with recommendations for future use of this method of ethics instruction, considerations for further refinement of the approach, and insights about the use of formative assessments within ethics education.

For the past six years, the authors have incorporated an ethics component in an undergraduate mechanical engineering course. The ethics instruction requires students to act as expert witnesses in a legal action simulation where they perform engineering analyses, write a report, and defend their findings in an oral interview. The project emphasizes ethical decision making, technical competence, professionalism, and communication. For the past three years, the ethics component has been systematically modified with the intent to establish a variety of scenario options and in effort to optimize the ethics instruction approach. The scenario options now include reconstructing a car crash, a lift collapse, and an UTV roll-over. Instructional approaches explored include utilizing law students to depose teams of engineering students, conducting high pressure expert witness selection interviews by mock lawyers and field experts, and incorporating follow-up group debrief and sense-making sessions.

The most recently conducted program was developed as a result of the cumulative assessments from the prior years of formative research. The program has a three part framework in which students 1) conduct an analysis and create a technical report as though they are an expert; 2) participate in a high-pressure interview where they defend their conclusions to interviewers who are acting as lawyers with an agenda; and 3) attend a group debrief session where they discuss their experiences with their peers. Comprehensive program evaluations were conducted with 80 participating students. Students completed pre- and post-tests of knowledge and reasoning. Students also responded to a post-interview reactions survey which both informed the debrief sessions and provided data for a comparison of the current method to prior years’ approaches. Summative evaluations of this program as informed through the years of formative development are discussed.

Kerr, A. J., & Brummel, B. J., & Daily, J. S. (2017, June), The Development and Evaluation of Expert Witness Role Play Instruction for Teaching Engineering Ethics Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28954

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015