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The Ethics Blog: Students Making Connections Among Ethics, Thermodynamics, And Life

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Moral Development, Engineering Pedagogy and Ethics Instruction

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1287.1 - 11.1287.12



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Paper Authors


Donna Riley Smith College

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Donna Riley is Assistant Professor in the Picker Engineering Program at Smith College. Her work focuses on implementing liberative pedagogies in engineering education.

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Ida Ngambeki Smith College

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Ida Ngambeki is a student at Smith College.

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Lionel Claris Smith College

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Lionel Claris holds a master's degree in education from Smith College and currently teaches Spanish and French to elementary school students in Springfield, MA. He is a passionate advocate for new ways of thinking about learning, involved locally in the Holistic School Project of Amherst and the Re-radicalization of Hampshire College.

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

The Ethics Blog: Students making connections among ethics, thermodynamics, and life Abstract The question of whether engineering ethics should be taught in a stand-alone course or be integrated throughout the curriculum has been a subject of debate in engineering education, with each approach having its own advantages and drawbacks. Integrating ethics across the curriculum ensures that students engage ethics and personal moral development throughout their undergraduate career, models the notion that all engineering students and professionals ought to be concerned with ethics, and highlights its importance and relevance in core classes. Shortcomings include: a sense of disjointedness when ethics is added rather than fully integrated into a course; the perceived challenge of connecting certain ethics topics with certain engineering subjects; and a lack of deep reflection or critical thinking on the part of students when not sufficiently supported.

In seeking to address the drawbacks of the ethics across the curriculum approach at our institution, we implemented an ethics weblog (blog) in the core engineering thermodynamics course. Previously, ethics had been taught in this course through the use of case analyses that dealt nominally with thermodynamics topics. In order to encourage deeper reflection and a better integration of ethics with both course material and everyday life, the blog was introduced with weekly read-response items. The blog was used not only for ethics but also for student reflection on technical material – in both parts of the blog students were asked to relate technical content, ethics, and their everyday life. The blog was designed to allow instructors to assess and encourage student learning and the development of critical thinking and reflective skills.

This paper analyzes the textual content of the blog and compares the results to previous approaches to learning ethics using case analyses. While the blog does away with some analytical formalisms and the systematic approach to ethical problem solving found in case studies as implemented previously in this class, it allows students to find meaning by relating the ethics topic to their everyday life and to the technical course content. This internalization of ethics and the ability to make connections between the personal and professional is an important creative skill that will support ethical decision-making and lifelong learning.

Good feedback is essential in helping students develop critical and reflective skills for the ethics blog. A rubric was used to aid students in understanding what was meant by terms such as critical thinking and quality of reflection, and to reinforce analytical approaches that were taught in a prerequisite course on mass and energy balances. The quality of the feedback is crucial, especially in helping students balance the analytical and reflective aspects. We assert that the blog holds potential for stimulating moral imagination and encouraging students to pursue new ideas that emerge from the integration of personal experience, technical content, and concepts in ethics.

Riley, D., & Ngambeki, I., & Claris, L. (2006, June), The Ethics Blog: Students Making Connections Among Ethics, Thermodynamics, And Life Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--152

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