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Turning Belief Into Action: Aims Of Teaching Engineering Ethics

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



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Page Numbers

4.561.1 - 4.561.4

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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

Turning Belief Into Action: Aims of Teaching Engineering Ethics

Ingrid H. Soudek Division of Technology, Culture, and Communication, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia

The aims of teaching Engineering Ethics to undergraduate engineering students are to add a vital component to their technical education: the understanding that being professional engineers requires not only technical expertise, but also insight into their social and professional roles. This means that students have to learn about their ethical obligations to society, their employers, and themselves. This paper discusses a teaching plan used at the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science to turn undergraduate engineering students into ethical practitioners of engineering.

The faculty of The Division of Technology, Culture, and Communication in the Engineering School teaches all undergraduate engineering students in a series of four courses designed to teach students to communicate clearly, both in writing and in speaking, about a variety of topics, including their own technical expertise. We also teach students engineering ethics from a half a semester to a semester and a half. While students are introduced to ethics in their first year, it is most heavily emphasized in their senior year when they take a two semester course, TCC 401, $Western Technology and Culture,# and TCC 402, $The Engineer in Society.# This senior course sequence includes the writing and presenting of a senior thesis which communicates a technical project to a diverse audience with a focus on the impacts a particular project might have on society, the area of expertise, industry, individuals, etc. This is a good starting point to get seniors to think about the ethical consequences of their work, as well as focus on the importance of ethical behavior in private and professional life.

By the time students are seniors, they have certainly developed a work ethic and their own moral codes. So the aim of teaching engineering ethics is not to teach them morals, but for them to learn to articulate and understand their own beliefs vis a vis an engineering code of ethics, and to learn what behavior our society expects of professional engineers when confronted with ethical dilemmas. The students first have to develop their analytical skills and use them to frame moral problems.

C Develop analytical skills to recognize and frame moral problems:

When I introduce engineering ethics to my students, I like to start out with a particular case and have the students analyze and discuss it on the first day. One case that has worked well is $Carter Racing# which is really the $Challenger# disaster, but the students do not know this.

Inevitably, most of the students advise the car should race, which means that they have launched the Challenger. This is a shock to them and introduces the complexity of real life ethics cases. Immediately they learn that to make the decision whether to launch, for example, they need to

Soudek, I. H. (1999, June), Turning Belief Into Action: Aims Of Teaching Engineering Ethics Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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