July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
Despite the importance of ethics education, there are oft-cited challenges in engaging undergraduate engineering students. Part of this problem stems from students’ limited understanding of the relevance of ethics to their careers. When ethics is compartmentalized in particular classes, the topic can appear disconnected from engineering or marginalized relative to technical content. The present study draws on the framework of socialization to understand students’ exposure to ethics in their undergraduate experience and how it affects their internalization of its relevance. Socialization describes the process of learning the skills and values required for membership in a group. Within engineering, undergraduate education plays a key role in socializing students into the profession. This research paper is part of a larger project that quantitatively characterized the landscape of ethics education in the U.S. and qualitatively explored potential exemplars of ethics instruction. The present study draws on data from three focus groups that were conducted with a total of 26 undergraduate engineering students at three U.S. universities. The students were enrolled in engineering courses with ethics content: a required ethics and professionalism course at a private, religiously affiliated institution; a required ethics and professionalism course at a private, military affiliated institution; and a capstone design course at a public institution. The focus groups included discussion of the specific course that was being studied by the research team as a potential exemplar of ethics instruction and of students’ broader exposure to ethics inside and outside the classroom. In all three courses, the students were seniors and thus could reflect on their undergraduate experience. The focus groups were analyzed deductively using a socialization framework to understand the role of structures, peers, and faculty members in forming students’ perception of the value of ethics in engineering. Preliminary findings indicated that structural factors, such as coursework in the degree program, priorities within the discipline, and culture within the institution, exerted the greatest influence over students’ exposure to ethics and therefore their understanding of its role in engineering. Across the three focus groups, the students discussed that even by their senior year, they had learned about ethics in few places in their engineering coursework. Within these structural considerations, there was variation in the socialization process between the different disciplines and institution types. For example, the environmental engineering students in capstone design described an ingrained prioritization of ethics given their work at the intersection of society and the environment while the students at the religiously affiliated institution discussed ethics as part of the fabric of their education, but often disconnected from engineering. The findings illuminate the importance of accounting for ethics in the socialization process through curricular exposure and engineering context to support the next generation of engineers in internalizing the value of ethics to the profession.
Polmear, M., & Bielefeldt, A. R., & Swan, C., & Knight, D. (2021, July), Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Exposure to, and Valuation of, Ethics Through the Lens of Socialization Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37949
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: © 2021 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