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Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Exposure to, and Valuation of, Ethics Through the Lens of Socialization

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Conference

2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Understanding Students' Authentic and Reflective Experiences of Ethics Education

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count

13

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/37949

Download Count

14

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Paper Authors

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Madeline Polmear University of Florida Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-7774-6834

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Madeline Polmear is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida. She completed her B.S. in environmental engineering, M.S. in civil engineering, and Ph.D. in civil engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research focuses on bridging technical and nontechnical competencies to support the professional preparation and ethical responsibility of engineering students.

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Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE) and Director for the Engineering Plus program. She has served as the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education in the CEAE Department, as well as the ABET assessment coordinator. Professor Bielefeldt was also the faculty director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where students learned about and practice sustainability. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

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Chris Swan Tufts University Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0001-5670-8938

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Chris Swan is Dean of Undergraduate Education for the School of Engineering and an associate professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Tufts University. He has additional appointments in the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts. His current engineering education research interests focus on community engagement, service-based projects and examining whether an entrepreneurial mindset can be used to further engineering education innovations. He also does research on the development of sustainable materials management (SMM) strategies.

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Daniel Knight University of Colorado Boulder

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Daniel W. Knight is the Program Assessment and Research Associate at Design Center (DC) Colorado in CU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering at the College of Engineering and Applied Science. He holds a B.A. in psychology from Louisiana State University, an M.S. degree in industrial/organizational psychology and a Ph.D. degree in education, both from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Knight’s research interests are in the areas of K-12, program evaluation and teamwork practices in engineering education. His current duties include assessment, team development, outreach and education research for DC Colorado's hands-on initiatives.

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Abstract

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

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