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Using a Creative Fiction Assignment to Teach Ethics in a First-year Introduction to Engineering Course

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Conference

2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015

ISBN

978-0-692-50180-1

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic

Diversity

Page Count

11

Page Numbers

26.1649.1 - 26.1649.11

DOI

10.18260/p.24985

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/24985

Download Count

197

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Paper Authors

biography

Sara A. Atwood Elizabethtown College

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Dr. Sara A. Atwood is an Assistant Professor of Engineering at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. She holds a BA and MS from Dartmouth College, and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley.

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biography

Brenda Read-Daily Elizabethtown College

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Dr. Brenda Read-Daily is an Assistant Professor of Engineering at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. She holds a BS in Civil Engineering from Bradley University, and a MS and PhD in Environmental Engineering from the University of Notre Dame.

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Abstract

Using  a  Creative  Fiction  Assignment  to  Teach  Ethics  in  a  First  Year  Introduction  to  Engineering  Course    As  identified  by  ABET,  understanding  professional  and  ethical  responsibility  (Outcome  f)  is  one  of  the  critical  components  of  undergraduate  engineering  education.  However,  effectively  teaching  and  assessing  ethical  decision-­‐making  continues  to  be  a  challenge.  Programs  implement  a  variety  of  approaches  including  dedicated  courses  inside  and  outside  of  engineering,  as  well  as  weaving  ethical  case  studies  throughout  the  curriculum.  This  paper  describes  an  approach  that  combines  the  common  practice  of  integrating  an  ethics  unit  into  a  first  year  introduction  to  engineering  course  with  the  innovation  of  a  creative  fiction  assignment  requiring  the  students  to  generate  and  reflect  upon  an  ethical  dilemma  of  personal  interest,  while  exercising  creativity  and  communication  skills.    The  creative  fiction  assignment  was  conceived  upon  realizing  that  generating  relevant  ethical  dilemmas  with  “grey  areas”  and  no  obvious  “right  answer”  required  a  deep  level  of  ethical  understanding.  At  that  point,  instructors  turned  the  tables  on  the  students  and  provided  historical  case  studies  for  reflection  during  class  sessions,  but  asked  the  students,  in  small  groups,  to  create  their  own  fictional  “case  studies”  as  a  culminating  assignment.  Students  were  encouraged  to  write  a  1500  word  creative  short  story,  but  other  genres  were  approved.  The  assignment  has  been  implemented  with  approximately  90  students  over  two  years.  The  detailed  assignment  and  grading  rubric  will  be  provided  in  the  full  paper.    Student  work  went  well  beyond  the  instructors’  expectations,  with  students  thoroughly  enjoying  the  assignment  and  producing  short  stories  in  the  genres  of  science  fiction,  post-­‐apocalypse,  and  hard-­‐boiled  detective,  as  well  as  comic  strips,  a  musical  performance  of  rewritten  song  lyrics,  a  screenplay  depicting  a  courtroom  drama,  and  short  films  written,  acted,  and  edited  by  the  students.  The  level  of  ethical  understanding  in  the  works  varied,  but  generally  rose  beyond  the  level  achieved  with  simple  reflections  on  case  studies,  which  instructors  found  difficult  to  assess  because  there  was  less  opportunity  for  variation.  The  assignment  was  also  more  enjoyable  to  grade  for  the  instructors,  and  allowed  for  additional  emphasis  on  and  assessment  of  creativity  and  communication  skills.  Examples  of  student  work  will  be  provided  in  the  full  paper.    The  assignment  was  assessed  qualitatively  using  reflections  from  the  instructors  and  student  comments  on  course  evaluations,  and  quantitatively  using  student  achievement  measured  by  the  grading  rubric  (average  of  3.5  out  of  4.0,  roughly  an  A-­‐  with  our  schema),  and  self-­‐reported  student  achievement  on  the  ABET  outcomes  covered  by  the  course  (average  of  4.3  out  of  5,  indicating  strong  achievement  of  ABET  f  –  professional  and  ethical  understanding).      For  the  future,  instructors  are  reviewing  the  engineering  ethics  literature  to  develop  a  survey  for  more  targeted  assessment  of  the  assignment  (which  will  be  presented  at  the  conference  for  feedback),  and  are  considering  ways  to  push  for  higher  levels  of  ethical  understanding  while  maintaining  the  fun  and  creativity  of  the  assignment.  The  authors  look  forward  to  disseminating  this  innovative  approach  to  teaching  ethics  to  other  instructors,  and  discussing  ways  to  improve  future  implementations  and  assessment.          

Atwood, S. A., & Read-Daily, B. (2015, June), Using a Creative Fiction Assignment to Teach Ethics in a First-year Introduction to Engineering Course Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24985

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