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Using Case Studies To Teach Engineering Design And Ethics

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Case Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.1369.1 - 9.1369.7



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Paper Authors

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Larry Richards

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


Using Case Studies to Teach Engineering Design and Ethics

Larry G. Richards, Michael E. Gorman University of Virginia


At the University of Virginia, we have developed (researched and written) a set of case studies for teaching engineering ethics, engineering design, and environmental issues. These cases have been used in a course on Invention and Design, and in other courses offered by our Division of Technology, Culture, and Communications (TCC). Many of these cases have been published in book form 1. Others are available through the course website for Invention and Design 2, the TCC Engineering Ethics site 3, and the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration 4. This paper will review the nature and use of case studies, discuss their value for developing higher level thinking skills, and describe some of the ethical, environmental and design issues we introduce through cases.

The Case for Cases:

Case based learning is again becoming popular in engineering education. A case can be used to present open-ended engineering problems (design, analysis, selection, planning), ethical issues, and business decision situations. Teams of students must analyze the problem presented by the case, develop a solution, present their results to the class, and be prepared to defend their analysis. Although in some fields cases are analyzed individually, team solutions are most common in engineering and business.

What are cases?

A case is a narrative account of a situation, problem, or decision usually derived from actual experience. 5 Cases often reflect real world concerns, situations, and issues managers and engineers encounter in practice; they are often open-ended, with no clear-cut solution. Which answer is ``best'' depends on the relative importance one assigns to various criteria. In business schools, cases frequently describe critical decision points in the history of a company. In engineering, cases may provide an account of a problem, technical issue, ethical dilemma, or design challenge.

Cases provide a context for the application of knowledge and techniques learned in engineering courses. In a corporation, technical work occurs in the context of the institution, and the acceptance and implementation of engineering solutions often depends on a variety of business, political, and cultural concerns.

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Richards, L. (2004, June), Using Case Studies To Teach Engineering Design And Ethics Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--14127

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