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Using Design Norms To Teach Engineering Ethics

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Conference

2002 Annual Conference

Location

Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

Design and the Liberal Arts

Page Count

10

Page Numbers

7.1253.1 - 7.1253.10

DOI

10.18260/1-2--10385

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/10385

Download Count

1720

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Paper Authors

author page

Gayle Ermer

author page

Steven VanderLeest

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

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Session 2661

Using Design Norms to Teach Engineering Ethics

Gayle E. Ermer and Steven H. VanderLeest Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI

1 Abstract

Engineering ethics is a difficult subject to teach. Both students and faculty perceive it as a subjective area that cannot be quantified. Modern faculty are uncomfortable with the idea of teaching in areas related to values, attitudes, and behavior (areas tied to ethics) as opposed to knowledge and skills. Engineering students have the preconception that philosophical issues are too abstract and therefore irrelevant to their engineering work. Ethics is also a difficult subject to integrate with other engineering topics. The detailed, technical topics of typical engineering courses do not obviously lend themselves to broad, philosophical analysis. Faculty also feel time pressure in such courses, dissuading them from squeezing in non-technical topics such as ethics discussions.

This paper presents an innovative method of teaching ethics as part of the design process. Design norms are moral guidelines. Normative design attempts to balance design trade-offs not only among technical constraints but also among ethical constraints. Designing to such norms forces the engineer to consider the broader impact of the design on the society in which it will be embedded. Design norms include concepts such as cultural appropriateness, transparency, stewardship, integrity, justice, and caring. These criteria can be incorporated into an expanded decision matrix, allowing the engineer to quantify how well a proposed solution meets both ethical and technical constraints in an explicit trade-off. Because of this organized, quantitative approach, students are more likely to adopt an ethical standard. By making the ethical judgments less abstract, both students and instructors will be attracted to integrating design norms into their own engineering designs.

2 Introduction

Engineering ethics is a difficult subject to teach for several reasons. First, both students and faculty perceive it as a subjective area that cannot be quantified. For the same reason that engineering students tend to denigrate the liberal arts, they often shy away from ethics: the softer side of engineering is seen as uninteresting. Many engineering students prefer the concrete and specific, not the abstract and general concepts they encounter in ethics. Second, modern faculty are uncomfortable with the idea of teaching in areas related to values, attitudes, and behavior (areas tied to ethics) as opposed to knowledge and skills. Engineering faculty rarely feel equipped to teach in these areas when their own studies typically were focused on technical areas alone. In addition, topics related to values and attitudes have religious overtones that faculty might be reluctant to address. Third, engineering students have the preconception that philosophical issues

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Expositio n Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Ermer, G., & VanderLeest, S. (2002, June), Using Design Norms To Teach Engineering Ethics Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10385

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