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Using Detailed, Multimedia Cases To Teach Engineering Ethics

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.469.1 - 2.469.10



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Paper Authors

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Michael E. Gorman

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Matthew M. Mehalik

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Julie M. Stocker

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

Session 2461

Using Detailed, Multimedia Cases To Teach Engineering Ethics Michael E. Gorman, Julie M. Stocker, Matthew M. Mehalik School of Engineering and Applied Science The University of Virginia

ABET has decided to switch to outcome-based assessment of engineering programs rather than lists of required courses (See the last page of this paper for resources on outcome-based assessment). Thus, programs will be evaluated according to their contribution to the skills ABET has decided must be demonstrated. While a progressive move in some ways, it raises serious questions for the teaching of ethics. What kind of outcome-based measure can be used to assess whether we are producing ethical engineers from our undergraduate programs, programs which must demonstrate an “. . . emphasis on effective communication and professional and ethical responsibility, awareness of the global societal context of engineering, and knowledge of contemporary issues . . .” (Luegenbiehl, 1996)?

Adapting Mortimer Adler’s Paiadeaia Proposal (Adler, 1982) to ethics, we would argue that we seek outcomes in three areas:

1) Knowledge: Every student ought to know something about ethical theory. For example, Harris, Pritchard & Rabins teach students to distinguish between a utilitarian approach and one based on respect for persons (RP) (Harris, Pritchard, & Rabins, 1995). The assessment of knowledge is straightforward. A standard test or quiz will tell us whether students can list facts about each of several ethical theories and whether they know the codes of their professions.

2) Skills: Students will also need to know how to apply ethical theory and professional codes to practical problems--they will have to be able to engage in moral reasoning. Clever essay problems on tests might be able to assess aspects of this reasoning, but the best method is to use cases--an approach adopted in textbooks like Harris et al's and Martin & Schinzinger (Martin & Schinzinger, 1989).

3) Wisdom: In the end, we hope we can turn students into virtuous practitioners. Gioia, in his discussion of the Ford Pinto case, makes the distinction between ethical decisions, which accord with accepted professional standards and codes of ethics and moral decisions, which stem from a higher conviction about what is 'right' (Gioia, 1992). Note that this higher conviction can only emerge after students have mastered ethical decision-making. The key final step here is to grasp the spirit of the codes and be able to apply them to new situations for which they were not specifically designed. Moral imagination is a crucial part of this process.

Moral imagination is more than just a skill--it requires students to be able to switch frames, to really understand how a problem might appear from another point of view. In his provocative novel Ishmael , Daniel Quinn (1992) tries to create such a frame shift, arguing that the Taker


Gorman, M. E., & Mehalik, M. M., & Stocker, J. M. (1997, June), Using Detailed, Multimedia Cases To Teach Engineering Ethics Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 10.18260/1-2--6872

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