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Using the Engineering and Science Issues Test (ESIT) for Ethics Instruction

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Innovative Approaches to Ethics Instruction

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Alison J. Kerr The University of Tulsa

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Alison Kerr is a graduate student at The University of Tulsa. She is pursuing a doctoral degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Her research interests include training development and evaluation as explored across a variety of academic disciplines and organizational settings. She is currently assisting on a number of training projects aimed at developing engineering students on relevant non-technical professional skills including ethical practice and presentation.

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Bradley J. Brummel The University of Tulsa

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Dr. Brummel is an Associate Professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology at The University of Tulsa. He received his PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.He conducts research on training and development and individual differences in the workplace. He also investigates the use of role play simulations for teaching ethics.

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Jeremy S. Daily P.E. The University of Tulsa

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Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering

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The purpose of this paper is to describe an innovative method of ethics instruction: using a measure of ethics perceptions and moral reasoning approaches to guide discussions on professional ethics in engineering. The paper discusses approaches to ethics education and the reasons for this new approach. Then the paper describes the measure and how the resulting data was used to facilitate enhanced learning. The paper includes theory on how using such data can make a case-study based lecture more salient to students through the use of previous decision making and empirical displays of the variation in approaches. Finally, the paper offers ideas for how to interpret and present data from a test to further contribute to ethics pedagogy.

During the 2015 spring semester, the authors used the Engineering and Science Issues Test (ESIT), a recently developed test of moral reasoning in ethics dilemmas, to facilitate a professional ethics discussion for 60 students participating in an undergraduate engineering course. The ESIT was created by researchers (Borenstein et al., 2008) to adapt a widely used assessment of moral reasoning, the Defining Issues Test (DIT-2; Rest et al., 1999), to science and engineering. The ESIT consists of six detailed situations that present ethical and moral dilemmas to which students are asked to make a general decision on how to respond. Each situation is also accompanied by 12 questions that represent different moral reasoning processes. Students rate and rank these items on how relevant they are to the general decision.

Requiring students to complete the measure prior to the ethics lecture meant that students actually had to make decisions about cases instead of just declaring general intentions of doing the right thing. The resulting data provided a quantitative portrayal of the real disagreement in responses and the inconsistency in decision approaches within the class. Additional survey items which asked students to define ethics and list the resources they would use to make decisions also helped demonstrate the obscurity of ethical dilemma approaches. The complete survey made it possible to convey the reality of how challenging ethical decisions truly are and illuminated an innovative and salient approach to ethics education.

There are a number of next steps which can be taken to further develop and understand how the ESIT information can be used in this type of informed instruction. Students could be provided their overall ESIT score to gain a unique interpretation of their general moral response process. Students could be given their complete set of answers so they can compare their own responses to the class averages. Correlations between response decisions and moral reasoning types could be used to show how “tougher” decisions are associated with different reasoning and concerns. Finally, this approach should be compared to other educational approaches to assess the impact on learning outcomes and the relative ease of use in order to help educators make informed decisions about their approach to engineering ethics pedagogy.

Kerr, A. J., & Brummel, B. J., & Daily, J. S. (2016, June), Using the Engineering and Science Issues Test (ESIT) for Ethics Instruction Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27166

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