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Virtue Ethics in Robotics: An ethics module to cultivate character and ethical reasoning

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Division: Approaches to Ethics Education (Part 1)

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Paper Authors


Erin Henslee Wake Forest University

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Dr. Erin Henslee is a Founding Faculty and Assistant Professor of Engineering at Wake Forest University. Prior to joining Wake Forest, she was a Researcher Development Officer at the University of Surrey where she supported Early Career Researchers publishing in the areas of inclusive researcher development. She has taught over 20 different engineering courses across a variety of institutions and departments. She has received teaching awards including WFU’s Innovative Teaching Teaching Award and KEEN’s Rising Star award. Her grants related to inclusive pedagogy include a recent Engineering Unleashed Fellowship and an NSF project on developing inclusive Making/Makerspace curriculum through faculty development and training. She is also passionate about open education resources (OER) and open pedagogy and using food/baking to explain STEM concepts.

She received her BS degrees in Engineering Science and Mechanics and Computational Mathematics from Virginia Tech, her MS degree in Biomedical Engineering from Virginia Tech - Wake Forest University, her PhD in Biomedical Engineering, and a graduate certificate in Teaching and Learning from the University of Surrey. Her current research spans cell electrophysiology, biomedical microdevices, cognitive control in e-sports, and STEM education.

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Adetoun Yeaman Wake Forest University

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Dr. Adetoun Yeaman is an engineering education postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Engineering at Wake Forest University where she supports the program in infusing character education across the four-year engineering curriculum. She received her doctorate from Virginia Tech and her research focused on understanding empathy in the experiences of undergraduate engineering students in service-learning programs. She has an M.S. degree in Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering and a B.S. degree in Biomedical Engineering, both from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has a strong interest in the ways that people interact and the role that engineering and technology play in society. To this end, she continues to promote social competencies, such as empathy, within engineering education and practice. Her research spans a variety of areas including empathy in engineering, character education, community engagement and design education. She is also passionate about helping young people find their place as valuable contributors in society and is enthusiastic about further fostering this passion in her current role, research and outreach experiences.

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Joseph Wiinikka-Lydon Wake Forest University

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A recent review of engineering ethics education found that current practices lead to shortcomings in emerging professionals across engineering disciplines. We have implemented a modular approach to engineering ethics, infusing character education throughout our curricula. While ethics education typically focuses on student decision-making during specific times of ethical dilemmas, character education focuses on the practice and acquisition of virtues that prepare students for those situations. Virtue ethics is the theoretical foundation of character education. Virtues of character are stable and enduring dispositions that enable us to think, feel, and act in morally good ways for morally good ends. Importantly, character virtues can be intentionally taught and developed by well-designed pedagogies. This serves two, simultaneous roles: (1) it allows students to reflect on- and develop their own character while (2) engaging in ethical discussions and decision-making. In this work in progress paper, we will describe the motivation for and integration of ethics into a senior-level Mobile Robotics course through weekly discussions, online discussion threads, and in-class discussions based on a weekly (student) discussion leader’s submission on an assigned topic. These topics were aimed to develop students' critical and ethical reasoning skills as well as character virtues such as creativity, intellectual humility, empathy, and practical wisdom. In this work, we will describe assignment independent rubrics for the assessment of student creativity and ethical reasoning. Students use the virtue framework in their ethical reasoning. This work in progress presents pilot data and analysis towards understanding how the module has affected student efficacy and performance in using the virtue framework as well as student perceptions of virtue in the AI profession.

Henslee, E., & Yeaman, A., & Wiinikka-Lydon, J. (2022, August), Virtue Ethics in Robotics: An ethics module to cultivate character and ethical reasoning Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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