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What is the Length of a Toilet Paper Tube? A Hands-On, Team-Based Lesson in the Ethics of Data Collection

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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

Case and Scenario in Engineering Ethics Instruction

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Paper Authors


Katy Luchini-Colbry Michigan State University

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Katy Luchini-Colbry is the Director for Graduate Initiatives at the College of Engineering at Michigan State University, where she completed degrees in political theory and computer science. A recipient of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, she earned Ph.D. and M.S.E. in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan. She has published more than two dozen peer-reviewed works related to her interests in educational technology and enhancing undergraduate education through hands-on learning. Luchini-Colbry is also the Director of the Engineering Futures Program of Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society, which provides interactive seminars on interpersonal communications and problem solving skills for engineering students across the U.S.

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John R Luchini

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Dr. John R. Luchini (1949-2013) earned his Bachelor, Master, and PhD degrees in engineering from the University of Michigan. In 2011, John retired as Senior Research Scientist and Engineer after a 34 year career with the Cooper Tire and Rubber Company in Findlay, Ohio. He was a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; a registered Professional Engineer in the State of Ohio; and served for 44 years as a national volunteer for Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society. A life member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, John served for 35 years as chair and member of SAE committees involved in developing government standards and regulations for the tire industry. He was a member of the Industry Advisory Board for Physics at Kettering University for 17 years and served for 34 years as a charter member and journal editor for the Tire Society. John's numerous teaching experiences included developing and presenting curriculum on interpersonal communications and engineering problem solving in a variety of forums, including as a Dale Carnegie Instructor and a Facilitator for the Engineering Futures program of Tau Beta Pi.

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We describe a hands-on, team-based classroom activity designed to help engineering students understand the ethics of data collection, analysis and reporting processes. This lesson is presented to students as a “mini research competition” involving the collection of data to answer the question “what is the length of a toilet paper tube?”. The lesson is purposely structured to both provide opportunities for ethical behavior, and to offer temptations and rewards for cheating. The initial activity lasts 10 minutes, followed by a substantial discussion and debriefing, and the lesson concludes with several related case studies for discussion within student teams. Discussions about this lesson focus on several questions: What are the ethical issues involved in collecting, analyzing and reporting data? How do documentation and reporting processes impact the ethical conduct of research? How does working in a team impact data collection, and what responsibilities do individuals have in ensuring that the team’s activities and outputs meet ethics standards?

We also describe the evolution of this ethics lesson from an earlier classroom activity involving precision and accuracy in data measurement, which has been used in high school, college and continuing education settings for more than two decades. This paper describes the development of the curriculum; lessons learned from the classroom; and an analysis of student artifacts from the most recent offering as part of an engineering undergraduate research program at a major research university in the Midwestern United States. The lesson materials are provided in appendices, in order to allow other educators to adapt these materials for their own classrooms.

Luchini-Colbry, K., & Luchini, J. R. (2016, June), What is the Length of a Toilet Paper Tube? A Hands-On, Team-Based Lesson in the Ethics of Data Collection Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27194

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