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Which Courses Influence Engineering Students' Views of Social Responsibility?

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Assessing Social Responsibility & Sustainability

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, Engineering Ethics, and Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1735.1 - 26.1735.15



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Paper Authors


Nathan E Canney PE Seattle University

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Dr. Nathan E. Canney teaches civil engineering at Seattle University. His research focuses on engineering education, specifically the development of social responsibility in engineering students. Other areas of interest include ethics, service learning, and sustainability education. Dr. Canney received bachelor's degrees in Civil Engineering and Mathematics from Seattle University, a master's in Civil Engineering from Stanford University with an emphasis on structural engineering, and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder.

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Angela R Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE). She serves as the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education in the CEAE Department, as well as the ABET assessment coordinator. Professor Bielefeldt is the faculty director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where interdisciplinary students learn about and practice sustainability. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

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Mikhail Russu

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Which Courses Influence Engineering Students’ Views of Social Responsibility?Many professional bodies are calling for engineering education to develop holistic engineers,trained in more than just technical content. Educational expectations include ethics andunderstanding social context, as well as attitudinal dispositions such as tolerance andthoughtfulness. These skills and dispositions add increased complexity and difficulty to theeducation of engineers beyond teaching only technical content. Moreover, there may besignificant disconnects between what engineering faculty think they are teaching and whatstudents are in fact learning. In looking at student learning versus faculty teaching, studentresponses to an open ended question about which, if any, courses had been influential to theirviews of social responsibility were examined. The ways in which engineers see their role insociety, their social responsibility, is seen as one way to examine larger student views which maypositively or negatively influence many of the professional and attitudinal dispositions which arenow goals of engineering education to influence.The Engineering Professional Responsibility Assessment (EPRA) tool was distributed toundergraduate engineering students across all majors and all academic years at 17 universities inthe spring of 2014 to assess student views of social responsibility. One element of this surveywas the open ended question asking which courses had influenced these views. In total, over2200 students completed the survey. Of those, 974 (44%) said that no classes had beeninfluential to their views of social responsibility. The 1233 students who answered ‘yes’, thatthey had been influenced by classes, were then asked to say which courses and in what ways theyhad been influential. These open-ended responses were coded using emergent coding strategies.Inter-rater reliability for the code book was examined. Codes focused on the type of course(required engineering course, engineering elective, humanities course, senior design, first-year),the topic of the course (e.g. sustainability, energy, religion, ethics), and teaching pedagogy (e.g.service-learning, case-studies, project-based).It is concerning that 44% of the engineering students indicated that no courses in theirundergraduate studies influenced their views of social responsibility. Of the seniors whocompleted the survey, 39% indicated that no courses had influenced these views. Of those whowere influenced, the most common courses were humanities courses (40%) followed by requiredengineering courses (37%). Doing design work (11%), projects (9%) and service learning (7%)were the most common educational approaches cited while case studies were rarely cited bystudents. Ethics (24%) and an ability to have an impact on people’s lives or on society moreglobally (20%) were the most common topics in student responses. At a few of the institutionssurveyed, where the curriculum and course objectives are more well known, it was worth notingwhich courses were not mentioned by students, even though they were thought to have beeninfluential by faculty. Some of these instances are examined in depth to highlight possibledisconnects between faculty perceptions and student learning. The benefit of this examination isto see where students are being influenced with respect to their social responsibility. If the manyof courses influencing students are outside of engineering, how then can they be used to theninfluence the ways in which students see their social responsibility as engineers?

Canney, N. E., & Bielefeldt, A. R., & Russu, M. (2015, June), Which Courses Influence Engineering Students' Views of Social Responsibility? Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25071

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