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Work-in-Progress: A 'Cards Against Humanity'-style Card Game for Increasing Engineering Students' Awareness of Ethical Issues in the Profession

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Awareness, Expectations, and Recognition of Ethics

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Daniel D. Burkey University of Connecticut

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Daniel Burkey is the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and Associate Professor-in-Residence in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Connecticut. He received his B.S. in chemical engineering from Lehigh University in 1998, and his M.S.C.E.P and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000 and 2003, respectively. His primary areas of interest are chemical vapor deposition and engineering pedagogy.

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Michael F. Young University of Connecticut Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Young ( received his PhD from Vanderbilt University in Cognitive Psychology and directs UConn’s 2 Summers in Learning Technology program. He is the author of nine chapters on an ecological psychology approach to instructional design and has authored more than two dozen peer reviewed research papers. His work has appeared in many major journals including the Journal of Educational Computing Research, the Journal of the Learning Sciences, the Journal of Research on Science Teaching, Instructional Science, and Educational Technology Research and Development.
Mike's research concerns how people think and learning, and specifically how technology can enhance the way people think and learn. His NSF-funded project, GEEWIS (, focused on streaming real-time water quality pond data via the Internet and providing support for the integration of this authentic data into secondary and higher education science classrooms. His approach features the analysis of log files, "dribble files," that maintain time-stamped listing of navigation choices and lag time. This approach has been applied to hypertext reading (Spencer Foundation grant), videodisc-based problem solving (Jasper project), and online navigation (Jason project). Recent work concerns playful learning using video game, card games, and board games aligned with national teaching and learning standards.

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Across engineering disciplines, engineering design solutions frequently have major, long-lasting impacts on society. As technical innovation occurs in increasingly complex social exchanges, engineers are confronted with social and ethical dilemmas in their professional lives. Yet, many engineering curricula do not address ethical development in formal ways. In our work-in-progress, we explore game-based playful learning in an engineering education setting. Giving students the opportunity to perceive and act on the wider social and ethical impacts of the profession - through multimedia simulation, role-playing games, case-based learning, and review of other, realistic cases - can give them opportunities to reflect on and identify complex situations in future settings, as well as a safe environment in which to explore, make mistakes, and discuss the ramifications of various decisions in authentic contexts. Ultimately the goal is to better prepare young engineers to tackle ethically current and future challenges. Applying the playful interactions of card games, we have developed a beta version of a ‘Cards Against Humanity’ (CAH)-type card game focused on ethical, societal, and social questions specifically within an engineering context. The CAH model has been adapted in other educational settings. [Teaching Bad Apples, Betrus, Leifeld & Turcotte, 2016; Anthropology, Archeology, Sociology] As discussion of ethical, societal, or social scenarios could prove to be controversial, using a game-based approach may allow participants to engage in discussion of the topics and concepts in a more playful, abstract manner, allowing freer responses that reveal their own biases and assumptions, subsequently permitting a more meaningful exploration of the topics, as they are safely confined within a game environment.

The primary purpose of the card game would be to orient students to the topic of Ethics in Engineering and activate their prior knowledge about dilemmas that highlight the role of engineers in ethical decision-making. A secondary purpose would be to raise examples of bias and assumptions about problem solving in engineering that may constrain, impact, affect, or influence the thinking of individuals or teams as they work on large-scale complex projects. It is anticipated the game will provide content for a wide range of ethics discussion during debriefing after game play. Compared with direct instruction, playful learning may also nurture student creativity and engage a wider audience of diverse learners in active meaningful class discussion. Card prompts are currently being crowd-sourced via a diverse group of engineering faculty, education faculty, and engineering students. In Spring 2017, the game will be play tested with engineering students at various levels (freshmen through senior). Play testing involves similar methods to focus groups. The proposed game rules and mechanics are explained and players are asked to think aloud as they interact with the game. Players can hear what their peers suggest and comment. The developer records the suggestions and moderates such that only 1 player is speaking at a time, to ensure all suggestions are recorded. Multiple playtests are conducted and themes that emerge across sessions are given priority for revisions.

References Betrus, A., Leifeld, M. & Turcotte, N. (2016). Teaching Bad Apples. “Anthropology Games,”Anthropology Games, Web. 29 March 2016.!cards-against-anthropology/gv8v6 “Cards Against Archaeology,” Doug’s Archaeology: Investigating the Profession and Research,, 12 Dec. 2015. Web. 29 March 2016. “Cards Against Sociology,” The Society Pages, W.W. Norton & Co., Web. 29 March 2016.

Burkey, D. D., & Young, M. F. (2017, June), Work-in-Progress: A 'Cards Against Humanity'-style Card Game for Increasing Engineering Students' Awareness of Ethical Issues in the Profession Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29190

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