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Work in Progress: Student Perceptions of Professional Integrity Modules Incorporated in a First-year Engineering Program

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

First-year Programs: Professional Development and Skills

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Irene B. Mena University of Pittsburgh

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Irene B. Mena has a B.S. and M.S. in industrial engineering, and a Ph.D. in engineering education. Her research interests include first-year engineering and academic integrity.

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This Work in Progress paper will describe first-year engineering students’ perceptions of a series of modules on professional integrity implemented for the first time in the two required first-year engineering courses at University X, in the 2018-2019 academic year.

Previous research has shown that academic integrity violations are frequent in higher education, especially in engineering. Engineering is a profession guided by a code of ethics, yet the incidences of academic dishonesty in engineering students indicate that students are not practicing the values that, per the code of ethics, practicing engineers ought to uphold. Previous research has also shown that there are differences in how cheating is defined, both within a group of students, and when comparing faculty definitions to student definitions. These findings highlight the importance of teaching engineering students about ethics and integrity.

The [College of Engineering] at University X has for several years been proactive about promoting academic integrity within the school, including providing training to faculty on how to incorporate academic integrity in their courses. In the 2018-2019 academic year, the First-Year Engineering Program at the University implemented a series of six modules on professional integrity. As part of the First-Year Engineering Program, students take two engineering courses: one in the fall semester and one in the spring. Three modules were implemented each semester, so that students were exposed to the topic periodically throughout their first year in engineering. The modules discussed the importance of integrity in the engineering profession and in the workplace, and connected professional integrity expectations to academic integrity expectations. Rather than simply condemn integrity violations, the modules sought to promote and encourage acting with integrity. The same content and activities were implemented by multiple faculty in all the different sections of the first-year engineering courses.

After each module, students (541 in the fall semester and 527 in the spring semester) were sent a feedback survey to learn about their perceptions of each module. The students completed the anonymous survey on a voluntary basis, and response rates varied by semester, with the lowest response rate being 15% and the highest response rate being 32%. The survey consisted of Likert-scale items asking about the module and their understanding of the topics that were discussed. There was also an open-ended question asking what was particularly useful about the module and what suggestions they had for improvement.

The six surveys will be used to answer the research questions guiding this study, which are: (a) What were first-year engineering students’ perceptions of the first implementation of these six modules?, and (b) In what ways can these modules be improved in future implementations?

In this paper, means and medians for the Likert-scale items will be provided. The open-ended responses will be analyzed using open coding, to see which themes emerge from the students’ responses.

The Likert-scale item responses indicate that the students found that the modules helped them better understand the topics and that they did learn from the modules. Open-ended responses showed that while some students do push back when discussing integrity, overall they do find it interesting and desire to learn more about it. This latter finding can serve as motivation for our institution and for others to find ways to continue the discussions on integrity in the engineering profession and to incorporate these discussions throughout the engineering curriculum.

In addition to providing answers to the research questions, this paper will describe some lessons learned after this first implementation of the modules, which can be useful to other first-year engineering programs and/or engineering departments interested in promoting professional and academic integrity in their students.

Mena, I. B. (2020, June), Work in Progress: Student Perceptions of Professional Integrity Modules Incorporated in a First-year Engineering Program Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35684

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