This publication presents 25 activities and programs that are exemplary in their approach to infusing ethics into the development of engineering students. It is intended to serve as a resource for institutions of higher education seeking to enhance their efforts in this area. The National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) Center for Engineering Ethics and Society Advisory Group and Infusing Ethics Selection Committee acknowledge the leadership of the National Science Foundation in funding both this project1 and a follow-up workshop2, and for funding much of the research that led to the ethics education activities described in many of these programs.
A call for submissions, sent to deans, chairs, and faculty in engineering, engineering technology, the social sciences, and the humanities, yielded 44 submissions.3 Submissions had to meet two criteria: the activity should connect ethics to technical engineering content and should include assessment, quantitative or qualitative, of whether its education goals have been or are being met. Within these broad parameters, submissions ranged from short activities inserted in engineering courses to multiyear programs required of all students. The list of all submissions (appendix A) shows the variety of ideas and approaches for engineering ethics education.
In assessing the submissions the members of the selection committee looked for the following characteristics:
- Provides an interactive format that encourages active learning
- Occurs across multiple years of a student’s education
- Includes an institutional faculty reward structure that supports ethics training
- Connects students’ ethics learning to engineering practice
- Promotes improved ethical decision-making and problem-solving skills
- Addresses macroethics (the broader ethical and social issues that call for the collective response of the engineering profession and societal decisions about technology), microethics (ethical issues involving the interactions and individual actions of engineers in research and practice), or both4
- Incorporates innovative or creative educational methods
- Has a demonstrated widespread or lasting impact on students
- Can be scaled up or easily replicated at other institutions
The 25 selected programs were picked because they clearly exhibit at least one and typically several of these features. The committee also considered the variety of educational approaches and topics covered. The exemplars presented in the following pages encompass a range of program types—undergraduate and graduate courses, multiyear programs, extracurricular experiences—and institutions to illustrate the diversity of effective approaches to infusing ethics into engineering education.
The committee recognizes that incorporating ethics education activities into the very full engineering curriculum can be more challenging than knowing what activity or program to institute, and so submitters were asked to comment on their experiences and to offer suggestions for overcoming these challenges. The comments and suggestions are summarized below.
This publication is intended as a resource for engineering and engineering technology faculty and administrators interested in approaches for creating, strengthening, or expanding their programs for infusing ethics into the development of engineers. Further information that will enable faculty and administrators to replicate and adapt the programs will be made available in spring 2016 on the Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science (onlineethics.org).
The descriptions begin on page 3, organized in the following broad categories: graduate course, undergraduate course, multiyear program (in which students participate at multiple times during their college education), and other (workshop, extracurricular program, and faculty development program).
The write-up for each program/activity names the faculty and institution(s) involved, describes exemplary features of the program/activity, and provides assessment information and additional resources. Appendix A provides a full list of submitted programs and activities that are working to infuse ethics into the development of engineers, and a map in appendix B shows
1 This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1449199. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
2 This project is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1550637. More information is available at http://nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1550637&HistoricalAwards=false
3 Two submissions did not qualify for evaluation.
4 Herkert J. 2001. Future directions in engineering ethics research. Science and Engineering Ethics 7(3):403–414.
the geographic distribution of the selected programs, revealing that there are faculty and institutions that can serve as local collaborators for most regions of the United States.
The 46 individuals who submitted ethics programs for consideration were asked to provide their comments and ideas to help others who would like to improve or create ethics training at their own institutions. Nine comments were submitted anonymously, eight from faculty members and one from an administrator.
Of the nine respondents, seven said they have faced challenges in implementing ethics activities. While this small sample does not represent a full picture of the range of challenges experienced by faculty throughout the United States, the respondents expressed sentiments that will be familiar to many educators.5 Most noted
- a lack of interest among students (student challenges),
- resistance from faculty (faculty challenges), or
- a lack of consensus on important topics and methods for incorporating ethics in an already overstuffed curriculum (topical and pedagogical challenges).
The respondents suggested ways to overcome these challenges and offered useful advice for other faculty and administrators.
To address student challenges, respondents suggested that faculty use real-life and relatable examples in their classes, make sure ethics activities are interactive, and enlist working engineers as well as other engineering faculty to participate whenever possible. One faculty member noted that students were more eager to give attention to issues that their peers identified as important, and reported success with having a student develop new cases and an interactive lesson for classmates.
Faculty challenges involved resistance to colleagues’ efforts to infuse ethics in the curriculum and concerns about being unprepared to teach ethics. One respondent urged administrators to ensure that educators receive adequate training and ongoing support, beginning with those most interested, and to cultivate buy-in from diverse constituencies, including students and faculty from other departments. It was suggested that initial activities be “low intensity” until a critical mass of interest could be developed, and that it would be helpful for important or recognized individuals, such as the school president, attend these early events. Faculty members were encouraged to seek partners with differing expertise for consultation, coteaching, or course design. And individuals seeking to influence the culture of their department and thereby address the challenge of resistant faculty colleagues were advised to draw on resources that others have already created and to seek out mentoring and support from experts at other institutions.
While engaging other faculty and a larger group of constituencies may help to provide support and expertise to educators who feel underprepared, it may not entirely address topical and pedagogical challenges. For these, suggestions focused on consensus building through conversations, workshops, and regular meetings. One respondent reported that a semiregular faculty ethics happy hour was very helpful in allowing faculty to connect and work out methods for bringing ethics topics into the classroom.
An NAE workshop in the second half of 2016 will invite engineering and ethics educators to address obstacles, identify solutions, and develop institutional plans for effectively incorporating ethics in engineering education, culture, and curriculum. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the workshop will provide information, guidance, and opportunities for facilitated discussion. Details on applying to attend the workshop will be available in late spring 2016 at the Center for Engineering Ethics and Society web page (www.nae.edu/Activities/Projects/CEES.aspx). Video and a published summary of the workshop will be made publicly available.
5 Walczak, K., Finelli, C., Holsapple, M., Sutkus, J., Harding, T., & Carpenter, D. (2010). Institutional Obstacles to Integrating Ethics into the Curriculum and Strategies for Overcoming Them. In ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings; Sunderland, M. E. (2013). Using Student Engagement to Relocate Ethics to the Core of the Engineering Curriculum. Science and Engineering Ethics, 1–18; Newberry, B. (2004). The dilemma of ethics in engineering education. Science and Engineering Ethics, 10(2), 343–351.