The first panel, moderated by Paul B. Thompson, W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food, and Community Ethics at Michigan State University, addressed the need to make engineering ethics relevant to students both during their education and throughout their careers.
Erin Cech, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, opened the panel discussion by highlighting the importance of ethical engagement for professional engineers and identified the responsibility for ethical engagement and concern for social well-being as rooted in what she described as “engineering’s social and legal monopoly on an entire area of life.” She made the case that because formal engineering education may be the only institutionalized training where future engineers learn ethics and the responsibilities of their profession, it is crucial to ensure that engineering programs instill in students a concern for ethics and public welfare.
Cech described a sociological study she conducted1 into the question of whether undergraduate engineers become more concerned with their ethical and social responsibilities throughout their academic tenure and into their professional careers. The study assessed responses to three questions: (1) Do views of engineering students change during their education? (2) Do programs embed and emphasize engagement with ethical and public welfare? (3) Do program emphases affect student views? The research
1 Cech EA. 2014. “Culture of Disengagement in Engineering Education?” Science, Technology & Human Values 39(1):42–72.
involved a longitudinal sample of 326 undergraduate engineers from four academic institutions—the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Smith College, Olin College of Engineering, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst—from the time they entered as freshman to 18 months after graduation. Cech noted that “this is not a representative sample of all US undergraduates, but it does represent a wide spectrum of approaches to engineering education in the United States.”
Cech focused on four aspects of ethical and social welfare considerations in terms of their importance to students in understanding what makes a successful career: (1) professional and ethical responsibilities, (2) understanding the consequences of technology, (3) understanding how people use machines, and (4) a composite social consciousness scale of the importance to students of improving society, being active in their community, promoting racial understanding, and helping others in need.
The research showed that students’ concern for ethical and public welfare issues in all four categories decline significantly from the time they enter as freshmen to their senior year, controlling for gender, race/ethnicity, class background, and school. Cech cited this decline as a fundamental issue for the workshop participants to tackle. Once students enter the workforce, she went on, concern for each of the four categories “stagnates, if not declines further.” Furthermore, the engineering programs in which students were enrolled placed significantly less emphasis on engagement-related issues like ethical responsibilities than on traditionally technical issues. She explained that her study showed a statistical relationship between the extent of a program’s emphasis on ethical and social issues and students’ concern for their ethical and social responsibilities as engineers.
According to Cech, the results suggest “a culture of disengagement, a constellation of beliefs, meanings, and practices that frame ethical and public welfare concerns as tangential to ‘real’ engineering.” This culture, she said, has consequences for what it means to “think like an engineer,” in determining what counts as legitimate or important information when defining and solving engineering problems, and what successful engineering actually looks like. She identified three concepts underlying the culture of disengagement: (1) depoliticization, which “frames nontechnical concerns, like ethics, as irrelevant to real or pure engineering work”; (2) technical/social dualism, “the idea that there is a separation between technical skills and social skills and that technical skills are much more valued than social skills”; and (3) meritocratic ideology, which “frames the existing social structures that engineers are working in as fair and just and not in need of change.”
Cech urged the workshop participants to validate ethics and public welfare in the context of engineering “not just in the curriculum or in exams, but also in things like tenure decisions.” She also highlighted the impor-
tance of incorporating ethical considerations into what would otherwise be purely technical spaces, noting that “it’s often common to bracket these things off into their own courses, but that only reproduces the technical/ social dualism and depoliticization.” She pointed out that there is often a relationship between what is valued in undergraduate engineering programs and what the students value. “If we can change what’s going on in the culture of these institutions, it will change the way students understand their social and ethical responsibilities,” she said.
The affinity group on Addressing the False Division between the Technical and Nontechnical extended Cech’s analysis and cited the need to expose the fact that the opposition between these concepts is socially constructed. The group called for educators to articulate to students what engineers do by “unearthing the sociocultural aspects of engineering practice” and to make the implicit nontechnical underpinnings of engineering explicit in their teaching of engineering. Primarily, the group noted, it is critical to think about developing an “ethos” of excellence in engineering that includes ethics as part of the definition of excellence rather than “infusing ethics into engineering,” which, they said, supported the technical/ nontechnical dichotomy that reproduce the culture of disengagement that Cech described.
The affinity group on Influencing the Engineering Mindset and Culture addressed questions about changing engineering culture in institutions of higher education, especially because of institutional and cultural resistance to change and perceived risks of change. The group proposed recognizing that practitioners and educators communicate engineering culture and mindset, even in technical courses; revising language used in classroom, office, and external communications; avoiding negative stereotypes of engineers; giving specific examples of ways that engineers contribute to society; practicing and encouraging epistemic humility (willingness to acknowledge one’s ignorance or limitations of knowledge); portraying ethical engineering work as “doing more good in the world”; and recognizing that ethics are always part of good engineering practice.
Engineering for Social Justice
Jered Dean, Associate Professor and director of Capstone Design at Colorado School of Mines, gave examples from his experience in directing this program to lay out some of the challenges involved in integrating ethics and social responsibility for engineers into the curriculum in a way
that demonstrably affects student outcomes. The program asks students to use tools and checklists on health, safety, and welfare, which are tied to the code of ethics.
Dean reported that the program is moving toward new avenues to engage students in thinking about ethics and social responsibility. For example, the school is attempting to develop a course on Engineering for Social Justice, which will involve listening contextually, identifying structural conditions, acknowledging political agency, increasing opportunities and resources, reducing risk to users and community, and increasing human capabilities. He reported that student responses to an announcement of the course were very positive, but conveyed uncertainty: “in exit interviews, students basically said, ‘we love this idea, yes! We want to engineer for social justice, but we have no clue how to do that. . . .’” The new course “didn’t pan out.”
Out of this experience, Dean and his colleagues developed an “Engineering for Social Justice” checklist, with steps to map existing design best practices and accessible tools for students to integrate into the design process as part of their capstone projects. The checklist includes six categories of assessment, including Listen Contextually, Identify Structural Conditions, Acknowledge Political Agency, Increase Opportunities and Available Resources, Reduce Risk to Users/Community, and Increase Human Capabilities. Yet despite very positive initial student reactions, “the vast majority of students explicitly avoided using the checklist in its entirety.” Others used only one or two tools from the checklist in developing their projects, rather than the entire checklist. However, the one team that used the social justice checklist in its entirety modified their design in order to achieve a higher score on the checklist. The team did, however, change the name of the checklist from ‘social justice’ to ‘social license’, as the client for the project responded negatively to the original name of the checklist.
Dean presented the lessons learned from this effort: “It needs work. We’re not there yet. Last semester was our first semester trying it out. We’ll try it again this semester with some minor tweaks. . . . We found out that we need to provide more support to our students around this activity and . . . a few of our faculty . . . sent me notes with negative responses to [the idea of] engineers engaging in engineering for social justice, so we need to work on our faculty—train the trainers as well.”
Dean concluded by urging workshop participants to go beyond ethics basics—the code of ethics, legal basics, licensure—and to think about other lenses that might get students to think about ethics as part of the work of engineering, rather than a separate concept.
Service Learning and Integrating Ethical Considerations into Curricula
Carla B. Zoltowski, former codirector of Purdue University’s Engineering Projects in Community Service program (EPICS)2, described the program’s “engineering-centered, multidisciplinary, vertically integrated, and student-led” learning design courses that “meet human, community, and environmental needs,” with projects often spanning multiple semesters. EPICS was established in 1995 and has been adopted by a number of universities across the United States. The program involves more than 500 students each semester and has more than 3,000 alumni.
Zoltowski also described her work as part of a team developing a tool for assessing engineering ethics. The Engineering Ethical Reasoning Instrument (EERI) is based on a neo-Kohlbergian developmental schema and very similar in structure to the Defining Issues Test-2 (DIT2). She made it clear that the dilemmas included in the EERI are similar to what students might encounter on a student design project, even drawing some scenarios from actual EPICS projects. Students complete the tool before a lecture and then, during the lecture, identify ethical issues from the scenario, first individually and then in a class discussion.
Another aspect of EPICS that Zoltowski described is reflection through guided questions. Every week, EPICS students are asked to reflect on one aspect of their work: What did I learn? How did I learn it? Why does the learning matter? What will/could I or others do in light of this learning?
The Role of Professional Engineering Societies
Tara Hoke, representing the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and focusing on its specific efforts, addressed the role of societies in promoting ethics and concern for public welfare among engineers.
ASCE is the largest professional society for civil engineers, with approximately 150,000 members; only about 28,900 of them are under the age of 30 and about 23,700 are students. ASCE provides ethics webinars and presentations, hosts ethics publications (including a monthly column of professional ethics case studies) and videos, awards the Daniel W. Mead prize to students who submit essays on an ethics topic, and maintains an ethics hotline.
Hoke noted that ASCE also enforces its code of ethics against its members. The society’s Committee on Professional Conduct, in effect since the 1950s, is empowered to investigate concerns and then take informal actions or recommend formal actions to ASCE leadership. Formal actions may
2 For more information about EPICS, see http://www.purdue.edu/catalogs/engineering/college/epics.html.
include admonition, suspension, or expulsion. The most common infractions committed by younger members, Hoke said, concern billing practices, employment, academic misconduct, and public statements.
Hoke acknowledged some significant challenges in ASCE’s enforcement activities: low numbers of reported cases (about three calls a month related to ethics issues), cases focused largely on more senior engineers, minimal use or awareness of the society’s ethics hotline, and a lack of ethics resources specifically tailored to the needs of younger members. But looking forward, she said that ASCE is excited about the possibility of working with “other societies to produce video ethics training for younger members” and plans to encourage student members and younger members to become more involved in ethics committees.
Norman Fortenberry defined the problems involved in supporting faculty in teaching ethics to engineering students succinctly at the end of the workshop. According to him, “An overcrowded engineering curriculum makes separate, standalone engineering ethics courses difficult; Moreover individual ethics courses risk marginalization, while modules within existing courses risk dilution and necessitate negotiation with faculty peers and other institutional constituencies. There is low faculty knowledge, comfort, and facility with teaching ethics. Coteaching—linking engineers with people in philosophy and other disciplines—is time and labor intensive, and particularly in the context of public universities, can be quite expensive. Facilitating learning at scale—both larger classes and across classes—is a challenge.” This articulation of the challenges was addressed by the second panel session of the workshop.
Building Faculty Capacity
The second panel, moderated by Sharon Jones, opened with a recognition that “this session is devoted to ideas related to supporting and encouraging and helping faculty to bring enthusiasm and lessons learned here into the classroom.”
Thomas Litzinger described some of the work at Pennsylvania State University in supporting engineering faculty in teaching ethics. He identified two main issues: first, that most faculty members feel that they lack knowledge of ethics required to teach it effective and, second, that teaching and assessment methods used in ethics education are not commonly used in engineering education.
Litzinger highlighted his experiences with one method of addressing these issues: through a one week summary workshop for faculty. The workshop includes ethical theory and frameworks, application of theory to case studies, ethics resources and assessment methods, and instructional design. Faculty members design new ethics instruction and assessment tools, he said, and ultimately share their designs and assessments and receive feedback from other participants. Litzinger described these workshops as very positive, and noted that faculty outcomes varied: “we have seen faculty adopt the slides that our philosophy colleague use, talk to their students about them, have the students use moral theories and others who are not comfortable with that and choose to use the codes of ethics as a way to instruct their students.”
Larry Shuman recognized many of the barriers to building faculty capacity for teaching ethics: a lack of competent, qualified instructors; variations in pedagogy and cultural circumstance; large class sizes; faculty and administrator buy-in, especially at the department chair level; assessment and evaluation.
However, Shuman argued that engineering educators could expect institutional support for ethics education in engineering based on the direction of recent proposed changes to ABET accreditation. Specifically, Shuman identified changes from current ABET Criterion 3 to the proposed Criterion 3 (Box 1-1). Shuman said that these changes would encourage programs to support educators in instilling the ability to “recognize a potential ethical dilemma, evaluate risk, and resolve the situation.”
Shuman reviewed several ways to integrate ethics into engineering courses, such as case studies, discussion, written reflections, and combinations of these activities. Educators can also take advantage of seminars and guest speakers, modules within engineering courses, philosophy courses dealing with ethics, or courses dedicated specifically to engineering ethics. He also noted the possibility of using “model-eliciting activities,” which create “realistic problems with a client, solved by a team,” and “put[ting] an ethical dilemma into these activities.” These activities are designed to encourage students to develop models in order to solve complex and realistic problems. The ABET changes, he said, might provide significant institutional support for these alternatives.
The affinity group on Approaches for Building and Developing Faculty Capacity concurred that faculty may need motivation and/or lack confidence in teaching engineering ethics, especially if they lack expertise. The group noted the need for strategies for capacity building among faculty to build confidence and skills in initiating and facilitating conversations about complex ethical questions with no clear right or wrong answers. The group identified three approaches to support faculty in teaching ethics:
- Develop an online community of practice to get ideas and support from faculty at other institutions who teach engineering ethics.
- Engage local industry, which might lead to funding for research, faculty stipends, and prizes for ethics integration in classrooms or student projects and greater ability to relate to real-world experiences.
- Establish ethics fellows programs offering specialized training and recognition for faculty.
Jaime Lester, associate professor of higher education at George Mason University, described her experience and expertise in organizational changes in higher education institutions and proposed that interdisciplinary collaborations might be key to organizational change in academic settings. Observing that “change happens on multiple levels of a higher education institution, and often it can and does occur on the local level,” she presented a model of organizational diffusion, the notion that “individuals who have a passion or an interest who undergo some form of training—innovators or change agents—diffuse their knowledge and interest through an organization.” Lester noted that much of the focus of traditional efforts at institutional change is often misdirected at policy change, “but rarely do we talk about what happens in terms of the relational pieces.”
Elliot Douglas, NSF program director for Engineering Education, highlighted the difficulty in propagating change from initial change agents throughout an academic institution: “How do we change the culture of those who aren’t here and who wouldn’t be here? How do we get those faculty to rethink how they think about what engineering education actually is so that all of these things—ethics, communication, all of those things that get lumped into professional skills—become an actual part of engineering education?”
Lester agreed that the barriers to faculty pedagogy changes extend beyond policy and institutional barriers to include individual barriers (i.e., teaching socialization, time, competing priorities, an increase in contingent faculty) and interorganizational barriers (i.e., accreditation standards and disciplinary norms) as well.
Affinity group members considering approaches for building institutional buy-in and support noted key barriers to positive organizational change: the (de)valuation of ethics at all levels, limited infrastructure and resources, competing priorities, defensiveness, lack of and distorted reward structures, and the need for sustained efforts. They also noted a number of challenges to organizational change at all levels, such as failure to anticipate push-back from peers and administrators, overanticipation of push-back leading to self-defeat, failure to identify and enlist allies, attempts to do too much too fast, and dilution or cooptation.
They identified three strategies for encouraging institutional change, recognizing that different strategies will apply to and be more effective at different institutions. (1) Identify and leverage powerful movers at an institution (e.g., advisory committees, students, accreditation bodies, legislatures, funding agencies, peer institutions). (2) Build relationships across boundaries, through awards, recognition, tenure, and promotion. (3) Connect ethics to existing programs and priorities, grounding communication about engineering ethics in concrete, familiar topics.
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