Elliot Douglas opened the final panel session, devoted to responses, opportunities, and possible action, by describing many of the funding opportunities for research into engineering ethics education available from NSF. He described the Professional Formation of Engineers (PFE), the overarching framework for many NSF programs that address “the formal and informal processes and value systems by which people become engineers.” These include introductions to the profession at any age, the development of technical skills, professional skills, ways of thinking, knowing, and doing, and identity as an engineer, and acculturation to the profession and its norms. “I think ethics really comes into many of these areas,” he said.
Douglas presented three PFE programs: Research in the Formation of Engineers, Research Initiation in Engineering Formation, and Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Education and Human Resources. In addition to the PFE topics of interest, the first program comprises at least five other areas of interest: advancing holistic engineering formation; diversifying pathways to and through engineering; exploring citizen engineering, credentialing, and expertise; developing engineering-specific theories of how engineers are formed; and understanding how change in engineering formation processes travels, translates, diffuses, and/or scales. The program is largely focused on “small, exploratory, and speculative projects” that are primarily research projects; projects on designing modules or evaluating curricula likely do not fit, he said.
Research Initiation in Engineering Formation is similar to Research in the Formation of Engineers, except that it is designed to support researchers
who are new to engineering education research. Under this program, a co-PI with experience in engineering education serves as a mentor.
Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Education and Human Resources has two tracks, Engaged Student Learning, which focuses on design, development, and implementation of and research on STEM learning materials, approaches, and tools; and Institutional and Community Transformation, which focuses on approaches to increase the propagation of highly effective methods of STEM teaching and learning.
Wenda Bauchspies, NSF program director for Science, Technology, and Society/Cultivating Cultures for Ethical STEM (CCE STEM), discussed this collaborative program that spans seven NSF directorates and primarily funds research projects to identify factors that are efficacious in the formation of ethical STEM researchers. The program solicits proposals for research that explores what constitutes ethical STEM research and practices, whether certain labs/communities/workplaces have a “culture of integrity,” and what practices contribute to the establishment and maintenance of ethical cultures. This research is intended, Bauchspies said, to feed universities programs of responsible conduct of research training.
Bauchspies noted several ideas for CCE STEM research projects from the discussion at the workshop:
- What are the values embedded in design practices, processes, and decision making and what is their impact on ethical choices, decisions, dilemmas, and challenges?
- What are the everyday ethics of a community/lab/workplace? What supports, challenges, reinforces, or erodes them?
- What are the ethics needs of younger engineers, professionals, practitioners, and scientists?
- What is the role of managers of STEM in the culture of ethics or the ethical values of a community/lab/workplace?
Norman Fortenberry summarized many of the theoretical and practical conclusions of the workshop and identified many lingering questions. He reiterated the importance of viewing ethics not as something separate from engineering to be integrated but as a necessary and always included part of engineering excellence and professional practice. He also noted that other skills involved in engineering that are often labeled “professional” and less important than “hard” knowledges and skills are also critical to producing successful engineers.
“I think we’re spending too much time tinkering around the edges, when what we need is a movement toward much more radical change,” Fortenberry said. “We need to move engineering departments to a team concept, no longer requiring each individual faculty member to be expert
at an ever-expanding number of expectations. . . . We need to more broadly hire engineering faculty for their specialized knowledge of ethics and communication and other professional skills.”
Addressing requests and suggestions of several affinity groups, Frazier Benya described an existing resource run by the National Academy of Engineering that could directly and immediately support the work of the invited teams: the Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science (OEC, www.onlineethics.org), which shares resources on ethics in engineering and science. The OEC posts descriptions of approaches for incorporating ethics into engineering so that they can be shared in the ethics education community. In addition, Benya noted, the OEC hosts subject aids that provide bibliographies and short introductions to major topics in science and engineering ethics. These resources, she explained, were created to help instructors with less experience teaching ethics become more familiar with ethics topics.
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