Teaching Ethics to Engineers: Ethical Decision Making Parallels the Engineering Design Process

Science and Engineering Ethics 17 (3):597-605 (2011)
Abstract
In order to fulfill ABET requirements, Northern Arizona University’s Civil and Environmental engineering programs incorporate professional ethics in several of its engineering courses. This paper discusses an ethics module in a 3rd year engineering design course that focuses on the design process and technical writing. Engineering students early in their student careers generally possess good black/white critical thinking skills on technical issues. Engineering design is the first time students are exposed to “grey” or multiple possible solution technical problems. To identify and solve these problems, the engineering design process is used. Ethical problems are also “grey” problems and present similar challenges to students. Students need a practical tool for solving these ethical problems. The step-wise engineering design process was used as a model to demonstrate a similar process for ethical situations. The ethical decision making process of Martin and Schinzinger was adapted for parallelism to the design process and presented to students as a step-wise technique for identification of the pertinent ethical issues, relevant moral theories, possible outcomes and a final decision. Students had greatest difficulty identifying the broader, global issues presented in an ethical situation, but by the end of the module, were better able to not only identify the broader issues, but also to more comprehensively assess specific issues, generate solutions and a desired response to the issue
Keywords Engineering ethics  Professional ethics  Engineering design  Teaching ethics to engineers
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