Instruction in ethical considerations is an important part of every engineering discipline. In many cases, a student’s exposure to ethical issues is delayed until the capstone senior design experience. For example, we have included lectures devoted to ethics in our Electrical and Computer Engineering senior design program that start with an introduction to the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) codes of ethics, and is then followed by a discussion of various ethical case studies. While this is common in many programs, surveys of our students have revealed that they do not value this instruction to the same level as the technical content that they acquire. To address this issue, our department is exploring ways of integrating ethics education throughout the curriculum as part of our NSF-sponsored RED (Revolutionizing Engineering and Computer Science Departments) project.
The core goal of our RED framework is to provide a holistic education, where we view our program as an integrated system that is a collaboration among faculty and students. Our new organizational model emphasizes knowledge integration at many levels and includes three key threads that extend throughout the curriculum, namely, foundations, creativity, and professionalism. The professional formation thread is designed to convey the importance of professional skills in the development of engineers, so that they are prepared to enter the workplace. One critical component of this thread is exposing students to ethical considerations that they may encounter in their professional careers and preparing them to deal with them.
This paper discusses the process by which we have identified how to deconstruct the components of a traditional delivery of ethics education and integrate them throughout the instruction of technical content. By crafting case studies to the technical material that the students are currently studying, we hope to have students make the explicit connection that ethical considerations are part of the engineering design process and not a component that is tacked on at the end. In addition, because the same faculty who are presenting the technical material are also involved in the discussion of the ethical issues that arise, we believe students will make the implicit correlation that these issues should be valued as much as the technical material. Finally, by reinforcing the ethical content at multiple touch points throughout the curriculum, we hope to see an increased sophistication of ethical analysis as the students move through our program.
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