This Complete Paper on Evidence-based Practice will summarize the results of a national study to explore the extent to which faculty teach ethics and/or societal impacts topics in courses for first year engineering and computing students. This was part of a larger study to develop a national picture of the ethics education of engineering and computing students (in which courses and co-curricular activities, which micro- and macro- ethical topics, how taught, how assessed), and the extent to which faculty feel that ethics instruction is sufficient. The extent to which engineering students are required to possess knowledge of ethical and societal impact issues is currently being explored for revision, as part of the process to revise the ABET EAC criteria 3 and 5. Literature indicates that moral and ethical development encompass knowledge, reasoning, and behavior attributes. In addition, a Four Domain Development Diagram (4DDD) was proposed by Vanasupa et al. (2009) that promotes ethics education across cognitive, affective, social, and psychomotor domains, driven by a learning motivation cycle that includes value, autonomy, and interest. The research questions explored in this paper are: (1) How do faculty teach and assess ethical issues in first-year courses for engineering and computing students? To what extent do these methods appear to touch on all of the domains of the 4DDD? (2) To what extent are faculty satisfied with their ability assess ethics education outcomes? (3) Do engineering faculty at large believe that students in their program learn about ethics and societal impact issues in first year courses?
To answer the research questions, a primarily quantitative approach was used. In spring 2016 an online survey was distributed nationally. The survey contained primarily multi-select and Likert-type questions. Over 1400 responses were received, including 1216 who indicated that they taught ethics and/or societal impact topics in one or more courses. Among those who reported teaching ethics/societal impact issues in a course, 410 (34%) indicated that these topics were included in a first year introductory course and/or first year design-focused course. These first year course instructors were: 60% men, 38% women, 2% prefer not to say; 32% full professors, 29% associate, 15% assistant, 15% instructors. These individuals worked at institutions that were predominated by doctoral-granting (68%), with 18% from Master’s institutions, 12% from bachelor’s institutions. Institutions were 68% public and 32% private.
Among individuals who incorporated ethical/societal impact issues into first year courses, the most common topics were: professional practice issues (67%), societal impacts of technology (64%), engineering codes of ethics (60%), safety (56%), engineering decisions under uncertainty (55%), ethical failures/disasters (54%), sustainability (54%), and ethics in design (50%). First year introductory courses were described in more detail by 140 individuals, representing 143 courses. The most common methods used to teach students about ethics/societal issues in these courses were: case studies (66%), in class discussions (64%), lectures (65%), and examples of professional scenarios (62%). Common assessment methods for ethics/societal impacts learning were: individual reflective essays (43%), test/quiz questions (40%), individual homework (39%), and group written assignments (33%); 10% indicated that they did not assess these outcomes in the course. First year design courses were described in more detail by 55 individuals, representing 56 courses. The methods reportedly used to teach ethics/societal impact issues in these design courses were similar to the introductory courses with the exception of design (61% vs. 32%), and project based learning (66% vs. 27%). The methods used to assess students’ knowledge of ethics/societal impact issues were similar in the design courses, but with more extensive use of individual homework (48%), individual reflective essays (46%), and group written assignments (45%), and less use of test or quiz questions (27%); 9% of the first year design courses did not assess ethics/societal impact learning outcomes. The results provide evidence of the cognitive (test/quiz questions), affective (reflections), social (discussions, debates, group assignments), and psychomotor (design) domains.
Reported satisfaction with the ability to assess ethics and societal impact learning outcomes averaged 4.5 (just overall neutral to somewhat satisfied), ranging from 1 (very dissatisfied) to 7 (very satisfied). Among 814 individuals who did not teach ethical issues in first year courses, 43% (n=350) believed that these topics were incorporated into first year courses in their program (35% in a first year introductory course, 15% in a first year design course). The full paper will present additional commentary on the findings, which provide good examples of incorporating ethics and societal impact issues into courses for first year engineering students.
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