Ethics education in undergraduate engineering programs tends to focus on ethical issues that arise in the professional context. By contrast, ethics education for graduate students in engineering often addresses different kinds of ethical challenges, ones that relate to norms and expectations in the research community as well as the broad social impact of engineering research. In recent years, leading organizations such as NSF, NIH and the National Academy of Engineering have made significant efforts to promote ethics training for graduate researchers. In spite of these concerted efforts, few sustainable models for incorporating ethics in graduate engineering programs have been described in the literature. As designers of ethics education programs, we argue that considerable progress can be achieved through engaging and empowering our users—the engineering faculty members who teach graduate courses and advise graduate students in research groups.
This paper presents a user-oriented approach to building a community of ethics educators in graduate engineering education. We begin the paper by reporting our “user study” of engineering faculty’s current approaches, challenges, and needs for teaching ethics to graduate students at a large, public research university. Findings of the user study guided our design of a workshop on “Ethical Literacy and Ethical Data Management,” which helped engineering faculty members develop conceptual understanding and instructional skills for teaching ethical inquiries that are related to particular areas of engineering research.
Design of the workshop sought to meet three objectives: 1) help participating faculty members develop basic understanding of ethical theories and concepts; 2) introduce ethical issues related with engineering research, especially with the handling of research data; 3) share and demonstrate instructional methods for leading discussion based ethical analysis.
Feedback from the workshop participants and their subsequent presentations of ethics teach plans indicate that our user-oriented approach successfully engaged a cohort of ethics educators in graduate engineering programs. We conclude this paper by reflecting on the lessons we learned from the workshop design and reporting our plans for refining the workshop in the future.
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