2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Investigating the Contextual and Shifting Nature of Ethics within Engineering Design Teams across Time

Presented at Engaging Ethics in Teams and Communities

Engineering design is a social practice in which ethical issues arise throughout the entire design process and in the everyday decision-making and communication of the design team. Emerging team member relationships and experiences play a significant role in shaping how individuals conceptualize ethics and everyday ethical issues that arise. In this paper, we build upon findings in Authors (2016) and extend the examination of student ethical reasoning into a longitudinal format. As part of a larger project, the current study examines how descriptions of ethics emerge and develop within design teams; how descriptions of human-centered design (HCD) change over time; and how ethical reasoning and understandings of human-centered design co-occur and evolve over time.

To describe the emergent nature of ethics and human-centered design over time, we implemented a longitudinal, qualitative case study focusing on two individual team members of a student design team at a large public Midwestern university. These qualitative accounts not only provided a more nuanced view of conceptualizations over time but also identified contextual and situational influences that may have played a role in these changes. Our semi-structured interviews focused on definitions and descriptions of ethics, as well as how participants made sense of the design processes their team followed, including asking them to describe the choices the team made along a timeline. The in-depth interrogation of these qualitative data provides insights can then produce new knowledge and understandings about how ethical reasoning operates in situ.

In this paper, we unpack the ethical reasoning mechanisms student designers maintain as they interpret and experience human-centered design. We use Perry (1968, 1999) ethical development schema to understand the ways students’ ethical development evolves, with Zoltowski, Oakes, and Cardella’s (2012) phenomenographic study of students’ understandings of human-centered design. Together, these models provide a framework for understanding how students’ ethical orientations shape, and are shaped by, how they understand human-centered design over time.

  1. David Torres Purdue University [biography]
  2. Dr. Carla B. Zoltowski Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) [biography]
  3. Dr. Megan Kenny Feister California State University, Channel Islands [biography]
  4. Prof. Patrice Marie Buzzanell Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) [biography]
  5. Danielle Corple Purdue University
  6. Katharine E. Miller Purdue University

The full paper will be available to logged in and registered conference attendees once the conference starts on June 24, 2017, and to all visitors after the conference ends on June 28, 2018

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