F5-T4-1 - Engineering Ethics Education for Social Justice

1. Innovative Practice Work In Progress
Elliot P. Douglas1, 2 , J. Britt Holbrook3
1 Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences, University of Florida
2 Department of Engineering Education, University of Florida
3 Department of Humanities, New Jersey Institute of Technology

This Work in Progress paper describes incorporation of social justice into engineering ethics education.

Flint, Michigan; Volkswagen; social media bots; these seemingly disparate subjects are connected through the ways they illuminate issues in engineering ethics. What these examples have in common is that they connect engineering professionalism to broader questions of ethics in the social arena. Current teaching of engineering ethics pays inadequate attention to social justice, mirroring engineering education in general. While many authors have called for a reconsideration of the fundamental canons of engineering ethics, there has been relatively less work on teaching and developing ethics from viewpoints that highlight social justice. We have recently begun a project to address this gap, focusing on curriculum design and collecting preliminary data to demonstrate the efficacy of our approach. Our goal is to address the following objectives:

Teaching engineering ethics in terms of social justice is potentially transformative in two ways: 1) to reorient the focus from solely professionalism to include social and cultural impacts and factors shaping where and how professional duties are preformed; and 2) to integrate discussions of ethics and social justice in novel ways through the engineering context.

We are currently using the Understanding by Design (UbD) model to develop a unified approach to teaching engineering ethics as social justice. The stages of curricular design using UbD are 1) identify desired results, i.e. enduring understandings; 2) determine acceptable evidence; and 3) plan learning experiences and instruction. After the implementation of the class, data will be collected on students’ perspective taking and moral efficacy using a pre-/posttest control group design, with both traditional ethics classes and engineering classes with no ethical component as the controls. The intent of this presentation is to describe the design and content of the class to colleagues in order to strengthen and broaden the project through feedback that will be incorporated into the next iteration.

Engineers have the potential to benefit society in myriad ways – but more so if they engage in engineering practice in ways that see engineering as inherently a matter of ethics and societal impact. This project will develop an approach to engineering ethics education that encourages an engineering ethics-and-justice mindset to challenge the practice that “real” engineering ends with mechanical calculations, while ethics and values are merely “extra” – or extraneous – to engineering practice. By developing a course focused on engineering ethics and social justice, this project has the potential to transform engineering education and engineering ethics education by producing engineers focused on using engineering to benefit a broader and more equitable portion of society.

Keywords: engineering ethics, social justice, ethics education