Engineering Ethics Through High Impact Competitive Collaborative Scenarios

What is this research for?

Project Summary: Across disciplines, engineering solutions often have major, long-lasting impacts on society, and since the process of technical innovation occurs in increasingly complex social exchanges, engineers are frequently confronted with social and ethical dilemmas in their professional lives. Many widely publicized failures of complex engineering systems can be traced back to ethical lapses or decisions that did not adequately account for potential societal impacts. Yet, many engineering programs do not address these issues in formal ways in their curricula. Thus, in this work we propose the following three objectives: Characterize the ethical reasoning of first-year engineering students to determine how they think about technical ethical problems. Develop game-based learning interventions focused on ethical reasoning to positively influence student skills, and assess the effectiveness of game-based vs. non game-based approaches on students’ ethical reasoning in engineering. To do this, we have assembled a multi-disciplinary and multi-university team with experience in educational research, ethical reasoning, engineering education, and game design. We propose the development and deployment of three different game-based interventions of different types and with different characteristics. The team has identified best-practice instruments from the literature to assess contextual ethical reasoning, and has developed a comprehensive assessment plan to measure both the collective and individual impact of the proposed educational interventions.

Intellectual Merit: National and global engineering solutions require consideration of ethical and societal impacts. The need for engineers with skill sets capable of considering these impacts has increased recently, yet traditional engineering curricula is dominated by technical education, leaving little room for formal training in these areas. The proposed research will characterize and assess early curricula students’ ethical reasoning and teach them through the use of game-based educational interventions with strongly situated social components. In this study, PIs from the University of Connecticut (UConn) and Rowan University will collaborate to design and implement game-based ethical interventions for use in the undergraduate engineering classroom. These interventions will be paired with a mixed-method, within-groups, change-over-time evaluation and assessment strategy for determining ethical reasoning ability and the impact of the interventions on other important student learning outcomes including engagement in the activity and enjoyment. Evaluation will occur throughout the course of the proposed work with qualitative and quantitative methods in both formative and summative manners. The researchers have experience with game-based learning from the development to implementation and assessment stages and resources to carry out the research proposed herein.

Broader Impacts: An overlooked part of educating engineers is ethical reasoning and decision making. Understanding how engineering students approach problem solving through the lens of ethical decision making can potentially transform first year engineering curricula. Once assessed, the game-based interventions deployed at UConn and Rowan can be disseminated to other universities throughout the country to integrate ethics education within their courses. The results of our evaluation will be disseminated on each of the participating Universities’ websites, which will contain a special page devoted to this NSF-sponsored project. Additional dissemination will occur through presentations at conferences, such as engineering education and regional/national education conferences (AERA, NERA, ASEE), and through articles published in peer-reviewed journals.