Despite a consensus that engineering students need exposure to ethical decision-making, the degree to which ethics are incorporated into undergraduate curricula remains varied. At Duke University, the engineering departments use a patchwork approach to ethics education, although all students are exposed to ethics in the capstone design course. A new, required first-year design course (EGR 101) for all incoming engineering students presented an opportunity to strengthen students’ ability to recognize ethical and professional responsibilities and to make informed judgments.
EGR 101 is a project-based design course in which student teams are matched with clients in the community to solve an identified problem. Through the work of creating the solutions to these problems, the teams learn about and apply the engineering design process. The design process consists of seven steps: clarifying the team assignment, understanding the problem, defining design criteria, brainstorming solutions, evaluating solutions, prototyping, and testing. Steps in the design process are taught using a flipped classroom method, in which students watch videos detailing the process prior to class. Then, in class, students complete short in-class activities before applying that knowledge to their team’s design challenge.
To incorporate engineering ethics into EGR 101, a joint faculty and student team with expertise in engineering and ethics developed the described materials. After establishing learning outcomes, the team targeted different steps of the engineering design process to situate ethical discussions. The team utilized the very same design process to develop course modules that would achieve these learning outcomes. Ultimately, the team created four engineering ethics modules that include videos and short in-class activities. Implemented in Fall 2020, the modules correspond with and are embedded within the four steps of the engineering design process:
1. Systems Mapping. Students learn to identify the people, societal issues, and materials that are integral to the assigned team project’s problem space. Through drawing a systems map, students analyze how their project and its intended goal connect to the world around them.
2. Pairwise Comparison Chart Activity. Students assume the role of various stakeholders (those invested in the project in some way) to complete a pairwise comparison chart, thus simulating how different stakeholders make trade-offs when determining important design criteria.
3. Testing Game Show. As students test their own products, the entire class is brought together to compete in an interactive, game-show style activity about the ethics of product testing. Then, students design testing plans for their project that are both effective and consider related ethical questions.
4. Game of Life Cycle. Students engage in a Life Cycle carnival game in which teams rotate through five stations of activities. These stations have been designed to teach and to encourage thoughtful discussions about the ethical and environmental implications of the materials that students used in their design solution.
Achievement of these goals was measured using an IRB-approved pre/post study, which recognized that each student would enter the course at a different point of ethical awareness. The assessment questionnaire was based on a combination of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ)  and a novel instrument focused on the intersection of technology and ethics developed by faculty at Duke University. With data collected in Fall 2020, we analyzed student survey data and found few significant results. In summary, the suite of developed modules that are embedded into the first-year engineering design course should lead to the development of an ethical mindset at the outset of students’ engineering education.
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