This paper compares the historical trajectories, objectives, and practices of engineering ethics education in China and the United States. A comparative study like this contributes in several ways to the education of ethical and culturally sensitive engineers in both countries. First, as engineers increasingly work together in international teams and deploy projects outside their home countries, knowledge about the ethical principles emphasized in other cultures will help educators prepare students to understand and to practice engineering in ways that respect local values and ethical standards. Second, as engineering programs—especially those in the U.S.—attract a great number of students from abroad, understanding the international students’ ethics training in their home countries will help engineering educators anticipate and accommodate their learning needs. Third, a comparison of the theories, practices, and challenges of ethics teaching in two of the world’s leading countries in engineering education will serve as a starting point for a transnational conversation about the opportunities, strategies, and best practices for educating ethically committed global engineers.
We start our analysis by reviewing the historical evolution of engineering ethics education in China and the U.S. Following that, we examine major theoretical debates that illustrate the core questions, concepts, and approaches that attract Chinese and American engineering ethicists’ attention. Next we compare some exemplar curricular and instructional strategies adopted by educators in each country to facilitate engineering students’ ethics learning.
Findings of this comparative study suggest that engineering ethics education in China and the U.S. reflect distinct characters that result from different political, intellectual, and professional influences on engineering education. In particular, engineering ethics education in China has demonstrated a stronger emphasis on theoretical knowledge, whereas ethics teaching in the U.S. tends to focus on cultivating ethical decisions in professional engineering. We suggest that the differing emphases result partly from Chinese scholars’ attempt to establish engineering ethics as an academic discipline, and, compared with the case in the U.S., a relatively weak professional identity for engineering in China.
We conclude this paper by summarizing several lessons engineering ethics educators in both countries might learn from each other. We also suggest a few questions for future research that will help elucidate the respective intellectual and professional impacts on engineers’ ethics education in China and the U.S.
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