ARE WE TEACHING ENGINEERING ETHICS IN THE RIGHT WAY? EVIDENCE FROM A STUDENT SURVEY

A. Maffei, C. Nuur, P. Johansson

KTH Royal Institute of Technology (SWEDEN)
Awareness about Ethics is one of the most important learning outcomes required by governments as condition to approve the work of high education institutions that form students in all the technical disciplines. In Sweden, for example, the study programs should conform with the Higher Education Ordinance. The following translated extract provides the indication about the required learning outcome in the domain of ethics for all the technical graduates in Sweden:
"Demonstrate ability to make judgments taking into account relevant scientific, social and ethical aspects as well as show awareness of ethical aspects of research and development work".

In line with its purpose, while indicating the skills to be acquired, the formulation of this learning outcome leaves to each institution the decision about the detailed content and context for these abilities. One outstanding consequence of this freedom of defining the objectives in teaching ethics is that there is not consensus about the best way of doing it. Literature indicates and characterizes the three most popular delivery models in the domain of engineering. While the Standalone course, often delivered by external staff (ex. Philosopher) is a very efficient way of covering ethics in a higher education program, the embedded method is resource intensive but has been found to be more rewarding for the students. A strong argument for involvement of faculty members in the teaching of ethics is to send an indirect message to the students that ethics matter.

Although, in theory, all the three methods can deliver a very effective and fulfilling learning experience depending on the actual activities design, it is possible to say that the joint-venture, and even more the embedded method are naturally providing some of the ingredients of good education. In detail, compared with a standalone course the other approaches may favour prolonged time on task, more contact with faculty and respect of different talents and approaches to learning. In addition to this, they are inherently bind to propose different perspectives, which improves the learning process

This paper aims at unravelling which teaching mode, and to which extent, are used at KTH and what is their envisaged and actual impact on the students.

This paper presents the result of two surveys: the first survey was carried on to establish which were the teaching methods used for engineering ethics at KTH. The following question, based on the examined literature, was sent to KTH study program coordinators at different schools and departments.

What is the approach you use to teach Engineering Ethics in your program?
In addition to that the program coordinators were also asked to give a synthetic evaluation of the level of Engineering Ethics awareness of their students when entering and when finishing the study program respectively as a measure of the expected/desired impact. The questions had a scale from 1, not at all aware, to 10, perfectly aware.

The second part of this survey aimed at measuring the actual awareness about engineering ethics of KTH students. In order to do so the research team selected 15 different real cases from the online database of the National Science Foundation .