Most engineering ethics codes state an engineer should perform services only in areas of his or her competence. However, ethics training for engineers is a small componenet of their education, often taught by other engineers rather than ethicists. This creates an interesting paradox, and ethical conduct often becomes regarded as a matter of personal conscience rather than something that might require consulting a qualified expert. We are interest in how ethical expertise should be distributed between personal moral conscience, ethics training, professional ethicists, institutional ethics boards, professional rules and ethics codes, professional oaths, and legal regulations

Major Goals

  • Study ethical decision-making in research teams of engineering students.
  • Investigate group dynamics of ethical decision ­making in project teams and labs.
  • Determine whether the presence of an “ethics expert” acts as an effective structuring resource to improve ethical decision-­making.
  • Improve ethics education for engineering students.
  • Improve ethical practice among professional engineers.

Pilot Study with Senior Design in Year 1:

Study Design

  • Four randomly chosen senior design project (SDP) teams were observed twice discussing ethical considerations of their project
  • Two intervention condition teams had a peer ethics adviser lead the second discussion

Issues Detected

  • SDP teams were reluctant to participate
  • Ethics advisors met with the teams late in the semester, encounters awkward and defensive
  • Uncomfortable environment for discussions

Outcomes of Year 1

  • There are complicated layers of understanding about engineering ethics among SDP teams, sometimes in tension.
  • Explicitly, teams expressed that indirect, unintended outcomes of their design is the end users’ responsibility, not the team’s.
  • Implicitly, there was a difference between teams
  • Some teams took responsibility for end uses, so there was a tension between implicit and explicit understandings.
  • Some teams shifted ethical responsibility entirely to the end users and thought only in designer’s perspective.