A phenomenological approach to teaching engineering ethics

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



© 2014 IEEE. Despite evidence that undergraduate engineering students do not affectively engage in the study of ethics, the way we teach engineering ethics remains substantially unchanged. Engineering ethics pedagogy traditionally uses case studies to examine professional engineering conduct against three standards of ethics: the rules-based NSPE Code of Ethics, a virtue-based approach, and a formulaic cost-benefit consequentialist approach that seeks the greatest good for the greatest number. For this research, I hypothesized that a phenomenological method of inquiry could improve the emotional engagement of undergraduate engineering students with the study of ethics. Phenomenology is a philosophical and research method that investigates and describes phenomena as they are consciously experienced in the real world. In a pilot ethics course using a phenomenological approach, students demonstrated significantly improved ethical reasoning scores based on the Defining Issues Test-2 (DIT-2). To test the impact of a phenomenology-based ethics pedagogy on a larger scale, we are introducing a revised four-module Ethics curriculum in the first-year Engineering Fundamentals course at Michigan Tech. Student sections are divided into those who use the revised Ethics modules (∼250 students) and a control group (∼400 students) that uses the existing traditional Ethics modules. All students will take pre and post- DIT-2 tests. Additionally, qualitative research using student essays will help determine if students express differences in their understanding of what it is to be an ethical engineer and if these differences signify stronger engagement with the study of ethics. Results are expected in spring 2014.

Publication Title

2014 IEEE International Symposium on Ethics in Science, Technology and Engineering, ETHICS 2014