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Title: Evaluating Engineering Students’ Moral Sensitivity in a Natural Disaster Context
Engineered systems are designed to serve societal needs, from bridges providing mobility to communication systems enabling the transfer of information. It is essential that engineers recognize the social impact of their work to ensure they provide equitable benefits across communities when implementing such systems. In times of crisis, such as after natural disasters, these ethical considerations and awareness of community needs are especially important. Ethical development must begin when engineers are still students so that they can be trained to consider ethical issues before they begin working. Ethical development can be observed using James Rest’s Four-Component Model of Morality: moral sensitivity, moral judgement, moral motivation, and moral behavior. Previous work has focused largely on the second stage, moral judgement, which describes the ability to determine which action is morally right when confronted with an ethical issue. Here, however, we focus on the first stage, moral sensitivity, emphasizing one’s ability to recognize a moral issue. Studies show that while moral sensitivity does not always lead to moral behavior; moral sensitivity can help explain variances in moral behavior. Researchers argue that pinpointing students’ gaps in moral sensitivity can help educators identify gaps in engineering ethics curriculum. Towards this goal, we interviewed undergraduate engineering students to evaluate their moral sensitivity, using a current event, the 2021 Hurricane Ida in Southern Louisiana, as background. This natural disaster provided a useful context to evaluate moral sensitivity due to the complex effects of such a crisis on engineered, natural, and social systems. The story is framed using Lind’s Indicators of Ethical Sensitivity, providing the story characteristics, stakeholders, and consequences. We asked interviewees to provide the final indicator—ethical issues. Using a qualitative content analysis, we found that interviewees connected several ethical issues with the primary consequence of socioeconomic inequities. Identified ethical issues included topics of climate change, infrastructure, disaster planning, and corporate/government accountability. Implications of this study include recommendations for future moral sensitivity research and applications to improve classroom learning.  more » « less
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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition
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Minneapolis, MN
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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