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  1. Engineers are responsible to many stakeholders, including the public and their employer. One such responsibility is considering and accounting for the potential impacts and risks associated with a technology that they create. A relatively new, and potentially risky, technology that has been on the rise over the past two decades is social media. The advent of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and its integration into our daily lives raises questions about the duty engineers bear for its responsible usage and design versus the responsibilities users have as they use the technology. This paper analyzes qualitative interview data from a study on engineering students’ perceptions of engineering ethics and social responsibility to answer the following research question: In what ways do students change (or not change) how they talk about engineers’ social and professional responsibilities to the technologies they create when framed in the context of social media? Our findings show that mentioning social media as a specific application of engineering ethics rendered visible the relationship between engineers, users, and technology that students then utilized to address the broader question about engineers’ responsibility to the technologies they create. In this study, a total of 33 students from three U.S.more »universities were interviewed longitudinally, once in the first year of their degree and again in the fourth year. In the interviews, the students were asked about their views on the social and professional duties engineers have for the technologies they create, framed in the context of social media. Analysis of student responses involved open and axial coding of relevant interview portions performed by two researchers to identify common themes and longitudinal changes between student interviews. These themes included: communication between the engineer and user, collective responsibility, benefits to society, high quality engineering, and misinformation. While students typically maintained elements of their views across both interviews, it was also common to see students change their responses to include new themes or exclude themes present in their initial interview. The students tended to believe that engineers have a responsibility to think through potential uses (or misuses) of their technology, but also believe that the users share some responsibility to use the technology appropriately. When social media was mentioned specifically, some students believed that the users were entirely responsible for how the technology is used, occasionally contradicting their views of engineering ethics when probed without the context of social media. This paper highlights the central tension between user responsibility and engineer responsibility. By illuminating students’ views, it will support educators in opening a dialogue with their students about who is ultimately responsible for the design and use of new technologies.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 25, 2024
  2. Ethics and social responsibility are often viewed as key areas of concern for many engineering educators and professional engineers. Thus, it is important to consider how students and professionals understand and navigate ethical issues, explore how such perceptions and abilities change over time, and investigate if certain types of interventions and experiences (e.g., coursework, training, service activities, etc.) impact individual participants. The breadth of engineering as a profession also raises questions about how ethics and social responsibility are understood across a wide range of disciplines, subfields, and industry sectors. Recognizing a need for more empirical research to address such questions, our research team carried out a five year, longitudinal, mixed-methods study to explore students’ perceptions of ethics and social responsibility. This study relied on repeated use of quantitative measures related to ethics, along with qualitative interviews to explore how students’ perceptions of these issues change across time, between institutions, and in response to participation in certain experiences. Additionally, we are now initiating a follow-on study where we will collect survey and interview data from our previous participants now that most of them are in full-time job roles and/or pursuing graduate degrees, as well as from a new group of earlymore »career engineers to enlarge our sample. In this paper, we first give an overview of key research findings from our ongoing research that have been published or are under review. The second major part of this paper delves into some specific theoretical and methodological questions and challenges associated with our research. This paper will likely be of interest to educators and researchers who are involved with developing and/or evaluating ethical capabilities among engineering students.« less
  3. Amidst growing concerns about a lack of attention to ethics in engineering education and professional practice, a variety of formal course-based interventions and informal or extracurricular programs have been created to improve the social and ethical commitments of engineering graduates. To supplement the formal and informal ethics education received as undergraduate students, engineering professionals often also participate in workplace training and professional development activities on ethics, compliance, and related topics. Despite this preparation, there is growing evidence to suggest that technical professionals are often challenged to navigate ethical situations and dilemmas. Some prior research has focused on assessing the impacts of a variety of learning experiences on students’ understandings of ethics and social responsibility, including the PIs’ prior NSF-funded CCE STEM study which followed engineering students through the four years of their undergraduate studies using both quantitative and qualitative research methods. This prior project explored how the students’ views on these topics changed across demographic groups, over time, between institutions, and due to specific interventions. Yet, there has been little longitudinal research on how these views and perceptions change (or do not change) among engineers during the school-to-work transition. Furthermore, there has been little exploration of how these views aremore »influenced by the professional contexts in which these engineers work, including cultures and norms prevalent in different technical fields, organizations, and industry sectors. This NSF-supported Ethical and Responsible Research (ER2) study responds to these gaps in the literature by asking: RQ1) How do perceptions of ethics and social responsibility change in the transition from undergraduate engineering degree programs to the workplace (or graduate studies), and how are these perceptions shaped or influenced?, and RQ2) How do perceptions of ethics and social responsibility vary depending on a given individual’s engineering discipline/background and current professional setting? This paper gives an overview of the research project, describing in particular the longitudinal, mixed-methods study design which will involve collecting and analyzing data from a large sample of early career engineers. More specifically, we will present the proposed study contexts, timeline, target subject populations, and procedures for quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis. We will also describe how this study leverages our prior project, thereby allowing unique longitudinal comparisons that span participants’ years as an engineering undergraduate student to their time as an early-career professional. Through this project, we aim to better understand how early career engineers’ perceptions of social and ethical responsibility are shaped by their prior experiences and current professional contexts. This paper will likely be of particular interest to scholars who teach or research engineering ethics, social responsibility, and professional practice.« less
  4. Ethics and social responsibility have frequently been identified as important areas of practice for professional engineers. Thus, measuring engineering ethics and social responsibility is critical to assessing the abilities of engineering students, understanding how those abilities change over time, and exploring the impacts of certain ethical interventions, such as coursework or participation in extracurricular activities. However, measurement of these constructs is difficult, as they are complex and multi-faceted. Much prior research has been carried out to develop and assess ethical interventions in engineering education, but the findings have been mixed, in part because of these measurement challenges. To address this variation in prior work, we have designed and carried out a five year, longitudinal, mixed-methods study to explore students’ perceptions of ethics and social responsibility. This study relies on both repeated use of quantitative measures related to ethics and repeated qualitative interviews to explore how students’ perceptions of these issues change across time, between institutions, and in response to participation in certain experiences. This paper focuses on the thematic analysis and preliminary results of the 33 pairs of interviews that were gathered from participants at three different universities in Year 1 and Year 4 of their undergraduate studies. Given themore »multifaceted and complex nature of ethics, measuring and assessing how students’ perceive its various aspects (e.g. those related to ethical climate, moral awareness, moral disengagement etc.) has proven challenging. Furthermore, investigating how students’ perceptions of these concepts vary over time adds another layer of complexity for analyzing our longitudinal data. For example, a student might show increased understanding in one aspect of ethics over time and consistency in another, making it difficult to identify patterns or the impacts of specific influences. Due to this large variation in student experiences and perspectives, we used single case analysis to analyze the longitudinal interviews of a single participant, Corvin. From this analysis, three themes emerged in the student's responses: a shift in his views of engineering ethics and social responsibility from idealism to pragmatism; an adjustment in how he thinks engineers should balance their responsibilities to the public and to their employers; and the characteristics he identifies for ethical engineers. This paper will be beneficial for engineering educators and researchers who are interested in measuring and developing ethical capabilities among engineering students.« less