Training Engineers for Handling Ethical Dilemmas in Sustainability Contexts
Paper in proceedings, 2016
With recent industrial scandals like the Volkswagen emission test manipulations, it is clear that engineering professionals need a more solid foundation for conscious reflection on ethics in the profession. Further, with the mainstreaming of education for sustainable development (ESD) in engineering education, students increasingly meet problems with inherent value conflicts in their education. This presents a challenge as well as an opportunity.
The Swedish System of Qualifications for engineers includes a learning outcome on engineering ethics. Students who achieve the Master’s degree should have the ”ability to formulate judgments, within the field of study, that include reflection on relevant ethical issues”. According to the last national review by the Agency for Higher Education in 2012, this requirement is not completely fulfilled in many educational programmes.
There is a long tradition at Chalmers University of Technology to address sustainable development in the study programmes. However, the focus is commonly on the environmental dimension of sustainable development, and the social dimension and ethics are not included to the same extent. Many teachers express that they find it difficult to design appropriate learning situations that support students’ learning in ethics, and to design assessments that measure how well students fulfil intended learning outcomes. The situation is similar at other universities. Thus, there is a need to spread good examples on how ethics can be integrated in education to inspire and facilitate for teachers.
In this paper, we suggest a framework for how learning in engineering ethics can be supported by means of a focus on ethical dilemmas in a tiered approach with three elements. Ethical dilemmas are situations in which there is a choice to be made between different options, and where neither of these options is optimal from an ethical perspective. We also provide characteristics and examples of ethical dilemmas appropriate to use at different levels.