Document Type

Conference Paper

Version Deposited

Published Version

Publication Date


Conference Name

2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference


Over the past decade, there has been a renewed interest in the scope and practice of ethics education in engineering curricula, especially in the first year. However, the form this education takes has varied considerably with each program. Active learning strategies such as discussions on ethical and societal issues have become increasingly common for assessing how students make ethical decisions. But probing the depths of the reasoning behind their decisions and how students discuss ethics in context with their peers has been under-studied and difficult. Furthermore, if first-year programs wish to implement effective instructional interventions aimed at improving ethical decision making skills, pre-assessment of student thought processes is required. This full research paper offers findings from the first phase of a multi-university research project, aimed at investigating the impact game-based instruction can have on the development of engineering students’ ethical awareness and decision making. Specifically, the research presented in this paper is guided by the following research question: How do engineering students reason through engineering-ethical scenarios prior to college-level ethics education? First-year engineering students across three universities in the northeast USA will participate in group discussions around engineering ethical scenarios derived from the Engineering Ethics Reasoning Instrument (EERI) and Toxic Workplaces: A Cooperative Ethics Card Game (developed by the researchers). The questions posed to the student groups center around primary morality concepts such as integrity, conflicting obligations, and the contextual nature of ethical decision making. An a priori coding schema based on these concepts will be utilized, along with an inductive thematic analysis to tease out emergent themes. Results from this research will provide insight into how first-year engineering students think and discuss ethics prior to formal instruction, which can inform curricular design and development strategy. The research also provides a curated series of ethical engineering scenarios with accompanying discussion questions that can be adopted in any first-year classroom for instructional and evaluative purposes.


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