Close Menu

Objectives for Teaching Ethics

Variety of Objectives: Strategies for Teaching Ethics

I. Increase ethical sensitivity (especially first year students)

A. Just raise ethical issues in class regularly (e.g. by question or vignette) - "here is an ethical issue" - no discussion necessary.

B. Brief "war story" - here's what can happen - no discussion necessary (e.g. what happened at Bhopal). (1)

C. Forensic case study - here's what can happen - no discussion necessary.

II. Increase ethical knowledge (second year)

A. Pass out a code of ethics at the beginning of term, tell students to read.

B. Raise (easy) ethical issues in class and tell students where to find answers in the code. Hold the students responsible for an answer on the exam or on later problem sets (e.g. in mini-design problems). Do this regularly.

C. Raise (harder) ethical issues in class a few times (near the end of term), allow some discussion (how should you handle this?), point out pitfalls (if any) of students' proposals, and conclude by describing some standard ways of handling them, explaining advantages and disadvantages, noting connection (or lack thereof) with the code.

D. Include hard ethical issues in design problems and advise them to seek advice from "professionals" (list of practitioners, professional committees, other experts). This is a chance to learn about resources other then the code.

III. Improve ethical judgment (of course, all else equal, knowledge improves ethical judgement, so you did some of that already) - third year?

A. Classroom discussion in response to II.A-D: What should you do and why? Put student on the spot (as in real life). Role playing is also good here.

B. Homework assignments or exam questions requiring exercise of judgment (and rationale for it).

C. Assign larger projects requiring a report. Report should require recommendations (and rationale) not just a statement of facts.

D. Develop programs that require students to solve real problems, for example, a design course where problems are submitted by government agencies or charities. Instructor may have to point out ethical issues if they go unnoticed.

E. Develop intern (or co-op) programs that allow students to get some real world experience while still in school. Require students to keep a log recording ethical issues encountered, resolution, and consequences. Use this as a basis for classroom discussion (in relevant course).

PS: Faculty who lack real world experience might want to get some too. How about a summer on loan to some business or lab?

IV. Enhance ethical will-power (not much you can do, but you can do this much)

A. Making clear through discussion how much all members of your profession agree will make it easier for students under pressure to say "no".

B. Providing information about institutional support, whether from profession, government agency, employer's legal department, or advocacy group might also make it easier for a student under pressure to say "no".

C. Teaching the student to defend her own recommendations may make it easier for her to find support within an organization, and, having allies, find it easier to say "no".

D. Teaching the student how organizations work may make it easier for her to distinguish between bluster, confusion, and real pressure and so make it easier to say "no" to what is in fact mere bluster or confusion.


(1) Deena Murphy-Medley "Exportation of Risk: The Case of Bhopal" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 4/7/2006 5:33:48 PM National Academy of Engineering Accessed: Friday, December 12, 2008 <>

Handout from 2003 EAC Workshop, copyright Michael Davis.