Part of the 4TU.Federation
4TU.
Centre for
Engineering Education

Project introduction and background information

With the growing awareness that ethics should play a key role in engineering education comes also the challenge of determining exactly how engineering ethics education should be designed and taught. COMET is a two-year research project that is focused on the future of engineering ethics education at TU Delft. After looking back at the successes and challenges from the last 20 years of integrating ethics into the curriculum at TU Delft, our project develops best practices for ethics education going forward. One of our primary goals is to develop an account of moral sensitivity and how it can be fostered in engineering ethics education. Though moral sensitivity is widely acknowledged as a key ethical competency it is less than clear how it should be understood qua concept and operationalized pedagogically.

Objective and expected outcomes

Building a theoretical model that offers practical recommendations for teaching engineering ethics.

Outcomes or Deliverables

The project consists of three phases:

  1. Laying a theoretical foundation through an overview of the state-of-the-art research on engineering ethics and engineering ethics education
  2. Developing our own tripartite framework for thinking about best practices in engineering ethics education, based on the establishment of three distinct but interrelated domains of ethical reflection important for the engineer (reflection on the moral dimensions of one’s practical identity qua engineer, reflection on the moral significance of the structural-systemic context of the engineering practice, and reflection on the ethical impact of engineering activities, i.e. products, artifacts, designs).
  3. Building off our theoretical model to articulate a useful notion of moral sensitivity and to offer practical recommendations – at the level of both form and content – for teaching engineering ethics at TU Delft

Results and learnings

Our research thus far has consisted of a combination of literature reviews, philosophical conceptual analysis and some qualitative research in the form of a focus group that brought together engineering ethics educators from a wide range of universities from Europe, the USA, and Australia. The main take away from the focus group is that nearly everyone involved in teaching ethics to engineering students agrees that the key learning objective is ultimately instilling a sense of engagement, care and sensitivity towards the ethical dimensions of engineering. Though all focus group participants worked with syllabi full of different learning goals and objectives, it is ultimately the immeasurable “click moment” in the students that everyone is after and that seems to matter especially for a subject matter like ethics. Another key take-away from the focus group is that nobody has found the golden recipe yet for how to effectively teach ethics as one small component of an otherwise technical or design-oriented curriculum. Supposedly this doesn’t really translate into any practical advice when it comes to researching engineering ethics education, but it does underscore the urgency of such research.