Major Challenges

Engineers need to learn the skills to recognize and analyse ethical issues and to discuss these with stakeholders.

Prof.dr.ir. Ibo van de Poel

Why is it difficult to teach ethics to engineering students?

Below are a few of the specific challenges encountered from our previous experience:

"Not my job as an engineer"

"many students also appear to suppose that technology is a morally neutral instrument that can be put to good or bad use.  This line of thinking would explain why students often say that ethics is not the business of engineers who design or develop technology, but that it should be studied by people who order certain technical artefacts – like managers or politicians – or by the people who use the artefacts."

 

Source: Van der Burg, Simone, and Ibo Van de Poel. "Teaching ethics and technology with Agora, an electronic tool." Science and Engineering Ethics 11, no. 2 (2005): 277-297.

Lack of moral reasoning skills

 "Students often work in an unstructured way when they analyse moral cases, and they  tend  to  jump  to  conclusions.  The  treatment  of  moral  cases  by  students  is therefore often superficial. Relevant facts or moral considerations are overlooked,
or the reasoning skills of the students are lacking."

 

Source: Van der Burg, Simone, and Ibo Van de Poel. "Teaching ethics and technology with Agora, an electronic tool." Science and Engineering Ethics 11, no. 2 (2005): 277-297.

Instrumental use of theories

 "When they undertake exercises or write essays, students do not use – or to a lesser extent than desired – the ethical theories that are offered in class. If they use the theories at all, they do so mainly in an instrumental way: they apply them to the case at hand, in an unreflective way."

Source: Van der Burg, Simone, and Ibo Van de Poel. "Teaching ethics and technology with Agora, an electronic tool." Science and Engineering Ethics 11, no. 2 (2005): 277-297.

Ethics is "just" about personal opinions

 "When they undertake exercises or write essays, students do not use – or to a lesser extent than desired – the ethical theories that are offered in class. If they use the theories at all, they do so mainly in an instrumental way: they apply them to the case at hand, in an unreflective way."

Source: Van der Burg, Simone, and Ibo Van de Poel. "Teaching ethics and technology with Agora, an electronic tool." Science and Engineering Ethics 11, no. 2 (2005): 277-297.