At SchoolSphero Team
Engineering ethics are essential and teachers can use them to develop positive habits in STEM for their students.

Positive habits in education have a profound effect on how students absorb, retain, and apply information. However, these habits aren’t purely about managing educational processes, they can also shape students’ moral compass, supporting them in times when there is no clear notion of “right” and “wrong.”

In STEM subjects, where students will undoubtedly confront situations that demand they make a decision using integrity, positive habits will empower them to consider the most pressing factors. For engineering specifically, doubling down on ethics nurtures a crucial respect for life, the environment, law, and the public good.

Here’s why engineering ethics are essential, and how teachers can help develop them as part of students’ positive habits in STEM.

The Engineering Code of Ethics

Most professions have a set of guidelines that people practicing in the field have to follow. For engineers, the engineering code of ethics is that framework. The principles state that engineers are responsible for protecting the safety of the public, conducting their work in an honest and ethical way, and ensuring that the needs of clients are prioritized above their own personal interests. The principles also support engineers when faced with moral dilemmas in the field, helping individuals take action that is fair and constructive.

There are a range of engineering societies (for example, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the American Society of Civil Engineers) and each has its own set of ethics that members have to follow.

The engineering code of ethics is particularly important to instill and maintain trust between the public and the engineering industry – without this trust, there would be less room to innovate and implement solutions that could advance society.

Science and Engineering Ethics

Engineering has a direct impact on the world. It shapes where we live, how we build, how we grow food, and how we work. With such a strong influence, the people at the helm of engineering need to be held to standards that ensure their work is completed with integrity and with those affected by the results in mind. For the ethical code to be most deeply ingrained and transparency continued throughout the engineering field, budding engineers need to familiarize themselves with principles as soon as possible.

In STEM subjects, students need to grasp why such a code exists and how it can be applied to real life scenarios. Moreover, teachers can encourage engineering ethics as a habit of thought across the entire design process. Students should be guided to ask, “What impact will this have on the people it’s designed for?” at every step of the journey, in order to achieve more positive outcomes in their potential engineering careers.

Integrating Engineering Ethics into Student Workflows

Positive habits are difficult to form, but once built into each step of the design process, they’ll be a natural, advantageous addition to students’ many skills. To integrate engineering ethics into students’ workflows, take care to run through multiple possible outcomes of a project with them. Push them to think about what the potential negative impacts could be, and how these could be mitigated. 

Some good exercises to carry out with students include discussions around the following scenarios:

Scenario 1:  Addressing Miscalculations

Tell students that there’s been a calculation error in a tall building designed by their team. The error means that the structure could collapse in 50 years time, and would pose a big risk to the people who work and live inside. The building could be reinforced and the threat lowered, but doing so will be very expensive. Ask students to consider whether 50 years is sufficient time to wait and not act now, or whether the building should be evacuated immediately, or if the issue should be reviewed discreetly with the client and moved forward regardless of the financial cost.

Scenario 2: Navigating Health and Safety Issues

Another scenario involves a health and safety problem on a construction site. Tell students that they’ve witnessed the danger and have reported it to the necessary contact but nothing has been resolved. Do they follow up in writing and say they’ll escalate the matter if nothing happens? Do they notify the client and recommend the next steps? Or do they leave the process in the hands of the contractor?

Scenario 3:  Handling Corruption and Bribery

Elsewhere, teachers might want to probe students about corruption and bribery. Say that a supplier has sent them a generous gift for the holidays and they have to decide whether to keep it, declare it, or return the gift and explain why it’s not appropriate. As you hold the discussions, encourage students to provide reasoning behind their answers, and explain why their decision is ethical. 

Cultivating Ethics with Sphero

Ethics is always an interesting arena to dive into with students, and the conversations will likely get complex and have no clear conclusions –  and that’s great! The idea is to let students think for themselves but to understand that there should be a guiding force in how they make resolutions. 

For more information and resources to help cultivate engineering ethics, check out our STEM learning solutions.

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