Center for Values to Use NSF Grant for Engineering Ethics Study

Brown Gans and Grohman

The research team includes (from left) Dr. Nicholas Gans, Dr. Magdalena Grohman and Dr. Matthew J. Brown.

The Center for Values in Medicine, Science and Technology in the School of Arts and Humanities has been awarded nearly $300,000 by the National Science Foundation to study ethical decision making among student engineering research teams.

The research project, titled “Engineering Ethics as an Expert Guided and Socially Situated Activity,” is under the direction of Dr. Matthew J. Brown, the director of the center; Dr. Nicholas Gans, assistant professor of electrical engineering; and Dr. Magdalena Grohman, associate director of the center.

“We are thrilled to receive this grant,” said Brown. “It’s rare for a center housed in a humanities department to receive funding from a science-based foundation, but I think that exemplifies the sort of cross-discipline research that is encouraged, and expected, at UT Dallas.”

For the project, graduate and undergraduate engineering students from the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science will be observed participating in activities in which they consult with “ethics experts” (students enrolled in a special course concerning ethical and social issues in technology) about issues arising in their research projects. The behavior and results produced by teams that do and do not interact with the ethics experts will then be evaluated.

This study aims to improve ethics education for engineering students and, ultimately, ethical practice among professional engineers.

Dr. Nicholas Gans,
assistant professor
of electrical engineering

“This study aims to improve ethics education for engineering students and, ultimately, ethical practice among professional engineers,” said Gans. “The study focuses on the group dynamics of ethical decision making in project teams and research labs to determine whether the presence of an ethics expert acts as an effective resource to improve ethical decision making. Answering this question requires a multidisciplinary approach.”

The team of researchers hopes that their results will become the basis of new materials for ethics training in science and engineering education, and will have broader impacts on the current practices of engineering ethics education.

“This research will contribute to the fields of philosophical ethics, moral psychology, pedagogical theory, and science and engineering education,” said Grohman. “Specifically, this project generates new ideas in ethics about the possibility and role of experts and expertise and the way that responsibility and ethical decision making can be constructed in group situations.”

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