Teaching Ethics


published on December 1, 2016

Michael Davis

From Practice to Research
A Plan for Cross-Course Assessment of Instruction in Professional Ethics

This paper proposes a novel research program to assess methods of teaching engineering ethics, a program that would allow ordinary instructors, with little effort, to turn ordinary assessment tools (graded exams, homework assignments, and so on) into publishable research, whether the course in question is a stand-alone course in professional ethics or a technical course in which some professional ethics has been inserted. The paper has three parts. The first briefly distinguishes the subject of this research from the main line of research in ethics education. The main line is concerned with assessing improvement in ethical judgment (or moral development). In contrast, the research discussed here is concerned with assessing improvement in ethical sensitivity and ethical knowledge. The second part of this paper describes work already done that provides a model for what is proposed, the use of ratios between scores on course-specific pre- and post-tests to provide a measure allowing assessment across courses, programs, and even institutions.While the use of pre- and post-tests is not new, the use of their ratios across courses, programs, and institutions to do assessment is new. The third part of this paper sketches the research program itself—or, rather, a framework for answering a family of research questions.