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Teaching Ethics

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published on November 24, 2016

Skylar Zilliox, Jessica Smith, Carl Mitcham

Teaching the Ethics of Science and Engineering through Humanities and Social Science
A Case Study of Evolving Student Perceptions of Nanotechnology

Ethical questions posed by emerging technologies call for greater understanding of their societal, economic, and environmental aspects by policymakers, citizens, and the engineers and applied scientists at the heart of their development and application. This article reports on the efforts of one research project that assessed the growth of critical thinking and awareness of these multiple aspects in undergraduate engineering and applied science students, with specific regard to nanotechnology. Students in two required courses, a first-year writing and engineering ethics course and a second-year social science course, went through nanotechnology modules as a part of their regular coursework. In the first-year humanities course, we observed self-reported increases in risk awareness, significant educational impact of the module, and a greater awareness of nanotechnology’s applications and social context. In the second-year social science course, we noted changes in risk/benefit analysis as well as in the character and depth of students’ historical analysis, but no change in comparative awareness of other topics, including labor issues and corporate motivations.

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