Sarah Junaid (Aston University, UK)
Accrediting bodies are increasingly expecting to see evidence in the delivery and assessment of ethics throughout engineering programmes. From the UK and Irish context, and the national picture elsewhere, ethics has begun to play a more prominent role in accreditation. While this is welcomed by educators, particularly from the small sub-set of practitioners on the ground who have been grappling, often individually, with teaching engineering ethics, this top-down approach has raised challenges that need to be addressed collectively.
For one, the broad nature of ethics within engineering encompasses many disciplines including socioeconomic, political, cultural and philosophical contexts. This has challenged educators on the pedagogical approach on its teaching, learning and assessment. To that end educators active in educational research and communities of practice have rallied together in discussing these challenges on platforms provided by such organisations as SEFI, REES, ASEE, CDIO and others. For the educators on the ground, it is clear that engineering ethics education requires a multidisciplinary approach. With that in mind, an effort at the national and institutional level for effective training for practitioners and program designers is much needed.
Furthermore, with policy changes there is the challenge of interpretation. Variation in the use of language and a nuanced understanding between what is generally understood and what is specifically defined makes these guidelines open to interpretation. The SEFI Special Interest Ethics Group are currently exploring the role of accreditation documentation on engineering ethics education and how institutions may interpret guidelines at a policy level to its implementation at a program level.
It is clear that the top-down and the bottom-up movements makes this an exciting time to see how the two will meet. It is at these interfaces where there is yet work to do in harmonising the efforts at all three levels: Policy and Accreditation, Program design and Classroom practice.