Gunter Bombaerts and Diana Martin
The SEFI annual conference brought us to Berlin, a virtual location which allowed the members of the SIG Ethics group to reflect on expanding the boundaries of engineering ethics education and research towards the study of emotions or the use of the tools of sustainability sciences, but also on the ways in which borders act as a boundary to the discipline itself. We recognise a great variation in the implementation of ethics in different national contexts, manifest in the lesser or more frequent presence of ethics in the engineering curriculum, its method of implementation, the learning goals pursued, the teaching and assessment methods employed, the coverage of issues, as well as in the degree of institutional and policy support. Our contributors make a step towards a diagnosis of the current state of engineering ethics education in some of the European countries represented in our November newsletter.
Mircea Toboșaru finds that at present, Engineering ethics in Romania is anaemic. He notes that as the economy recovered and private and successful technological companies emerged after the fall of communism, companies starting having ethics codes for their engineers. Yet, the relation between engineering and ethics has been only rarely explored in the educational context. A few graduate courses in different major university centers focused primarily on ethics, general philosophy, and the philosophy of technology, and there is only one active academic research center.
In their editorial Engineering ethics education: insights from Spain and Portugal, Luis Adriano Oliveira and Alfredo Soeiro describe their efforts into developing this discipline and creating a network of peers. The Working Group “Ethics in Engineering Education” (WG-EEE) is an integral part of the Portuguese Society for Engineering Education (SPEE). Its main objective is to sensitize students in engineering courses to the importance of integrating the ethical aspect in their current training, as students, and in their subsequent activity, as future professionals. Alongside Ester Gimenez Carbó, the three contributors also reflect on the context of engineering ethics education in Spain and the importance of focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals, which was the focus of the SEFI online ethics seminar held in September.
In Netherlands, TU Delft has been championing innovative and philosophically infused approaches to the teaching of engineering ethics for over two decades. Neelke Doorn, Lavinia Marin, Sabine Roeser, Taylor Stone, Janna van Grunsven reflect on the 20 year journey of TU Delft in implementing ethics and how it is informed by Responsible Research and Innovation, Design for Values and Risk-ethics. Each of these theoretical approaches encourages students to take a proactive attitude with respect to their projects and profession, thinking creatively about – and taking responsibility for – how to both prevent harm and do good via the technologies they help develop.
Yann Serreau reflects on The place of ethics in the French engineering school accreditation. Two questions that Yann Serreau highlights touch on whether the capabilities required should be more precisely defined and whether the evaluation system should check even more rigorously how the acquisition of these capabilities is assessed. The editorial reports on a forthcoming publication of the SEFI Ethics policy group, co-authored by Sarah Junaid, Helena Kovacs, Diana Adela Martin and Yann Serreau, which is dedicated to analysing the differences of national accreditation requirements purporting to ethics.
Zooming out from a specific national context, Dympna O’Sullivan, Damian Gordon, Ioannis Stavrakakis turn their lenses to offer A European Perspective on the Teaching of Ethics to Computer Science Students. They report on a study conducted under the flagship of the project Ethics4EU, which enquired how computer ethics is taught in programmes across EU. Their findings reveal a strong need for the development of an open set of computer ethics teaching materials that combine the expertise from several Computer Science departments, but also in partnership with Ethics departments and other related disciplines.
The differences and deficiencies portrayed across the borders make the case for unitary efforts in strengthening the discipline and the professional status of those who teach engineering ethics. Here at the SEFI SIG Ethics, we aim to join and support these efforts.
Diana Martin and Gunter Bombaerts