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For several years, the interest in Engineering Ethics Education Research (EEER) has been growing worldwide and certainly in Europe. SEFI plays an important role in this with a huge number of active teachers, researchers, and educational managers, the overwhelming presence of ethics workshops and presentations at the Barcelona SEFI conference as only one example!

As a positive consequence of this, we could (provocatively?) state that Engineering Ethics Education Research is slowly becoming a real discipline. Whereas, let’s say seven years ago, most contributions were isolated or centered around individual projects, currently, there is a substantial group of people and a coherent flow of contributions on EEER.

A birth of a discipline can only succeed with a successful new generation of researchers. We are therefore proud to present to you seven doctoral candidates in EEER and their work. It provides a natural list of necessary qualities and focus to answer further challenges.

We are aware it needs much more arguments and discussions to talk about a discipline and make a sound programmatic elaboration. But we already want to start the discussion with four evident pillars for Engineering Ethics Education Research: (1) Engineering, (2) Ethics, (3) Education, and (4) Research.

1. Engineering

EEER should keep studying the complexities and many different dimensions of Engineering practices. It should not fall prey to the trap of doing this without engineering practitioners. EEER should connect with communities of practice and leverage the platform of these communities to highlight EEER projects, such as Engineering, Social Justice and Peace (ESJP),  The Society for Philosophy and Technology (SPT), The Forum for the Philosophy of Engineering and Technology (fPET), the Ethics in Education in Engineering group of the Portuguese Society for Education in Engineering (SPEE), the Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN) – Africa chapter, and so forth.

Zeyi Liu (UCL, UK) in The experiences and career choices of female engineering undergraduate students at Chinese universities: an intersectional study of gender and socioeconomic status states that science capital is unevenly spread across population and is largely mediated by gender, class and ethnicity – students from socially privileged communities are often more exposed to it. From a post-structuralist perspective, she studies the role of social constructions and how female engineering students respond, in different ways, to the social structures in Chinese societies.

Sandra Cruz (TU Dublin, Ireland) looks at the same issue in Collaborative learning experiences and gender in Engineering Education, but from an in-class interaction perspective. Exploring the attitudes, experiences, and challenges that female engineering students face when undertaking group work can help to understand the socialization processes that may be interfering with their self-confidence and feelings of belonging in the field.

2. Ethics

EEER should keep studying the complexities and many different dimensions of Ethics practices. Ethics teachers with an ethics or philosophy background are not per se interested in empirical descriptions of social science approaches. Ethics should also be about practical guidance and ontological depth. EEER should deal with “being critical” and enacting values and norms in action. How to deal with students protesting together with the University Rebellion against too slow climate change adaptations?  Do you take a lead as an ethics teacher helping student collaborations when there is a protest against education reform that students don’t like? EEER should be about  theoretical and conceptual depth of ethics and deal with the ontological foundations of ethical frameworks.

Brooks M. Leftwich (Purdue University, USA), Preparing Future Engineers: Navigating Ethical Challenges in the Age of Climate Change, AI, and Digital Privacy found that students lack refined skill in analyzing their everyday decisions, despite the practices in place for encouraging and training students to think about their decisions and the consequences from multiple perspectives. He therefore proposes a holistic framework for promoting and inspiring undergraduate engineering students’ ethical development across the curriculum and extracurricular.

Thijs Loonstra (Wageningen University of Technology, the Netherlands) in The inevitability of philosophy in sustainability education focuses on two views in which climate change is conceptualized in engineering education. He distinguishes two normative-philosophical positions: a mechanical and an ecological lens. Starting from this distinction, educators can further integrate disciplinary outlooks in a coherent, holistic curriculum.

3. Education

Education should be about the growth and excitement of learning. It should remain close to the students. To meet students’ growing interest in societal aspects, there is an imperative need to translate the lessons learned from research into pedagogical interventions. This needs to start with institutions investing in and seeking to attract EEE researchers via dedicated hiring practices and with policy bodies acknowledging EEER as a legitimate area for funding. Such joint efforts will contribute to more indepth research for ensuring the development of ethical and inclusive institutional cultures, socio-technically oriented teaching practices and the support of technical teachers in the introduction of ethics considerations in their teaching. We are also happy to highlight the efforts of institutional leaders who have ethics on top of their agenda, including John Mitchell (UCL), Jenny Case (Virginia Tech), Susan Lord (University of San Diego), Donna Riley (Purdue) and Cindy Rottmann (University of Toronto).

All our contributions breathe the close link between the PhD research and the students they study and respect. Ashish Hingle (George Mason University, USA) in Students’ Reflections on Education in Uncertain Times – Technology, AI, and Engineering Ethics reports on students – far from self-evident – conceptions of AI and concludes that we must make a concerted effort to talk to students rather than simply look at them as amorphous data points. Alaa Abdalla (Virginia Tech, USA) in Balancing instrumental, intrinsic, and social purposes in Engineering Education also starts from this close connection and the students strengths and vulnerabilities to inquire, based on a framework from Amartya Sen, the purpose of engineering education. She is currently working on ways to move away from polar opposites in debates to have a more nuanced understanding of how students hold space for multiple purposes simultaneously and navigate the higher education system to achieve those purposes.

4. Research

EEER should further develop solid research methodologies to surpass the all-to-evident simple reporting of an ethics course. The discipline needs solid quantitative and qualitative methodologies but should develop space for alternative qualitative methodologies, such as interpretive phenomenology, autoethnography, bibliometric analysis, etc. And it should not talk about the measurable alone. For this, EEER needs to create networks of EEER researchers and broaden the topics under study towards the study of emotions, cognition, agency, system, decolonization, global aspects, social justice, nonWEIRD cultures, etc.

Athena Lin (Purdue University, USA) in Promoting Ethical Behaviors in Engineering Ethics Education, writes that ethical behaviors are challenging to measure directly and even more challenging to predict. As a result, it is not surprising that learning outcomes such as ethical awareness and reasoning have dominated engineering ethics education. By bringing clarity to what constitutes ethical behaviors in engineering practice, she hopes her work can help the field develop approaches to educating future engineers that will prepare them to act ethically in their careers.

We know the above is still scattered and explorative. But we hope the reader sees the dynamic coming from the current contributions of early career researchers! We expect that this might not be the last word about the birth of a discipline.

Gunter Bombaerts and Diana Martin, TU Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

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