ChemX Conference | Dr. Shannon Ciston: Teaching Engineering Ethics With Our Stories


(techno music) – The second ChemX
speaker of the afternoon is Dr. Shannon Ciston. Shannon is the continuing lecturer and director of undergraduate education in our Department of Chemical
and Biomolecular Engineering. She teaches and coordinates undergraduate curricular matters in our chemical and biomolecular engineering
department, CBE department. She holds a PhD from
Northwestern University and a BS from Illinois
Institute of Technology, both in chemical engineering. At Berkeley she has taught courses from the freshmen to graduate level including chemical engineering laboratory, introduction to chemical
engineering design, technical communications and pedagogy. Her research in the
engineering education domain focuses on the development
of professional skills and the experiences of
non-traditional engineering students. And in her spare time, she enjoys fostering a love of learning with her preschool-aged children. Shannon’s ChemX talk today is entitled Teaching Engineering
Ethics with our Stories. Shannon. (audience applauds) – Thank you. All right, thanks a lot
for the introduction and thank you for the
invitation to be here, to speak with you all today. So the topic that I’ve
chosen to talk about is an intersection
between my teaching space and then also my engineering
education research space, to talk about engineering ethics. So this is a question that I have used to train students on
behavioral interview techniques in the technical communications course. So you can see that it
asks students to consider an ethical dilemma that
they have experienced and then the action that they take in that situation and the outcome. As often as not, an
individual student is stumped. When have they experienced
an ethical dilemma? Well, I’m here to argue today that we as faculty members and as alums should be using our own stories to teach ethical engineers of tomorrow. So I’ve had the pleasure
to teach engineering ethics from a freshman level through seniors. And I think that engineering
ethics is something that we can all agree is important. Ethical decision-making and ethical action are hallmarks of the
engineering profession. When you look at metrics, such as reports to federal
whistleblower hotlines, engineers are among the professions that are most highly represented
with the frequency there, putting us in some interesting company. And we can all agree that we want people who are designing fuels,
foods, pharmaceuticals to have a strong moral compass. And that value of the profession is reflected in codifying that commitment to ethical action, ethical decision-making through codes of ethics like this one from the American Institute
of Chemical Engineers. And these codes are very common. So NSPE, National Society
of Professional Engineers. American Society of Civil
Engineers also have similar codes where we talk about how we hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare, what it means to have a commitment to our clients, to the public, to our employers, and to each other. And so when you look to the
engineering education space for methods or tools for teaching engineering ethics, there are many. They range everywhere from using films to things like this helpful article from a professional engineer
in chemical engineering who goes through steps in formulating an ethical action plan when
faced with an ethical dilemma, especially with advice
for brand new engineers, who may be in a power
differential situation when they’re being called
to that ethical action. Or this take on teaching
engineering ethics, which is a variation on
the Cards Against Humanity, or sorry, is that right? Yes, Cards Against Humanity game to have kind of a tongue in cheek engaging discussion to help students get a little bit more
comfortable in that space. I really like to use case studies. This online ethics center has really a wealth of materials contributed by a lot of different sources in the engineering education space. And so I have used,
either as written or oral, assignments in the course
that I taught in technical communications and
professionalism to teach ethics. So some of them are nuanced enough that they don’t have one correct or specific, perfect right answer, and allow you to bring out different angles of the discussion. So this is one example. This is a case study
challenging an engineer to make a choice about design
for a new dialysis machine. And so it presents engineers
with these trade-offs. It brings out concepts of safety, training for user personnel, funding sources, waste generation, and then this whole idea of the scope or window of engineering design, which I understand is a
really important skillset to be able to decide what
is that design window? How broad can we make it? How it’s intentioned with
the different considerations. Or this one on heat transfer calculations that allows you to bring out the fact that there’s a difference between the letter of the law and
the spirit of the law, where this case study has a new set of regulations that are rolling out, that won’t be in place when the building is scheduled to be done, but then you also get
to bring out the fact that most building projects
go over time and over budget. So what does that mean for
the decision that you make? And some hit pretty close to home. So this one, for example, on taking a position of influence is about a new assistant professor who is asked to serve on a review panel for an opportunity for which they also were planning to submit a proposal. And it resonated with
me from an experience I had 10 years ago as a new
assistant professor as well. So I think there’s power in those stories that do resonate with us as teachers, and then, of course, with
our students as well. The incident that happened
in Bhopal, India, in the ’80s has generated many such case studies that you can find in the
engineering education space. And it’s a heart-wrenching story. And I really like using this movie, Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain, which came out a few years ago because it allows you to connect with the people that were involved, not only the victims, but
also the various actors. Students can find themselves in the multi-dimensional portrayal of characters such as the
CEO for Union Carbide, safety engineers, process engineers, who were under a lot of pressure to continue to produce with
less and less resources. So case studies are
powerful teaching tools. And I argue that this more
powerful subset of case studies is our own, our own case
studies, our own stories. And why? Some research on students
learning about ethics shows that students are
not always convinced that faculty themselves are
committed to ethical action and that the role of faculty members is very important in
communicating how important it is. So in my research groups,
sometimes we are studying the professional identity development. How does a student develop an identity as a professional engineer? And one classic model for
professional identity development is this four-stage model,
first stage being anticipatory. So someone hears about engineering through maybe Engineering,
Go For It magazine, or LEGO robotics, or maybe they have a neighbor who’s an engineer. This formal stage typically
happens in the college context, so you’re learning from faculty
members, from your courses what are the expectations
of being an engineer. The informal stage typically happens in things like internships, where you’re in sort of more
of an industrial context and you pick up on cues
about small things, like what do engineers wear? How do engineers talk to operators? Things like that. And then this personal stage is this final stage where
there’s an integration of your own personal identity with the identity of an engineer. That’s the stage at which someone says, yes, I’m an engineer. So a recent study found that students report learning about professionalism primarily in this informal stage, interactions with parents, coworkers, and rarely by their technical courses, rarely through interactions
with faculty members. So they’re not, the faculty members of the courses are not the dominant mode for teaching professionals
and including ethics. Ethics training is sometimes characterized as boring or not engaging for students, or sometimes too abstract because they might feel so removed
from the case at hand. So academic integrity
is a very well-studied, very common example that
people use to teach ethics. And so there’s a lot of
interesting work there because it’s this
familiar concrete example, and then also, researchers
have a lot of access to data about academic integrity. A recent meta study shows that
there are often differences between student perceptions
of academic integrity and faculty perceptions
of academic integrity. Slightly different definitions of what does it mean to cheat? What does it mean to help someone? What is an okay resource to use? And when you look at this question of why do students cheat
or why would they have violations against academic integrity, the faculty role really comes out. So there are a broad range of things that go into that academic
integrity decision-making. They range everything from
patterns and demographics, like an older student
versus a younger student having a different propensity to cheat. But faculty members also come through. They find that in schools that implement honor codes explicitly, the honor codes are most effective when the faculty members
know what that honor code is, engage with their students
about what the expectations are, and then actually report the violations, which is maybe not as
common as you might think. And then a lack faculty concern or a faculty apathy is found
to be influencing factor in people having academic
integrity violations more often. So the faculty role is actually important. I think that the potential to
make ethic stories personal can address a number of these things. When we share our own stories, one thing that we can do
is we can bring in elements of that informal training
that often happens with coworkers or in
the industrial context, training about what does it
mean to be a professional into this formal context. So when we are the role model for teaching ethical engineers by sharing what our
experiences and actions were. And I think it also has a potential to make case studies more
concrete and more dynamic. You can add layers of context. A lot of times when you
use these case studies, a student’s response to it, will say, well, it kind of depends because there’s so much we don’t know, right? In one page, how much
of it can you summarize? But if it was something that you lived, you know what are the influences that caused the job ad to
be written a certain way, or what was the conversation
that happened in that room and what really happened there? So it can create for a more
dynamic engagement with that. And then I think it really underscores that there is a commitment
on the part of faculty, as members of the profession
to ethical action. So to that end, I have started gathering faculty stories that we can use. So of course, I know my own stories and I can tell my own stories, but I think that having
them gather together could create opportunities for sharing, maybe GSIs could use it. Maybe you could use the
case study as written to supplement a discussion
that’s going on, or maybe there might be
a specific connection to a different faculty member’s experience that you wanna draw on. So I began to do that and I’m using a working name of Ethics at
CBE, but that could evolve. I think it’s important to note
that these are anonymized. So I want you to be able
to share your own story, but I want you to have
control over that space so the things I’m recording strip away specific names of just
what place that happened and just who did it happen to, and just what year did it happen, so that it can be a little freer. I’m accepting submissions now, so if you’re interested in
contributing to that project, you can email me or track me down. And I wanna say we have
so many people here who are students or alumni, and I’d love to hear your stories too if you would like to share
as part of that project. All right, thank you very
much for your time today. (audience applauds)

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