Understanding the Communicative and Social Processes of Engineering Ethics in Diverse Design Teams As engineering, and specifically engineering design, is increasingly understood to be asocial activity, engineering education’s understanding of ethics needs to reflect this developingawareness. Within engineering and design teams, engineering educators are concerned not onlywith how individual students develop ethically, but also how everyday ethical decision-makingemerges during team interactions and becomes integrated in design solutions. The everydayethics approach calls on engineering educators and students to pay closer attention to the natureof design, how values are embedded in design through micro decision-making processes, andhow these values are reintegrated into the everyday life of end users. Furthermore, these ethicaldecisions often do not present themselves as traditional dilemmas, but are issues that areconfronted in the everyday process of design, and are influenced by the cultural and disciplinarybackgrounds of the members and the ethical climates of the team and the organization. In considering engineering ethics education in this context, we can draw from theextensive scholarship of group communication. This body of literature suggests that teammember interactions and communication have a major impact on a team’s decision-makingabilities, as well as the information that is discussed during the problem-solving process (Larson,2007; Postmes, Spears & Cihangir, 2001; Reimer, Reimer, & Czienskowski, 2010). Therefore,this project seeks to understand how everyday ethical decision-making is integrated in theprocesses and interactions of diverse engineering design team and their recognition of the long-term design consequences of the solutions they produce. To do so, this study combines social network analysis with structuration theory toexamine the structure of project teams while also examining the institutional and contextualfactors that contribute to team climate, and to the development of group norms that affect teaminteractions. Social network analysis (SNA) is a type of analysis that enables researchers toexamine the relationships among members of a given system or group. In contrast to the“organizational chart” that might show how communication is supposed to flow within theorganization, network analysis shows the actual communication and relationships that emergewithin the organization or team. Structuration accounts for the influence of institutional factorssuch as rules or norms of what is “acceptable” or “appropriate” behavior within a specific socialcontext, while also affording the actors within that context agency to enact influence on thosestructural influences. Primary data sources include a series of interviews and videotapedparticipatory observations, as well as the social network analysis survey. In the first few months of the project, we have purposefully selected four diverse projectteams within a service-learning design program at a Midwestern university. Researchers haveconducted observations of the team, and have piloted the social network analysis survey andinterview. The survey and interviews will be conducted for the four project teams within thenext three months. In the paper, we describe the study frameworks and methods, preliminaryresults from the pilot, and how the pilot informed the study design.


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Engineering education, Engineering ethics, social processes

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Zoltowski, C. B., & Buzzanell, P. M., & Oakes, W. C., & Kenny Feister, M., & Torres, D. (2015, June), Understanding the Communicative and Social Processes of Engineering Ethics in Diverse Design Teams Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24960