Improving ethics studies through a spiral curriculum: Piloting an ethics discussion at the senior level

Kumar Mallikarjunan, Christan Whysong, Jenny Lo

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The Biological Systems Engineering (BSE) and Engineering Education departments at Virginia Tech have identified the need to enhance undergraduate student exposure to engineering ethics. It was decided the best method for improving ethics training is to have students continuously revisit engineering ethics material at increasing levels of complexity through a four-year spiral themed curriculum. This is one goal of Virginia Tech's Department Level Reform (DLR) project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Previous work has consisted of compiling a library of related ethics case studies, particularly related to Bioprocess Engineering, along with different methods for implementing these case studies. An ethics exercise was implemented at the BSE sophomore level during the fall 2006 semester. This work has been presented at the 20061 and 20072 ASEE Annual Conference and Expositions. As the project moves into its final phases, these departments have continued to expand their library of ethics case studies and piloted an exercise to be used during the fourth phase of the spiral. BSE students focusing in Bioprocess Engineering are required to take a Food Process Engineering course taught during the fall semester of their senior year. Some appropriate ethics case studies for this course include the conflicting views of the food industry and consumers. Companies often add controversial ingredients, such as trans-fat and diacetyl, to their products to make them tastier and typically target youth who often influence family purchases. If successful in attracting a younger consumer to a product, a company will usually have a customer for life. Students were asked to complete a pre-survey, designed to gauge their understanding of the above ethical issue. Students then read the provided resources and individually completed an informal written assignment, of which the goal was to have students form their own opinions about the topic. When students returned to class, they shared their views with the class during a discussion. Students were then asked to complete the pre-survey questions as a post-survey to gauge their learning experience from this exercise. This activity increased student exposure to the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) Code of Ethics for Engineers and also increased awareness of ethical issues related to food companies adding questionable ingredients for the purpose of creating lifelong consumers for their products.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008
Event2008 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Pittsburg, PA, United States
Duration: Jun 22 2008Jun 24 2008


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