How are engineering ethics integrated into high school STEM education in Colorado?
Engineering education continues to become more prominent in high schools, catalyzed in part by Project Lead the Way and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). An important topic within engineering is ethics, including macroethical issues such as the environmental and societal impacts of engineering and technology. This research therefore examined if and how engineering ethics are being implemented in high school STEM education, seeking to understand teacher practices and perspectives. While exploring these perspectives, an emergent goal of the research became to determine whether teacher’s beliefs about their incorporation of ethics in their STEM-based courses matched the evidence they provided. This qualitative research was conducted by interviewing 14 high school STEM teachers in Colorado. The teachers represented multiple subjects (engineering, computer science, science, and math), school districts, public and private schools, as well as religious and nonsectarian institutions. Five of the teachers had bachelor’s degrees in engineering disciplines, and some also had engineering work experience in industry. The study found that 13 of the 14 teachers integrated engineering ethical issues. However, the majority of the teacher interviewees viewed environmental and societal impacts as being different from ethics, revealing confusion about macroethics. Interestingly, among the 7 teachers whose focus was engineering education, 3 did not believe that they integrated engineering ethics and/or environmental/societal impacts into their teaching, while all of the 7 non-engineering STEM teachers believed that they integrated ethics and/or societal/environmental issues in their teaching. These results on STEM teaching practices in high school provide insights into the variable backgrounds and attitudes that incoming college students might have regarding the importance (or lack of importance) of ethical issues in engineering.