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Designing the New Ethics Learning Adventure

Oct 1, 2015 | By: Emma Martin

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Hello!  Ethics Team here to talk about the development of the new ethics learning adventure.  The whole team is excited about this one, and we’ve worked hard to create a thoughtful, streamlined, and engaging adventure to demonstrate the importance of ethics in engineering.

We think it’s important to illustrate the symbiotic nature of scientific discovery and ethical decision-making.  The products of engineering affect each and every one of us in our roles as consumers, drivers, families, travelers, environmentalists and so much more!  In this learning adventure, we hope to encourage learners to consider ethical implications as inseparable from the decisions that engineers make every day.

During development, we were thoughtful of the ways in which ethical decisions impact the everyday lives of learners.  In the early stages of our research, our team developed a set of fascinating, STEM-based, and relatable ethical dilemmas intended for our learners.  After this initial research, we narrowed down our examples to a few intriguing dilemmas; one to set the narrative stage on a relatable topic, and two that apply more directly to ethics in the engineering world.

The Talk to Me characters are one of the best aspects of Through My Window because they involve children emotionally.  We felt as though these characters would be best to tell our ethical story.  Team members Sarah Myerson and Emma Martin collaborated on many drafts, together and with a bigger team, to infuse a creative and captivating story with an “ethical framework” derived from the latest research on teaching children ethics.  In our story, Catalina, Monica, and the learner tackle the complex issue of cyberbullying.  The learner is immediately pulled in as a bystander to whom the characters come for electronic counsel on their Through My Window “cellphone”.  After weighing in on the this dilemma, the learner explores relatable mini ethical dilemmas with other characters from Talk to Me who model strategies from the ethical framework.  Throughout the adventure, learners engage with peers and gain new insights and strategies in their discourse community.

After brainstorming and researching approaches to teaching ethics we decided to do a spotlight on Sarah J. Moore, an engineering professor at Smith College who researches biomolecular engineering for applications in the medical field.  Team member Caroline Kushner interviewed Professor Moore about the ethical implications of her experiments and the strategies she uses to evaluate the ethics of her work.  The learner becomes an apprentice to Professor Moore, and critically analyzes ethical dilemmas while simultaneously developing her/his STEM-identity.

At the end of the adventure, the learner must use their ethical skills to ponder a critical task.  We won’t give away the ending, but we’re excited to share our adventure with everyone!

For more information about teaching ethics to young learners, we suggest the book Good Kids, Tough Choices: How Parents Can Help Their Children Do the Right Thing? by Rushworth M. Kidder. 

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1223868 and 1223460.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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