Analyzing the factors influencing the ethical decision making skills among engineering students

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


A high standard of ethical conduct is a fundamental expectation of all professional engineers. Potentially all design and operational decisions have ethical implications so ethical thinking should be high in the minds of engineers. This is highly relevant in their operational as well as strategic thinking in their individual activities, team working and interactions with outside companies and stakeholders. Today organizations typically have a set standard of professional conduct and values expected of their engineers and many offer forms of ethical training and support as part of their professional development. Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) also have strategies to initiate ethical awareness and professional conduct among undergraduate engineering students through specific training and curriculum interventions. There is however, some lack of clarity on the ethical development of engineering students. Can university curricula and ethics education influence the ethical decision making capabilities of students? Do students address difficult ethical situations with a refined professional approach after undertaking a course or workshop on ethics? This research study aims to address these issues by investigating the key factors that influence decision making competences of engineering students. This study adopts a four component model proposed by Rest [1] as part of the analysis to determine what shapes the decision making capabilities and competences of the participants and whether distinct patterns are followed. Using two focus groups: one with students who have undertaken an ethics based workshop and a second, as a control group, with students who haven’t, this study explores the differences in their skills and approaches to decision making. Two key motivation themes emerged from the analysis: external and internal rewards. Participants from the group which had no experience of ethics education showed preference towards external rewards (money, salary and job) in their decision making whereas participants who had undertaken a workshop on ethics sought internal rewards (being happy and guilt-free). The findings contribute to the growing literature of Ethics Education and Curriculum Design by bringing clarity on the factors influencing students’ decision making skills. It also reflects on the effectiveness of Ethics Education in HEIs. Educators can use the findings of this study to address and adopt teaching strategies that can effectively build up ethical awareness and professional conduct among students. This study will also benefit students with their career progression and development plan by helping them understand the ethical norms, responsibilities and expectations in a profession like engineering.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication11th annual International Technology, Education and Development Conference INTED 2017
Place of PublicationValencia, Spain
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2017


  • Ethics Education, Engineering Ethics, Ethics Awareness and Perception, Ethical Decision Making

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