Above and Beyond: Ethics and Responsibility in Civil Engineering

A recent cover from the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education.

It’s been a long time coming, but a study I’ve been working on since the fall of 2018 has finally resulted in a publication–the first of several, I hope!

The article “Above and Beyond: Ethics and Responsibility in Civil Engineering” was released digitally this week, by the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education.

The publication process is often slow and suspense-ridden. I submitted the first draft of this paper at the start of March 2020, and now, just 15.75 months later, we’re nearly in print! The first step is digital release, and paper copies will come later.

Chance, S., R. Lawlor, I. Direito, and J. Mitchell. 2021. “Above and Beyond: Ethics and Responsibility in Civil Engineering.” Australasian Journal of Engineering Education. [Taylor & Francis Online]

University College London paid the Open Access publication free, so that you can download and read this article for FREE, without any special library access. My co-authors and I started this project at the request of Engineers without Borders UK, as the organization’s CEO, Katie Cresswell-Maynard, wanted to assess engineers’ perceptions and experiences related to “global responsibility”.

We prepared this specific report in response to a call for papers on ethics in engineering education and practice. To support the study of ethics, extracted data from our interviews that had to do with the topic, and studied it for patterns. As such, we’ve called this an exploratory study, on a topic where little prior research has been done.

Here’s the abstract:

This exploratory study investigates how nine London-based civil engineers have enacted ‘global responsibility’ and how their efforts involve ethics and professionalism. The study assesses moral philosophies related to ethics, as well as professional engineering bodies’ visions, accreditation standards, and requirements for continuing professional development. Regarding ethics, the study questions where the line falls between what an engineer ‘must do’ and what ‘would be good to do’. Although the term ethics did not spring to mind when participants were asked about making decisions related to global responsibility, participants’ concern for protecting the environment and making life better for people did, nonetheless, demonstrate clear ethical concern. Participants found means and mandates for protecting the health and safety of construction workers to be clearer than those for protecting society and the natural environment. Specific paths for reporting observed ethical infringements were not always clear. As such, analyses suggest that today’s shared sense of professional duty and obligation may be too limited to achieve goals set by engineering professional bodies and the United Nations. Moreover, although professional and educational accreditation standards have traditionally embedded ethics within sustainability, interviews indicate sustainability is a construct embedded within ethics.  

I want to wholeheartedly thank the research participants and the co-authors who stuck by my side and helped see this project to fruition. It was great to have an ethicist on board in authoring this paper, Dr. Rob Lawlor. It has been a joy to work with him, and with Dr. Inês Direito and Professor John Mitchell, throughout this project. We also enjoyed a helpful and astute advisory panel comprised of Professor Nick Tyler, Jon Pritchard, Dr. Rob Lawlor, and Katie Cresswell-Maynard. The study was supported financially by a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions fellowship from the European Union (H2020-MSCA-IF-2016, Project 747069, DesignEng), with additional support provided to Engineers without Borders UK by the Royal Academy of Engineers.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading the article and will find it helpful.

Focus on Student Development

Our new special focus journal is out!

This is a major part of my Marie Curie fellowship, because I wanted (a) to learn more about publishing and (b) build the knowledge base regarding “student development” in engineering.

I’m particularly interested in identity development and epistemic cognition (how students think about knowing and what knowledge is). I am myself working on a major research project exploring these epistemic topics, but with this journal issue I helped provide other people who are working on similar topics a place to publish their work.

It’s a really nice set of papers–three on identity and five on epistemology, with an introductory statement up front which I wrote with the people I brought on board as guest editors. The editorial team spent the past 18 months on this project–getting authors invited, articles competatively selected then carefully reviewed and enhanced.

You may remember that we issued a call for papers about 18 months ago. We managed to keep the whole project on track schedule-wise and the final printed version came out in August 2019, a full four months before I’d promised the funders I’d deliver it!!!!! How often will I get to say something like that!? Delighted to have the chance now.

Here’s the introductory statement:

Practical Epistemic Cognition in a Design Project—Engineering Students Developing Epistemic Fluency

Jonte Bernhard Anna-Karin Carstensen Jacob Davidsen Thomas Ryberg

Teacher Learner, Learner Teacher: Parallels and Dissonance in an Interdisciplinary Design Education Minor

Desen S. Ozkan Lisa D. Mcnair Diana Bairaktarova

Here’s an official overview of the issue:

“This Special Issue of the IEEE Transactions on Education focuses on using enquiry-based design projects to spur engineering students’ development, so as to increase understanding and application of the relevant theories, foster higher rates of student development and achieve this in healthy and productive ways.

Each of the eight papers in this Special Issue focuses on a specific aspect, presenting an empirical research study on either epistemological or identity development among engineering students. Five of the papers are on epistemological development or ‘epistemic cognition,’ and three on identity development. The overall set of resources is presented so engineering educators can gain familiarity with existing theories on how students change and grow over their university years, and can consider the findings of empirical studies and what these might imply for their own teaching and for their students’ learning.”


If you’ve got a manuscript you’d like to publish with this journal, you can find links on the website of the IEEE Education Societyhttp://ieee-edusociety.org/about/ieee-transactions-education. Or, feel free to drop me a line at <irelandbychance dot com> to ask advice–I’m an Associate Editor of this journal.

DIT in Top 1% in the World for Engineering Research!

For the first time ever Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) has been listed in Essential Science Indicators. More impressively, the institution achieved a listing in the top 1% in the world in the areas of Engineering and Agricultural Sciences (which includes Environmental Science)!

I’m hoping that my efforts here contributed in some small way to this achievement — I’ll have to see if any of the conference papers I’ve authored with DIT colleagues while I have been a Fulbright Scholar here at DIT  counted in this ranking.

Apparently, DIT now outranks Trinity College Dublin with regard to Engineering research!

DIT research ranking, May 2013

DIT research ranking, May 2013

Awesome Gift

I neglected to mention that one of the best gifts I received came by email on December 24.  Our editors extended our deadline from January 7 to January 21!  Yippie!

Presidential Acclaim

USDA Photo by Bob Nichols of Dr. William R. Harvey, President of Hampton University.

My university president made news today in an article in the Huffington Post.

Earlier today I received a letter from him, congratulating me for the article in Planning for Higher Education.  I realize that it’s fairly standard text, but it’s nice to be remembered… particularly after a long day of manuscript writing!

The paper I’m writing now won’t be published until 2014!?!  That’s par for the course in the land of academe.