You are here

  1. Home
  2. eSTEeM Projects
  3. Other
  4. Which factors are correlated with undergraduate engineering distance learning students’ expectations of ethical issues?

Which factors are correlated with undergraduate engineering distance learning students’ expectations of ethical issues?

  • Project leader(s): Joanna Sessford
  • Theme: Other
  • Faculty: STEM
  • Status: Archived
  • Dates: November 2022 to February 2024

In a significant proportion of engineering disasters where engineers were to blame ‘insufficient knowledge’ was a contributing factor, this is an ethical issue. In terms of providing engineering education, it is therefore essential that students have an awareness of the ethical issues they may face and recognise that they are accountable for their actions.  

When teaching ethics in an engineering environment there is typically an emphasis on developing and using case studies.1  There is an argument that ethics cannot be taught but a student’s ethical convictions can be enhanced.2 It has been suggested that expecting to confront ethical issues/conflicts leads to more ethical action when confronted by ethical issues. 

This project proposes to investigate how likely students think it is that they will face ethical issues in their working life. It seeks to determine the effect work experience and level of study has on students’ expectations of encountering ethical issues in the workplace. The project aims to determine who or what has the most significant influence on the ethical values of distance learning engineering students when they need to make a difficult decision. The information will be gathered by a questionnaire delivered to students at different levels of their undergraduate journey, module teams will be asked for input into creating the questionnaires. This will further allow for a determination of how effective the delivery of ethics education is in a distance learning setting. Dependent on the data gathered recommendations to improve ethics education will be made. The modules teams involved will influence the questionnaire design and how the results are fed back, as will the relevant figures in the School of Engineering and Innovation.

The impact on staff is to potentially gain a greater understanding of how to assist students in recognising and making ethical decisions. A further potential impact is that students will examine their own ethics and where their ethical beliefs come from.

Ethics as part of engineering curricula is increasingly important to professional bodies, Open University Engineering Degrees currently hold accreditation from a variety of professional institutions including the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, to gain accreditation it is necessary to include instruction in the areas of ethics. This proposal is therefore likely to be beneficial when mapping degrees for accreditation.


  1. McGinn, R. (2013). ‘Mind the Gaps’: An Empirical Approach to Engineering Ethics, 1997-2001. Science and Engineering Ethics 9. 517-542. 17.
  2. Stappenbelt, B. (2012). Ethics in Engineering: Student Perceptions and their Professional Identity development.  Journal of Technology and Science Education, 3 (1). 86-93.
Related Resources: 
File Jo-Sessford.pptx108.53 KB

Project poster.