The Engineers Ireland Academic Society hosted a free webinar recently on the topic of 'Engineering ethics and how to teach it – best practice and accreditation requirements'. 

The webinar was chaired by Dr Beatrice Smyth from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast.

Dr Smyth provided two interesting quotations that reflect the growing importance of ethics, not just to students but also to everybody.

'Nothing more important than ethics'

The first quotation was from former US secretary of the treasury Henry Paulson who said, “In every area of society, there is nothing more important than ethics”. The clarity of this quote resonated, as did the utter directness of the second quotation from Albert Camus, French philosopher and winner of the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature: “A person [man] without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world”. 

Dr Smyth also outlined the focus of the webinar which was to a) showcase ideas on what academics are currently doing in teaching ethics to students; b) explain what higher education institutions (HEIs) need to do to provide evidence of meeting the updated Engineers Ireland accreditation criteria on this topic; and c) give academics some helpful guidance and tools on how to embed the topic of ethics into their teaching. This was followed by a brief outline of the remit of the Academic Society by the chair for this academic year, Dr Kevin Delaney from TU Dublin.

The first speaker was Dr Anne Morrissey from the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Dublin City University, whose talk was entitled 'Teaching engineering ethics – examples from around the country'.

She spoke about the differences between research ethics, which is now well established, academic integrity, and the teaching of ethics to undergraduate students.

Following on from an invitation to academics countrywide to submit a graphical abstract with examples of current practice, a number of the abstracts were showcased during the presentation (Figure 1).

Computational and mathematical modelling

For example, at ATU Sligo, students have to embed ethical and other considerations into everyday tasks such as active walking in a group situation. In Queen’s University Belfast, ethical considerations were opportunistically integrated into engineering mechanics projects by replacing animal and human experimentation by computational and mathematical modelling.

Finally, at Dublin City University, ethical thinking is embedded into a first-year module called 'Fundamentals of Professional Development'. The examples provided indicate that ethics is 'piggybacked' or integrated into existing modules or courses, rather than taught by 'mainstreaming' into every engineering discipline, or 'integrated' into crossdisciplinary offerings. 

Figure 1: Graphical abstracts showing examples of how ethics is embedded into modules.

The second speaker was Damien Owens, director general, Engineers Ireland, who spoke about 'Evaluating evidence for assessment of ethics and sustainability in accreditation reflections from the field'.

Figure 2: Engineering Ireland Accreditation Criteria for HEIs 2021.

Owens explained that professional and ethical responsibilities remain as a programme outcome (PO5) in the revised accreditation criteria for HEIs, with the addition of a new programme outcome (PO8) on Engineering Management and a new programme area on Sustainability (PA7) (Figure 2).

These changes are incremental from the previous 2014 Accreditation Criteria, and the emphasis remains on demonstrating evidence of the eight programme outcomes.

The accreditation panels currently visiting HEIs are starting to see the application of the new criteria; however, this is usually a recategorisation of existing evidence rather than a change in syllabus content.

Owens explained that 'ethics' is generally interpreted broadly, with some of the obvious treatments, such as health and safety and adherence to standards, being missed in reporting by HEIs.

Owens also provided some verbatim excerpts from accreditation visits in relation to how HEIs are demonstrating evidence of meeting PO5, some of which meets the accreditation criteria and some of which does not.

He explained that the evidence to show achievement of PO5 and PO8 is usually hidden in 'plain sight', and that, for the teaching of ethics to be effective, it cannot be compartmentalised and should be embedded in the engineering course as a whole ('mainstreaming').

The final speaker of the morning was Professor Raffaella Ocone from Heriot-Watt University, who spoke about 'Introducing the engineering ethics toolkit from the Engineering Professors’ Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering. This toolkit (Figure 3) was developed by the Engineering Professors’ Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering as part of the profession’s ongoing work to embed ethical practice into the culture of engineering.

Figure 3: Engineering Ethics Toolkit from the Engineering Professors’ Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The toolkit currently includes the following:

  1. Advice and guidance: Articles on engineering ethics and how best to embed ethics into teaching practice.
  2. Ethics case studies: Worked examples of real and hypothetical situations presenting ethical engineering challenges for use in teaching scenarios.
  3. Curriculum map: A guide to areas of ethics that relate to different disciplines and stages.

One of the key points from the advice and guidance articles is that ethics should ideally be built into the learning outcomes of the programme and modules at the early design stage and consistently be emphasised throughout.

Must be embedded and mainstreamed in the full curriculum

This echoes the points of the earlier speakers, who both said that to be most effective, the teaching of ethics must be embedded and mainstreamed in the full curriculum. This can be achieved by asking students to consider the outputs of their project work through a societal or community lens and by the use of active verbs that embed critical reflections of design.

Unless otherwise stated, this toolkit is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. The toolkit is a growing resource, to which anyone can contribute, for example, by submitting a case study, article and/or case enhancement for review and possible inclusion in the toolkit.

In addition to introducing the toolkit, one of the most thought-provoking points of Prof Ocone’s presentation was her reference to “anticipatory ethics”, particularly as applied to emerging technologies.

Anticipatory ethics is the practice of using the design phase to reflect upon how a system’s or technology's affordances will impact their use and potential consequences. This approach will enhance the link to sustainability where engineers are being asked to consider the long-term impacts, including end-of-life measures, at the design stage of products, technology, construction schemes, and other engineering projects.

Further Resources:

  1. Engineering Ethics Toolkit:
  2. Ethics 4U, an Erasmus+ international project that explores issues around teaching ethics in Computer Science and which might be of interest to engineers also:
  3. Ethics resources from the National Society of Professional Engineers (USA):
  4. Resources from the Online Ethics Center (OEC) for Engineering and Science (USA):
  5. Teaching resources for engineering ethics from Illinois Tech (USA):  
  6. The TU Delft approach to teaching ethics and philosophy of technology to engineering students developed by the Ethics and Philosophy of Technology Section of TU Delft:

Academic Society Contributors: Anne Morrissey ( is an associate professor in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Dublin City University and secretary of the Engineers Ireland Academic society. Beatrice Smyth ( is a senior lecturer in sustainable energy systems in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in Queen’s University Belfast, and committee member of the Engineers Ireland Academic Society. Kevin Delaney ( is a lecturer and member of the Product Design and Development Research Group in the School of Mechanical and Design Engineering, TU Dublin, and chair of the Engineers Ireland Academic Society. 

The Engineers Ireland Academic Society is a network of academic engineers and engineers in industry with an interest in teaching and learning. Membership of the society is open to anyone who has an interest in the teaching of engineering. Members of Engineers Ireland can join the Academic Society by logging into the Engineers Ireland Member Dashboard (here) and clicking My Preferences. You can also record your CPD and you can browse Engineers Ireland's Events Calendar here.