Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 625–640 | Cite as

Using the Chernobyl Incident to Teach Engineering Ethics

  • William R. WilsonEmail author
Original Paper


This paper discusses using the Chernobyl Incident as a case study in engineering ethics instruction. Groups of students are asked to take on the role of a faction involved in the Chernobyl disaster and to defend their decisions in a mock debate. The results of student surveys and the Engineering and Science Issues Test indicate that the approach is very popular with students and has a positive impact on moral reasoning. The approach incorporates technical, communication and teamwork skills and has many of the features suggested by recent literature.


Engineering ethics Ethics education Role-play Constructive controversy Debate Chernobyl 



Defining issues test version 2


Engineering and science issues test


Accrediting board for engineering and technology


Reaktor Bolshoy Moshchnosti Kanalniy


National society of professional engineers



The author would like to thank Jason Borenstein and Matt Drake—co-authors of the ESIT—for their assistance in its use.


  1. ABET. (2010). Criteria for accrediting engineering programs, 20112012 review cycle. Reference document. Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology. Documents-UPDATE/Program Docs/abet-eac-criteria-2011-2012.pdf. Accessed July 15, 2011.
  2. Ballantyne, R., & Bain, J. (1995). Enhancing environmental conceptions: An evaluation of cognitive conflict and structured controversy learning units. Studies in Higher Education, 20(3). Available from: EBSCOhost. Accessed August 3, 2011.Google Scholar
  3. Bernstein, J. L., & Meizlish, D. S. (2003). Becoming congress: A longitudinal study of the civic engagement implications of a classroom simulation. Simulation & Gaming, 34(2), 198–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bero, B., & Kuhlman, A. (2010). Teaching ethics to engineers: Ethical decision making parallels the engineering design process. Science and Engineering Ethics. June 04 2010 (Online 1st).Google Scholar
  5. Bird, S. R., & Erickson, K. A. (2010). A constructive controversy approach to “case studies”. Teaching Sociology, 38(2), 119–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Borenstein, J., Drake, M. J., Kirkman, R., & Swann, J. L. (2010). The engineering and science issues test (ESIT): A discipline-specific approach to assessing moral judgment. Science and Engineering Ethics, 16(2), 387–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown, K. M. (1994). Using role play to integrate ethics into the business curriculum: A financial management example. Journal of Business Ethics, 13(2), 105–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brummel, B. J., Gunsalus, C. K., Anderson, K. L., & Loui, M. C. (2010). Development of role-play scenarios for teaching responsible conduct of research. Science and Engineering Ethics, 16(3), 573–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Colby, A., & Sullivan, W. M. (2008). Ethics teaching in undergraduate engineering education. Journal of Engineering Education, 97(3), 327–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Crain, W. C. (2011). Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. In Theories of development: Concepts and applications (pp. 157–179). Boston: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  11. D’Eon, M., & Proctor, P. (2001). An innovative modification to structured controversy. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 38(3), 251–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. DeNeve, K. M., & Heppner, M. J. (1997). Role play simulations: The assessment of an active learning technique and comparisons with traditional lectures. Innovative Higher Education, 21(3), 231–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Doron, I. (2007). Court of ethics: Teaching ethics and ageing by means of role-playing. Educational Gerontology, 33(9), 737–758.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Drake, M. J., Griffin, P. M., Kirkman, R., & Swann, J. L. (2005). Engineering ethical curricula: Assessment and comparison of two approaches. Journal of Engineering Education, 95(2), 223–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Harris, C. E., Davis, M., Pritchard, M. S., & Rabins, M. J. (1996). Engineering ethics: What? Why? How? And when? Journal of Engineering Education, 85(2), 93–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hatfield, D. B., & Zelinski, B. J. (2010). Computational materials engineering: A tool whose time has come. Technology Today 2010, Issue 2. Raytheon web publication. Accessed February 12, 2011.
  17. Haws, D. R. (2001). Ethics instruction in engineering education: A (mini) meta-analysis. Journal of Engineering Ecutation, 90(2), 223–229.Google Scholar
  18. Herkert, J. R. (2002). Continuing and emerging issues in engineering ethics education. The Bridge, 32(3). National Academy of Engineering web publication.
  19. Hertel, J. P., & Millis, B. J. (2002). Using simulations to promote learning in higher education: An introduction. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub.Google Scholar
  20. Holtzapple, M. T., & Reece, D. (2008). Concepts in engineering (2nd ed.). Dubuque, Iowa: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  21. Jensen, G. M., & Richert, A. E. (2005). Reflection on the teaching of ethics in physical therapist education: Integrating cases, theory, and learning. Journal of Physical Therapy Education, 19(3), 78–85.Google Scholar
  22. Johnson, B. J., & Corser, R. (1998). Learning ethics the hard way: Facing the ethics committee. Teaching of Psychology, 25(1), 26–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1979). Conflict in the classroom: Controversy and learning. Review of Educational Research, 49(1), 51–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. (1985). Classroom conflict: Controversy versus debate in learning groups. American Educational Research Journal, 22(2), 237–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (2000). Constructive controversy: The educative power of intellectual conflict. Change, 32(1), 28–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jorenby, M. K. (2007). Comics and war: Transforming perceptions of the other through a constructive learning experience. Journal of Peace Education, 4(2), 149–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Krain, M., & Lantis, J. S. (2006). Building knowledge? Evaluating the effectiveness of the global problems summit simulation. International Studies Perspectives, 7(4), 395–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kraus, R. (2008). You must participate: Violating research ethical principles through role-play. College Teaching, 56(3), 131–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Loui, M. C. (2009). What can students learn in an extended role-play simulation on technology and society? Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 29(1), 37–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mitchell, J. M., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2002). Are all types of cooperation equal? Impact of academic controversy versus concurrence-seeking on health education. Social Psychology of Education, 5(4), 329–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Newberry, B. (2004). The dilemma of ethics in engineering education. Science and Engineering Ethics, 10(2), 343–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Oakes, W. C., Leone, L. L., & Gunn, C. J. (2009). Engineering your future: A comprehensive introduction to engineering, 2009–2010 Ed. Chesterfield, MO: Great Lakes Press.Google Scholar
  33. Poling, D. A., & Hupp, J. M. (2009). Active learning through role playing: Virtual babies in a child development course. College Teaching, 57(4), 221–228.Google Scholar
  34. Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Raisner, J. A. (1997). Using the “ethical environment” pardigm to teach business ethics: The case of the maquliadors. Journal of Business Ethics, 16(12/13), 1331–1346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rest, J. (1999). Postconventional moral thinking : A Neo-Kohlbergian approach [e-book]. Ipswich, MA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Available from: EBSCOhost. Accessed July 19, 2011.Google Scholar
  37. Rest, J. R., Narvaez, D., Thoma, S. J., & Bebau, M. J. (1999). DIT2: Devising and testing a revised instrument of moral judgment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(4), 644–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rest, J., Thoma, S. J., Narvaez, D., & Bebau, M. J. (1997). Alchemy and beyond: Indexing the defining issues test. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(3), 498–507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rosnow, R. L. (1990). Teaching research ethics through role-play and discussion. Teaching of Psychology, 17(3), 179–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Santi, P. M. (2000). Ethics exercises for civil, environmental, and geological engineers. Journal of Engineering Education, 89(2), 151–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sanyal, R. N. (2000). An experiential approach to teaching ethics in international business. Teaching Business Ethics, 4(2), 137–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Shaw, C. M. (2004). Using role-play scenarios in the IR classroom: An examination of exercises on peacekeeping operations and foreign policy decision making. International Studies Perspectives, 5(1), 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Smith, K., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1981). Can conflict be constructive? Controversy versus concurrence seeking in learning groups. Journal of Educational Psychology, 73(5), 651–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Strohmetz, D. B., & Skleder, A. A. (1992). The use of role-play in teaching research ethics: A validation study. Teaching of Psychology, 19(2), 106–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tichy, M., Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Roseth, C. J. (2010). The impact of controversy on moral development. Journal of Applied Psychology, 40(4), 765–787.Google Scholar
  46. Vesilind, P. A. (1996). Using academic integrity to teach engineering ethics. Journal of Engineering Education, 85(1), 41–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wareham, D. G., Elefsiniotis, P. T., & Elms, D. G. (2006). Introducing ethics using structured controversies. European Journal of Engineering Education, 31(6), 651–660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Muskingum UniversityNew ConcordUSA

Personalised recommendations