Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science Enhancements

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Frazier Benya, National Academy of Engineering, Washington, DC
Background: As science and engineering become more multidisciplinary, global, and complex, considerations about the responsible course of action must include questions both ethical ("Should this be done?" "Who should determine whether this should be done?") and practical ("Can this be done?").  Starting in 2014 with funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Engineering’s Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science (OEC) has been transforming into the go-to online source of resources and support to address such questions in ethics and ethics education in science and engineering. In early 2016 a significant set of enhancements for the OEC will be released. Methods: The site is expanding its curated collection in the sciences and also on issues of diversity, globalization, social responsibility, and social justice. In the next three years, the OEC will also implement and strengthen new social features supporting the resource collection and the community of people using and contributing to the site. These efforts are guided by a diverse, interdisciplinary project advisory group and six editorial boards. These efforts are also assisted by three partner organizations, the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions at Illinois Institute of Technology; the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University; and the Center for Science, Ethics & Public Policy at the University of Delaware. In addition to using the feedback from the above participants, the project team also gathered feedback from faculty in the sciences and engineering through an online form in 2014 and performed usability testing in 2015. Results: The enhancements to the site make it easier to find and use resources for teaching ethics in science and engineering. The site has improved search capabilities that allow users to refine their search by topic area, discipline, and resource type. Individual resources are now connected to their related resources using a three-tab system: primary resources, subject aids, and teaching aids. Additionally, as users are browsing and searching the OEC, they can also connect to the more expansive collection of published literature, educational resources, and codes of ethics at the Ethics Education Library.  A new classification system for resources helps to organize the OEC for easy browsing and future expansion. Conclusion: Current improvements to the OEC make it a flexible online source for exploring and finding ethics resources for science and engineering. As the project continues further enhancements to the features, the addition of new resources and collaboration with scholars working on issues related to science in society will result in an online resource that serves a wide range of students, faculty, and practitioners in all the sciences and engineering.