10: What should change in Higher Education?

It did not take me long to figure out the answer to this question. What should change in higher education? The way ethics and scholarly integrity are taught to students.

The first few days in the first semester of your degree program can be overwhelming and intense while you try to navigate your way through the numerous orientations, workshops, meetings and things to do. Tucked away amidst all this, there typically is at least one workshop which intends to inform students about the ethics and scholarly integrity. The way these workshops typically go is the rules are laid out and then a few case studies are discussed. A lot of it tends to be forgotten partly due to the relative importance of a workshop on ethics when compared to everything else and partly due to the way in which the workshops are conducted.

How do you teach ethics?

For starters, you make it clear that students that ethical dilemmas are a question of when and not if. Everyone will face some sort of ethical dilemma while they navigate their way through the degree. It should also be emphasized that ethics are not black and white, and there is a lot of gray areas.

Students should also receive reminders for ethics that act as points to reset the ethical compass.

The ethical standards in higher education differ from country to country. Thus, international students, especially joining the Graduate School have a hard time adjusting to the different and stricter standards in the United States.

A great example of how ethics and heroism can be taught is Dr. Marc Edwards’ Engineering Ethics and the Public class offered from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. A sample syllabus and other information can be found here. This course has gotten a lot of attention in recent times due to its effect on the way our research group handled the water crisis in Flint.

I hope that similar courses are taught in all universities in the future and we graduate altruistic students who are mindful of the ethical dilemmas and are well equipped to handle them. I also hope we graduate students who, when the time comes, choose to do what is right and not what is easy.