School of Public Policy Faculty Help Iraqi Engineering Professors Build an Ethics Curriculum

Posted February 26, 2021

Justin Biddle and Jason Borenstein are accustomed to teaching the ethics frameworks that Georgia Tech’s science and engineering students need to make good decisions in their careers.

The experience, however, can have its challenges, especially during the Covid-19 era, when it is difficult to know how events outside the classroom — or the video conferencing screen — are affecting their students.

But the latest project for these Georgia Tech School of Public Policy philosophers takes those challenges to a new level. Biddle, an associate professor, and Borenstein, a principal academic professional and director of graduate research ethics programs, are teaching engineering professors in Iraq, still beset by years of conflict and economic hardship, how to create an ethics curriculum for their universities.

For instance, on the day of one recent session between the Georgia Tech and Iraqi faculty — conducted over the internet as travel is currently impractical — twin suicide bombings in Baghdad killed 32 people and wounded 110 others. None of the faculty from Iraq were hurt.

“It’s difficult for us, as Americans in relatively privileged circumstances, to even begin to imagine the challenges and risks that faculty and students face there,” said Biddle.

The project is conducted in partnership with the new Ethics, Technology, and Human Interaction Center (ETHICx), a collaboration between the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts and the College of Computing.

The project is funded by a U.S. State Department grant issued through the Higher Education Partnerships Program and implemented by IREX, a Washington, D.C. NGO. The work is an excellent example of the Ivan Allen College’s commitment to global impact and advancing technology to improve the human condition.

“This project has created a valuable and important opportunity for us to share our experiences with Iraqi faculty about teaching ethics and also to learn from them,” said Borenstein, the project’s principal investigator.

Lori Mason, IREX senior technical advisor, said the project showcases how “American academics can play a role in the rehabilitation and development of Iraq’s universities, industries, and society.”

“Iraq once produced world-class engineers, but years of war and underinvestment substantially weakened the country’s academic institutions,” Mason said. “The curriculum being developed by Georgia Tech and Iraqi professors will help support Iraq’s engineering programs to international accreditation and quality standards.”

Borenstein and Biddle are each leading three workshops during the project. The sessions cover topics such as how to incorporate ethics into engineering curricula, methods of assessing students’ knowledge of ethics, setting appropriate learning objectives, how to use case studies, and a primer on the primary ethical theories used in engineering ethics.

The workshop attendees, who are professors at Iraqi universities, are tasked with developing sample curriculum materials. Borenstein and Biddle then review the materials and offer feedback.

One of the professors in Iraq involved in the project said he specifically recommended Georgia Tech for this project because of the reputation of the ethics programs located in the School of Public Policy.

IREX asked that the Iraqi faculty’s names and affiliations not be included in this story due to the security situation in Iraq.

The immediate goal of the effort is to help the universities establish robust engineering ethics programs and gain accreditation from ABET, an organization that accredits hundreds of programs worldwide in applied and natural science, computing, and engineering.

However, the Iraqi professor said he hopes the work will ultimately lead to the establishment of an ethics center at his school similar to ETHICx at Georgia Tech.

Biddle said he is proud to work on a project with the kind of impact envisioned in Georgia Tech’s new mission statement.

“It’s a privilege to work at a place like Georgia Tech, where I can not only teach our students the ethical principles they need to become effective leaders, but also serve as a global resource for colleagues who are, like us, seeking to advance technology responsibly and improve the human condition,” he said.

Borenstein and Biddle, along with School of Public Policy colleagues Roberta Berry, Michael Hoffmann, Aaron Levine, Robert Kirkman, Hans Klein, Juan Rogers, and Robert Rosenberger, teach a variety of ethics courses that appeal to Georgia Tech science and engineering students, including PHIL 3109 Engineering Ethics, PHIL 3127 Science, Technology, and Human Values, PHIL 3115 Philosophy of Science, and PHIL 4176 Environmental Ethics.

More information about these and other courses is available on the Philosophy Program’s website.

The School of Public Policy is a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

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Michael Pearson