Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Teaching Freshmen!

Teaching undergraduates is one thing, but teaching freshmen is quite another. I recently gave my freshmen students a research paper assignment on ethics in emerging technologies in engineering. We had studied ethical theories such as utilitarianism, duty ethics, rights ethics, etc, and emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, stem cells, neuroenhancements, biomass & energy, and genetic modification. These freshmen engineering students are majoring in mechanical, industrial, biomedical, environmental, electrical, and computer engineering and are pretty smart to have made it into the School of Engineering.

I believe these students should study emerging technologies because by the time they reach mid-career, these will be real technologies the world is using. I believe they should study ethics so that they can protect themselves from problem situations when they enter the work world.
But, some things I just do not understand. One student chose to write extensively about the ethical concepts promoted by Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. (We had not studied Robin Hood in class and I doubt I could find him mentioned in any scholarly articles on ethics). Another student wrote about neuroenhancements being used to treat bipolar disorder, stating it is also called maniac-depressive disorder. Another student wrote about computer networks, with no mention of ethical implications and no description of it as an emerging technology. Another student’s paper bounced from really bad writing to really great writing, back and forth until the conclusion; it was like riding a roller coaster. All of his references consisted of urls, so I checked. He copied and pasted most of his paper from professional articles.


Finally, all the A’s and B’s went to students sitting on the left side of the room, while all of the C’s, D’s, and F’s sat on the right side of the room. Now, did the smarter and weaker students self-select into their own groups and their own side of the room, or was this random? Interesting. Maybe I should mix them up!


Our last class is Wednesday, and then the final exam later. I’m tempted to ask about Robin Hood and maniac-depressive disorder on the final!

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