Industrial and Systems Engineering

School of Engineering

Al Wallace Brings Ethics Course to Latin America


Al Wallace, the Yamada Corporation Professor in ISE and Ruth Murrugarra, a faculty member in ISE at Adolfo Ibáñez University in Santiago, Chile, are experimenting in fall 2015 co-teaching an engineering ethics course in New York and Santiago, Chile using Internet connection, and voice recognition and language translation softwares.

Prof. Wallace has developed and taught the course Ethics of Modeling for Industrial and Systems Engineering which introduces students to past, current, and future issues in the ethics of information technology, and encourages students to develop their own standpoint from which to address the diverse range of ethical challenges facing us in the information age. During the course, students learn about a wide range of ethical theories, and then will apply these theories to address ethical dilemmas using an educational computer simulation.

In fall 2015, a team redesigned the course to address the proposition: “Conveying one’s ethical and moral values, can best be expressed in one’s native language.” The multi-disciplinary team consisted of: Professor Wallace who designed the course; Professor Ruth Murrugarra; Erica Blanco, ISE senior; Maureen Fodera, Office of Research & Innovation in Teaching & Learning (RITL); Josephine Seddon, Student Learning Specialist; and John Klucina, MultiMedia Services’ Production coordinator. It should be noted that Professor Murrugarra, a former ISE doctoral student and post-doc, worked with Professor Wallace in designing the course while a student at Renssalaer.

This course covers topics related to ethical issues in modeling, with a particular focus on those issues that affect industrial and systems engineering professionals. Topics include theories of ethical decision-making, as well as advantages and disadvantages of each of them; analysis of moral problems; and issues related to the introduction of information technology into society such as communication over the Internet, exchange of intellectual property, privacy, vulnerability of networked computers, software and computer reliability, workplace monitoring, telecommuting, and globalization.

Class participation is a critical element of this course. Teams are formed for the semester and each 3 or 4-person team develops and presents two ethical situations (cases) based upon current events for class discussion. In addition, cases are assigned throughout the term for the students to assess and develop logical arguments based on appropriate Ethical theories. Furthermore, SIMULATE, a set of computer-based cases with multiple roles and decisions is used in the latter part of the course. There is a modeling and simulation project using Net Logo for the teams that requires: (1) one-page project proposal, (2) a poster presentation, (3) pseudo code for review and (4) Final Net Logo simulation including a presentation and working simulation. The last team project is the development of a” branching” ethics case similar to those in SIMULATE.

In fall 2015, Professors Wallace and Murrugarra are teaching the course concurrently at their respective universities, at Rensselaer in English and at Adolfo Ibáñez University in Spanish. There are two teams that include both Chilean students, who will work in Spanish and American students, who will work in English. The Schwartz Value Survey was administered at the beginning of the class and will once again be given at the end of the semester to analyze any differences in before/after interaction with students of a different culture. Both Professor Wallace and Professor Murrugarra are testing a series of different teaching methods in their native languages. These methods include live lectures, interactive activities, pre-recorded lectures, and live demonstrations of software used in the class.

In order for the students to navigate the language barrier, a hybridized classroom environment between Troy and Santiago was developed using multiple technology resources. Each faculty lectured in the native language of his/her classroom. Remotely, students heard the same spoken lecture; but it was accompanied by an in-time translation that they can read in their own native language. To accomplish this, Professor Wallace wore a Bluetooth microphone to lecture in class, which was connected to Erica Blanco’s laptop that ran Dragon, Adobe Connect, and Google Translate. As he spoke, the Dragon (speech recognition) software would dictate the words directly into Google Translate. Google Translate, in turn, would translate his English to Spanish almost instantaneously. The resulting translation would be shared via Adobe Connect and made viewable to the Chilean classroom. The same process was applied for Professor Murrugarra in Chile lecturing to RPI students from Spanish to English. The first few tests of methods and technologies in this initiative was more or less a rollercoaster of trial and error as we dealt with issues such as: Internet connectivity, software mishaps, and dealing with the learning curve involved in figuring out the technology and options we had to work alongside. With the help (and patience) of John Klucina and Maureen Fodera, we have been able to develop and implement a workable system.

The key is for RPI students and UAI students to work together on applying their learnings from lessons provided by both professors to case studies involving ethical situations and decision-making. Furthermore, they are working alongside each other on a large-scale project using Net Logo to simulate a situation that incorporates various ethical values and views. The motivation behind this collaboration is that, students’ conversations around their work will include the reasoning behind their ethical views and expose new ways of thinking to one another, and that working in one’s native language enhances their ability to communicate their values.