Data Analysis in the Engineering Ethics Study: Case 3

The Saber Sound Effects (SSE) team was one of the Senior Design Project (SDP) teams we observed in our second year of the study. The SSE team was designing sound effects for an electric toy saber. The toy saber for which they were designing sound effects was not a simple toy but an elaborately designed electric toy resembled a light saber in the movie. Their sound effects would have made a toy saber as a fine collectible figure. The SSE team concerned about the safety issues because electric toy could inflict harm if incorrectly used. In the selected episode, the SSE team discussed the possible danger of their design product when used by young children, and concluded that charging a high price would reduce risk because young children cannot afford it.



Here is the discussion segment.


We (researchers) began to analyze the team’s conversation by identifying a few types of meaningful keywords and highlighted them in different color. This conversation was focused on the safety issues, so we first marked keywords representing safety in green. Then we marked user related keywords in purple. They suggested of charging a high price to prevent young children from buying this electric toy saber, so we marked keywords about price in orange. See the below.


Then, we noticed that, in this conversation, most of important actions were supposed to be done by engineers. For example, “give responsibility” “charging a high price” “make more” “limits” were all supposed to be engineers’ actions. So we marked keywords indicating engineers’ actions in blue. The below is color-coded conversation with index.


Apparently, the SSE team concerned about possible accidents which might happen when a young children misused the toy saber. They said that if this toy saber is expensive, young children would not be able to buy it, so it would prevent a possible harm. Again, we studied relationship among keywords, interpretive meanings in the discussion, team members’ gestures or any non-verbal expressions such as laugh, the team’s particular habit or way of talking, and any other noticeable clue. Based on them, we could find a few characteristics in this discussion.

First, the SSE team’s conversation indicated that the team approached to the safety issue in the perspective of the engineer. The following conversation showed that they (engineers) would give responsibility and they would charge a high price.

  • C: It’s…who do you give that responsibility to? You don’t give that responsibility to somebody that’s five.
  • A: Mhmm.
  • B: And with that, do you think it’s better that they’re charging a high price with it, because, like, with ours…it’s – it’s about to hurt people.

They seemed to think, if a safe product is provided to the qualified users, the possible safety issue could be resolved. In this perspective, the users are recipients, and engineers and other manufacturing or marketing parties are providers who control the safety issues. We represented the SSE team’s cultural model about the relationship between safety concerns and the users as seen below.


Second, although the SSE team brought up an important safety issue, the solution they found was actually out of their hands. For example, charging a price is not usually engineers’ job. It is usually decided by markets. Also the responsibility for the safety was shifted to parental guidance.


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