Research Projects

Daniels Fund Principle-based Ethics Education Grant

The Daniels Fund Principle-based Ethics Education Grant (Daniels Fund Faculty Fellows Program) is dedicated to providing support for Mines faculty to integrate principle-based ethics into their curricula. Mines is the first STEM-focused university to receive Daniels Fund grants for ethics. On August 5, 2016, seven Mines faculty were awarded the inaugural Daniels Fund Faculty Fellows award for their proposals on how to incorporate ethics into their courses. The Faculty Fellows are expected to develop lessons, modules or projects that incorporate ethical considerations as a central focus. Upon completing their courses, the Faculty Fellows will assess the activity and develop strategies for adaptation, the goal being to create strategies that can be applied to a variety of courses.  The faculty will then share their results with the campus community.

More information can be found on the website of the Daniels Fund Faculty Fellows Program:


Convergence Accelerator Phase I (RAISE): Toward Fair, Ethical, Efficient, and Trustworthy Crowdsourcing Platforms to Support Crowdworkers in Jobs of the Future, National Science Foundation

(PI: Chuan Yue, Co-PIs: Ben Gilbert and Qin Zhu). See NSF webpage.  

The broader impact/potential benefit of this Convergence Accelerator Phase I project is multifaceted. Crowdsourcing has created a vast and rapidly growing online labor market. However, today’s crowdsourcing platforms cannot well support crowdworkers, job requesters, and the healthy growth of this important online labor market due to four major problems: fairness, ethics, efficiency, and trustworthiness. This project is a convergence of the research and development from multiple intellectually distinct disciplines including Computer Science, Economics & Business, and Humanities & Social Sciences. By performing fundamental research with rapid development advances through partnerships with crowdsourcing platform providers, this project will deliver techniques that can be used to create fair, ethical, efficient, and trustworthy crowdsourcing platforms to support American crowdworkers. It will also enable job requesters including researchers, companies, and government or humanitarian aid organizations to receive high-quality and trustworthy task submissions for them to confidently conduct their important studies and make important decisions. This project will actively involve students from underrepresented groups including female and minority students. It will train students on research and on producing high-quality deliverables. It will widely disseminate its results via activities such as publishing research papers and promoting the wide use of the deliverables.

CHS: Small: Collaborative Research: Role-Based Norm Violation Response in Human-Robot Teams, National Science Foundation

(PI: Tom Williams, Co-PI: Qin Zhu). See NSF webpage.

Robots may need to carefully decide when and how to reject commands given to them, if the actions required to carry out those commands are not morally permissible. Most previous work on this topic takes a norm-based ethical approach, where a robot would operate under a set of rules describing what states or actions are morally wrong, and use those rules to explain its actions. In contrast, this project explores a role-based perspective, in which the robot reasons about the relationships it holds with others, the roles it plays in those relationships, and whether the actions requested of it are benevolent with respect to those roles and relationships. Specifically, the researchers will develop a framework to allow robots to reason in this way and generate explanations of its actions based on this reasoning. The researchers will then explore how role-based and norm-based command rejections compare in terms of how they affect human-robot teamwork, and design algorithms to allow robots to automatically decide what type of rejection to generate based on their context. These algorithms and explanations will be evaluated in two very different contexts with different types of relationships, roles, and rules: with civilian undergraduates at the Colorado School of Mines, and with Air Force cadets at the US Air Force Academy. This work will not only increase robots’ ability to behave ethically and act as good teammates, but will also advance moral philosophy by providing experimental evidence for the relative importance and effectiveness of different tenets of role-based moral philosophy.

Mines Open Education Resources (OER) Grant: Value-based, Engaged & Self-reflective Ethics Pedagogies (VESEPs) in STEM

(PIs: Roel Snieder and Qin Zhu)

In science and engineering ethics education, there has been an increasing interest in cultivating students’ moral sensitivity and self-reflection capabilities. However, dominant ethics learning modules are not very well aligned with such a learning objective on the “self-dimension” of professional education, as most existing modules often focus on applying either codes of ethics or ethical theories while overlook the role of personal values in affecting professional decision-making. With the support of this grant, we are hoping to develop a collective of ethical learning tools that can help students critically examine the development of their own values, actively engage in meaningful ethics discussions, and develop self-reflective capabilities.

With the support of this grant, we are planning to develop around 10 value-based, engaged & self-reflective ethics learning tools that can be easily integrated into the classes in technical and humanities disciplines that aim to cultivate students’ moral sensitivity and self-reflection. In particular, for each ethics learning tool, we will include: (1) a “ready-to-be-used” student worksheet which includes the full student instruction; (2) a teaching guide for the instructor that explains how to set up and implement such activity including the use context of this tool (e.g., classroom, field session, senior design class); and (3) a grading rubric that will help the instructor better assess students’ moral development and learning experience. We are hoping to share these ethics learning tools at the website of the National Academy of Engineering’s Ethics Center for Engineering and Science and these tools will be reviewed by the editors at this Center. Therefore, these tools will potentially benefit students and instructors beyond the Mines campus. We will also seek help from our library colleagues and share these tools on one website. 

Mines Open Education Resources (OER) Grant: Ethics, society, and technology: A Confucian perspective

(PI: Qin Zhu)

This project focuses on developing open education resources (OER) for Mines undergraduate and graduate classes that are interested in incorporating Confucian ethics into the classroom. We have published an essay on the fundamental teachings in Confucian ethics and their applications in understanding the complex relationships between ethics, society, and technology. This essay also includes a few pedagogical tools for enriching and evaluating students’ experience learning Confucian ethics of technology. We hope to publish this material in an open access format.  

Download the teaching essay below:

Zhu, Q. (2020). Ethics, society, and technology: A Confucian role ethics perspective. Technology in Society. Advance online publication.