The challenges of teaching professional ethics

I have been having many discussions – with colleagues and practitioners – about what it means to teach ethics to professional communicators. Ethics is a challenging subject to teach at the best of times, because it requires that the practitioner have experience. How do you get a student or a mentee to have that experience, even if you need to do it vicariously, through case studies?

In her commentary piece in the latest issue of JPC, Patricia Parsons, a professor at Mount Saint Vincent University, discusses the challenges of teaching ethics in a professional program. In 2004 study she conducted (the results are as valid today as they were then!), she discovered the following eight challenges for public relations ethics education. Her JPC article fleshes out each challenge.

1. Failure to plan where the course ought to be placed in the curriculum.

2. Course objectives that fail to consider all three domains: knowledge, attitude and behaviour.

3. Failure to allow students to build on their own value systems and construct a new awareness from where they are.

4. Heavy reliance on case studies that focus on higher-level, managerial situations. The most commonly used method of instruction reported was the use of the case study.

5. A belief that the best guest speakers are those in high-level positions when most grads need to understand the non-managerial issues.

6. Taking a shotgun approach to ethics.

7. Failing to allow students time to reflect on what they are learning.

8. Lack of creativity in developing evaluation instruments. Reliance on tests and case studies is a more difficult issue than many of us are willing to admit.

You should read her JPC article. It’s a very thoughtful piece.

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