Teaching Ethics in non-ethics courses: What works, What doesn't work
I. Some Goals of Ethics Teaching in "technical" courses:
A. Increase sensitivity to ethical issues;
B. Increase knowledge relevant to ethical issues, including
1. Institutional background and
2. Modes of analysis
C. Improve student's ethical judgment (ability to resolve ethics issues in practice);
D. Improve student's will power (strengthen "ethical commitment").
II. Ethical Sensitivity
A. Works: brief, but concrete cases
-in context, i.e. directly relevant to topics covered on that particular day the case is presented;
B. Doesn't Work: lengthy case studies
- usually difficult to put in context and can create tension with accomplishing other aims of the course
- lengthy cases are much more effective when used in courses with a primary focus on ethics.
III. Ethical Knowledge
A. Institutional Knowledge
1. Works: Lectures, readings, guest speakers, movies, plays
2. Doesn't Work: (more precisely, may not work): Research projects - students may get bogged down in details.
B. Modes of Analysis
a. Class discussions that strike a balance between structure and openness;
b. Ethical reasoning schematics -- e.g. the Seven Step Method (hyperlink)
2. Doesn't Work
a. (totally) unstructured discussion;
b. Moral Theory (distinguished from ethical reasoning schematics)
IV. Ethical Judgment
1. Problems requiring an exercise of judgment (with reasons)
2. Discussions requiring exercising of judgment (and criticism)
3. Group assignments requiring exercise of judgment;
B. Doesn't Work: straight lecture
V. Ethical Will Power (argument for this but no empirical evidence)
A. Works: Ethics across the curriculum
B. Doesn't Work: preaching, route practice
General Principles for Integrating Ethics into Your Curriculum
1. Don't try to do everything at once.
e.g. no "ethics day" or "ethics course" (except as a part of larger integration of ethics)
2. Start Small.
Doing several little things is easier then doing one big thing. So, until you get the hang of it, be satisfied with the little stuff
3. Push on.
Once you get the hang of something, start thinking about doing something more. Push to the limit.
4. Keep in touch with colleagues.
Tell them what you're doing and how it is working out. Try to get them to try things too. Find out what they're doing.
5. Coordinate with others when possible.
e.g. if your department already raises ethical sensitivity freshman year, try building on that by, say, emphasizing what students can do about ethical issues they identify. Ask your department to provide guidance to you (and others).
6. Have a long-term plan- subject to revision should you learn that something doesn't work.
e.g. begin by emphasizing ethical sensitivity for freshmen; next year start work on sophomores' ethical information; year after that start work on ethical judgment for juniors, and the last year work on will-power.
7. Check for impact.
Don't expect to see much change in students on any one day or even during one course. But test to see what, if anything, students have learned. Grading keeps you informed about what your students are learning, makes clear to them what you think is important enough to test for, and will probably help re-enforce your sense of accomplishment.