Students are preparing themselves for the future; they are developing the skills, traits, and knowledge they’ll carry with them into their future family life and careers. In other words, what students learn in school, and how they choose to act today, will influence how they think, live, work, and act tomorrow. A proper understanding of this ethics, action, and accountability will inform their ability to conduct their professional and personal lives in a responsible manner.
As you begin to integrate ethics into your classes, you will undoubtedly impress the importance of ethics upon your students—yet you may struggle engaging them with topics, especially those they feel are “outside” of themselves, or those who do not see how they can make a difference. (Re) engaging students into seeing and understanding the relationship between ethics and their lives is imperative as the actions they take can have very real ramifications and have a ripple effect on the people around them.
One way to encourage engagement is to provide students with examples of people who took what they believed to be ethical actions, and to discuss the consequences (including why these people are sometimes called “whistle-blowers”). And you can also provide them with examples of situations where people did not take ethical action, and the negative consequences that resulted.
The issue of environmental ethics has become especially relevant. Our relationship with our natural environment has become an ethical dilemma in itself, and one that many are disconnected from. Pollution and the depletion of natural resources are the typical focus areas for students, but dwindling plant and animal biodiversity, the loss of wilderness, the degradation of ecosystems, and climate change have now implanted themselves into both public consciousness and public policy. (Re)connecting to ethics has never seemed so necessary.
Teaching Strategy: Increase Student Engagement Through Active Learning
Fortunately, many of the academic and professional practices you present and explore in your classes will surely raise related ethical issues, and they can be brought into the classroom using virtually any pedagogical approach familiar to you to. You might try some of these:
Role-playing is an effective way to engage students to examine ethics from the point of view of another person. Role-playing has an important benefit—increasing the capacity of students to empathize.
Sharing personal stories of how others have faced and dealt with ethical problems in the real world can help students relate to ethical concepts in a tangible way. These can be your own, or those of a guest, or even those presented in the short videos we have provided throughout these modules.
Students creating their own videos about ethics demonstrate a hands-on approach to learning about ethical concepts. Students have a greater amount of technology available to them than ever before. They should be more than consumers of it—they should create with it!
Debates are always engaging. They can be pre-arranged and can allow students to demonstrate knowledge of the topic, present their arguments, and counter those of the opposing side.
Discussion forums can allow students who may be shy, or less-than-willing to participate in a face-to-face environment, to share and engage with their classmates in a moderated environment.
Blogs, both online and written (as a journal), can be an effective way for students to write about ethical issues raised in class and/or course materials and engage in a consistent practice of ethical reflection.
Ideally, these ethical inquiries would be integrated into the curriculum. If faculty integrated ethical thinking into their syllabi and their courses, students would become more aware, accustomed to, and adept at ethical decision making.
Ethical (Dis)Engagement and the Need for (Re)Engagement