Author Emily Bell discusses teaching courses on ethics, and the broader life lessons that she's learned (and hopes her students have learned) from this experience. What is interesting to consider here is how the breaches in academic honesty and ethics in our university classrooms (I didn't mean to/ knwo I was plagiarizing, for instance) spring from the same sources unethical behaviour that occurs beyond academia.
In addition to Obedience to authority and Conformity bias, Bell notes the following factors that play into when and how people choose to act unethically:
- Rationalization and bias: We believe that we are more ethical than we actually are, and create rationalizations to explain any unethical behaviours. We believe that we are good people and this leads us to make ethical decisions rapidly.
- Time pressure: Unethical behaviours are more likely when we act under a time pressure.
- Fatigue: Unethical behaviours are more likely when we are fatigued.
- Lack of transparency: Unethical behaviours are more likely when we know that no one is watching.
We can see how and when students might test or breach the boundaries of ethical behaviour given these dimensions of our classrooms. For instance, time-pressure and fatigue are near constants during semester crunch-times.
Luckily, Bell also suggests how instructors might consider bringing a discussion of these factors into our teaching, by making room for students to reflect on ethical dilemmas and choices for action. These include a focus on learning objectives, critical reflection on ethically complex case-studies, making space and time for discussion, and encouraging "students to think about how these factors may be present in different contexts (for instance, in business, sports, or in different work environments)."
Check out Bell's article and related resources in the quick links and links to further reading on similar topics below:
- The importance of ethics education (October 2017, University Affairs)
- From anthro everywhere!
- Did I plagiarize? A flow chart (6 November 2017)
- Anthropological Ethics Outside Anthropology Classrooms (12 June 2017)
- Bullshit! Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data Syllabus (23 March 2017)