Saturday, 28 March 2015

Wk 28 - MINDLAB - Ethics in teaching practice

This post is part of an assessment for a paper on "Applied Practice in Context", part of the Postgraduate in Digital and Collaborative Learning programme offered by Mindlab and UNITEC.

The post this week is a response to key points that arose from Applied Professional Ethics by Collste (2012) and where or how they relate to teaching practice. NOTE: All quotations are from the above article.

ETHICS is about reflecting on one's moral judgements or actions and justifying why they might be right or wrong. When decision making, one must often chose from a number of alternatives and the decision made will promote one value over others; for example, economic options over sustainable options or in an education setting PPTA union membership over effecting educational change through supporting EDUCANZ.  Reflecting on such crucial aspects of human life and social development is known as APPLIED ETHICS.

Applied ethics can be described as the art and science of reflecting on moral dilemmas and moral problems in different contexts. With applied ethics there is an interplay between theory and practice and philosophical methods to treat moral problems. It can contribute to understanding as people struggle with sustainability, animal welfare, social justice, pollution, devices in schools, school closures in Christchurch, classroom sizes and so on.....

In the latter part of the 20th century ethics has become increasingly important due, in part, to technological developments in the medical field which has created new moral dilemmas around topics such as pre-natal testing, euthanasia, stem cell research and cloning. This has led to a "policy vacuum" as "we don' t know how to handle new situations and lack moral and legal concepts and principles"  to deal with such issues. Practicing applied ethics can be used to fill this vacuum.

Using applied ethics can be described as a method used to reach a goal through increasing knowledge and insights into ethical issues and finding a "well argued position from which to act" and requires facts, methods and data from a range of sources as well as involving philosophical debate. It is a deliberative process which matches relevant principles and considered judgements. There were, and still are, ethical discussions taking place is school around digital platforms and the use of social media in school. These tend to arise around equity (not all students are able to afford a device) and personal safety (cyberbullying, privacy issues and theft of property).

REFLECTIVE EQUILIBRIUM (RE) is an inclusive method used for moral problem solving where different aspects are considered, often at different levels of abstraction and relate to different aspects of the problem. It include structuring arguments, decision making and making justifications. This multi-disciplinary research approach which requires contributions from different disciplines (doctors and philosophers for example) and other perspectives. I see parallels  between RE and  a human-centred, or empathy-based approach to design, known as design thinking; a mindset and methodology that encourages teams with diverse experiences and expertise to collaborate and prototype to arrive at a workable solution. Design thinking is increasingly being used in schools overseas and New Zealand.

DESIGNING-IN ETHICS is another approach whereby ethics can be designed into institutions or technical systems so that values are realised. An example that comes to mind in an educational context is around the use of digital devices in school. Students that don't have a device can not be educationally disadvantaged and therefore schools need to "design in" equity by providing computers or devices for student use.

PROFESSIONAL ETHICS is a response to moral problems faced by professionals in their working environment; an environment where those involved have 

  • an academic education  
  • professional degrees
  • provide an important service
  • are supported by professional associations
  • work with a certain amount of autonomy, and 
  • work within an ethical code of conduct. 

Professionals in such an environment are often required to make decisions or judgements whilst being confronted by ethical or moral dilemmas. A teacher would most certainly fit within this context. But do they have pay equity with other professionals?

I had a professional dilemma recently over whether to contact home as student wasn't working well in a subject; the expected process as this student's tutor teacher (similar to a dean). I discussed this with the student who pleaded with me not to contact home as any bad feedback from school would result in being sent away to live in another city. Rather than follow process which was NOT in the student's best interests the student and I discussed some strategies to use in class and set out some expectations and goals that would be revisited. I based my decision on the value I placed on the student's well being and learning rather than following policy - in this instance.

TASK: Are the following relevant to applied ethical or professional contexts or both and are they important in teaching? How? 

Conducting research, writing policy, professional dialogue and professional development, cultural responsiveness, language revitalisation, globalisation, the rights of the child, gender, sexuality, governance, allocation of funding, capitalism, eco-sustainability, cultural pluralism, morality, animal welfare, human rights, colonialisation, the treatment of blood and human tissues, resource depletion.
Depending on the specific context they could all be relevant to both applied ethics or professional ethics. Are they important in teaching? As a teaching professional all these issues could be important and again it would depend on the context; the role of a teacher or as part of subject content in a student learning environment. 

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