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Teaching Ethics

The Graduate School at Penn State is dedicated to developing faculty and graduate students' commitment to ethical teaching practices. In the past, universities have paid less attention to the ethics of teaching than to research ethics. One valuable source of information about ethical teaching is an issue of New Directions for Teaching and Learning. The editor produced a special edition of the journal, titled Ethical Dimensions of College and University Teaching: Understanding and Honoring the Special Relationship Between Teachers and Students, in which several authors provided theoretical and practical guidelines for honing ethical college teaching skills. Some of the authors' recommendations are listed below.

Four Norms to Govern Teaching

  • Honesty
  • Promise-Keeping: Promise-keeping requires the instructor to fulfill the "promises" made at the beginning of the semester. Syllabi, assignments, grading principles, and class and office hour schedules involve promises made to students.
  • Respect for Persons: Teachers ought to encourage mutual respect among students. Additionally, instructors ought to show respect and common courtesy for students both during interpersonal interactions and in responding promptly to students' need for guidance and feedback.
  • Fairness: Recognizing the inherent subjectivity involved in grading, instructors ought to ensure that their grading practices are as objective as possible by creating and adhering to unambiguous criteria.

Principles of Ethical College and University Teaching

  1. Content Competence - A university teacher maintains a high level of subject matter knowledge and ensures that course content is current, accurate, representative, and appropriate to the position of the course within the student's program of study.
  2. Pedagogical Competence - A pedagogically competent teacher communicates the objectives of the course to students, is aware of alternative instructional methods or strategies, and selects methods of instruction that are effective in helping students to achieve the course objectives.
  3. Dealing with Sensitive Topics - Topics that students are likely to find sensitive or discomforting are dealt with in an open, honest, and positive way.
  4. Student Development - The overriding responsibility of the teacher is to contribute to the intellect development of the student, at least in the context of the teacher's own area of expertise, and to avoid actions such as exploitation and discrimination that detract from student development.
  5. Dual Relationships with Students - To avoid conflict of interest, a teacher does not enter into dual-role relationships with students that are likely to detract from student development or lead to actual or perceived favoritism on the part of the teacher.
  6. Confidentiality - Student grades, attendance records, and private communications are treated as confidential materials and are released only with student consent, for legitimate academic purposes, or if there are reasonable grounds for believing that releasing such information will be beneficial to the student or will prevent harm to others.
  7. Respect for Colleagues - A university teacher respects the dignity of her or his colleagues and works cooperatively with colleagues in the interest of fostering student development.
  8. Valid Assessment of Students - Given the importance of assessment of student performance in university teaching and in students' lives and careers, instructors are responsible for taking adequate steps to ensure that assessment of students is valid, open, fair, and congruent with course objectives.
  9. Respect for Institution - In the interest of student development, a university teacher is aware of and respects the educational goals, policies, and standards of the institution in which he or she teaches.

Visit the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics website to learn more about ethics in college teaching. The association typically holds conferences in March and in midsummer.

Reseach Ethics

Penn State is committed to educating about and promoting research ethics within the University community. The need for research integrity crosses all disciplines and areas of focus. Regulations range from federal laws governing the conduct of scientific research to University and professional policies prohibiting falsification and plagiarism.

As research has become more complex, more collaborative, and more costly, issues of research ethics have become similarly complex, extensive, and important. Issues in research ethics now extend to appropriate methods for data "cleaning" in statistical analysis, management of professional collaborations "gone awry," and monitoring of conflict of interest issues among administrators, faculty, and graduate researchers.

The most immediate objectives of education and training in research ethics are to ensure compliance with legislation and regulations and to increase understanding of specific legislative guidelines among university faculty, graduate students, and staff. Yet beyond compliance, there are a number of other objectives that are also important, including:

  • Increasing understanding and judgment in applying the guidelines across a wide range of situations and a wider range of potential participants, such as administrative staff and graduate assistants;
  • Promoting best practices in the conduct of research and scientific investigation;
  • Establishing a university culture focused on what it means to be an ethical researcher, so that this shared ideal is supported in ways that are explicit (i.e., regulatory) and tacit (i.e., cultural, such as "the way we do things around here").

Penn State Policies

General Standards of Professional Ethics
Handling Inquiries/Investigations into Questions of Ethics in Research and in other Scholarly Activities

The following websites provide additional information about specific university programs, professional organizations, and regulatory institutions and policies on research ethics:

University Programs

Research and Scholarly Integrity
The Graduate School at the Michigan State University maintains a guide to resources for teaching responsible conduct of research, scholarship, and creative activities.

Professional Organizations

Applied Research Ethics National Association (ARENA)
ARENA is a national organization for professionals concerned with issues relating to the protection of human subjects, the humane care and treatment of animals, scientific misconduct, ethical decision-making in healthcare, and other ethical issues pertaining to biomedical and behavioral research.

Regulatory Institutions and Policies

Office of Research Integrity (ORI)
The ORI, located within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, promotes honesty in biomedical and behavior research at 4,000 institutions worldwide. They monitor institutional investigations of research misconduct and facilitate the responsible conduct of research through educational, preventive, and regulatory activities.

Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP)
OHRP is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that provides human subjects policy guidelines, compliance oversight, workshops, and educational materials.

The Belmont Report on Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects Research
The Belmont Report summarizes the policies of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. This report presents the basic ethical principles that should underlie the conduct of biomedical and behavioral research involving human subjects and the guidelines that should be followed to assure that such research is conducted in accordance with those principles.

This page was generated on May 24, 2024 at 10:44 PM local time. This may not be the most recent version of this page. Check the Penn State Graduate School website for updates.