Teaching Business Ethics

In the five years since the financial crisis brought the world to its knees, colleges have been evaluating their business curricula to better address teaching ethics. The hope is that by doing so, schools will turn out leaders who don’t repeat the mistakes that originally led to the crisis. A roundup of recently published research may provide some insights into how business communication instructors can integrate ethics into their syllabi.

An article published in the Journal of Education for Business[i] discusses the use of “deliberate psychological education” or DPE, a strategy based in cognitive developmental theory. DPE uses purposeful discourse about the desired topic in conjunction with instructor-assisted student reflection to promote the personal growth necessary for ethical decision-making. The article outlines goals and activities instructors can use to integrate DPE into their courses.

For example, the authors recommend the use of case studies and class discussion to raise awareness of ethical issues. They suggest assigning written reflections to instructor prompts, specifically ones that will illuminate students’ ethical reasoning. Such reflections can be examined within teams or through presentations, all while the instructor challenges students to take multiple viewpoints.

Another article from the Journal of Multidisciplinary Research[ii] outlines the case for using transformational learning techniques to teach business ethics. Transformational learning involves changing a learner’s perspective, usually as a result of an uncomfortable “aha!” moment.

Some elements of transformational learning as it pertains to learning about ethics are:

  • Defining key concepts and principles underlying business ethics.
  • Framing problems, issues, and recommendations in ways that show understanding of how these decisions affect others.
  • Understanding personal values and personal identity to create moral meaning and conscience.
  • Confirming or refuting the validity of previously held truths, leading to personal growth.
  • Creating learning insights and clarity by constantly testing and challenging students’ assumptions.

These two methods are just a few of the ways business communication instructors can expose students to the ideas behind ethical thinking. One thing is certain, however. Doing so is a win-win proposition for all.

[1] Drees C., Davidson, K. (2013) Applying What Works: A Case for Deliberate Psychological Education in Undergraduate Business Ethics. Journal of Education for Business, (88): 127-135.

[1] Tello, G., Swanson, D., Floyd, L., & Caldwell, C. (2013). Transformative Learning: A New Model for Business Ethics Education. Journal Of Multidisciplinary Research, 5(1), 105-120.

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