Ethical thinking in a disciplinary context: The ethical development of undergraduates and expectations of tutors in the arts, social and pure sciences
AuthorsHealey, Ruth L.
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AbstractBarnett (2000) argues that universities need to prepare students for 'supercomplexity', where "the very frameworks by which we orientate ourselves to the world are themselves contested" (p. 257). Learning to think through ethical issues develops critical thinking skills for dealing with supercomplexity, since the frameworks the students use to consider ethical issues are contested and likely to change. Yet, Boyd et al. (2008) question whether universities actually produce graduates who are prepared "for practical and ethical engagement with their scholarly, professional and personal worlds" (p. 38). Moreover, we might expect differences in ethical thinking between disciplines given that the nature of ethical issues studied varies by discipline. The overall aim of this research was to explore the development of undergraduates' ethical thinking during their programmes and to compare how it aligns with the expectations of their tutors and to discuss the implications for teaching and learning ethics in higher education. To address this aim the research objectives were to assess whether the ethical development of undergraduate students varies by discipline, gender and year; to analyse how the nature of ethical thinking expected by tutors varies between disciplines and evaluate the extent to which this aligns with the students' ethical development; and to discuss the implications for enhancing the teaching and learning of ethics. Most emphasis is placed on the first objective. To address these objectives, a questionnaire exploring students' ethical understandings and level of ethical development, was given to students in all three undergraduate years of the English (art), Geography (social science) and Animal Behaviour and Welfare (pure science) programmes at an English University. In total 335 students responded. Interviews were then conducted with tutors teaching on the three programmes discussing the nature of ethics within their disciplines, how ethics was taught and what ethical thinking skills they wanted their students to develop. The key findings are that: 1) There are no significant differences between disciplines in terms of student ethical development. 2) There is some evidence of differences between years, but there was not clear evidence of progression over the three years of the undergraduate programme. 3) Male students demonstrate less ethical development than their female counterparts. 4) Tutors across all three disciplines have similar expectations in terms of the nature of ethical thinking desired. 5) Most of the students exhibit lower levels of ethical development than their tutors expected. It is suggested the skill of 'ethical thinking' should be included in programme outcomes and that teaching and learning strategies which cast students in the role of active, social and creative learners offer the best potential to enhance student ethical thinking abilities.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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