Ethics? Teachers should worry about Ethics?

Ethics Defined, and Pointedly Applied to the Online Instructor

As noted on the Home page, the term Ethics employs a broad range of applications to measurement of right and wrong, good and bad, conduct and misconduct[13]. While it is perhaps intuitive to imagine classroom ethics as more applicable to student behavior than teachers, one must keep in mind that teachers / instructors / facilitatorsas much online as in traditional class roomshold much responsibility for goingson in the learning environment, and therefore play a key role in modeling ethical practices in education.

Welcome to this particular online classroom! If you have ever taken any class of any kind, then you know that teachers and students are both essential for the learning process. Consider the pedagogical principle of constructivism which states that learning is inherently social; would learning not be more difficult (if not impossible) without communication? Even if you are an online veteran and your teachers have primarily been a computer screen, you face connection, interaction, information, even dialog with a system designed by other human beings to interface with your cognitive centers; that's communication! Since communication always involves more than one party, questions, answers, and backandforth exchange of ideas and personality, certainly then there is no exclusion of social, ethical responsibility. Right?

Therefore, rejoice, for you have the answer to the above question! Consider that two experts from Mississippi State University's Department of Instructional Systems, Leadership, and Workforce Development state that "to ensure the quality of online instruction, the qualification of the instructors should be a first consideration"[10]. Yes, teachers hold ethical responsibilities and rights, and yes, teachers should consider the implications and consequences of their ethical choices in the learning environment. In this module, we focus on real instructors in virtual classrooms, but the venue is irrelevant as social context of ethical concerns barely change between the two media (virtual vs physical). Coming up in this module, we will look at some national codes of ethical conduct, some consequences, some ways to recognize ethical infractions, and some strategies of dealing with a few specified ethical issues.

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Notes from the NEA Code for Ethical Teacher Behavior
The NEA code of ethics,directly from the NEA's website[8], is listed below. Note that the code is delivered in two principles for the educator: Commitment to the Student, and Commitment to the [Teaching] Profession. Though the list is extensive and arguable presents a relatively comprehensive guideline that fosters a greater good, one must allow that Ethics (as a philosophical concept) is far deeper than what can be typed up in a virtual contract.

PRINCIPLE I: Commitment to the Student
The educator strives to help each student realize his or her potential as a worthy and effective member of society. The educator therefore works to stimulate the spirit of inquiry, the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, and the thoughtful formulation of worthy goals. In fulfillment of the obligation to the student, the educator:

  • Shall not unreasonably restrain the student from independent action in the pursuit of learning.
  • Shall not unreasonably deny the student access to varying points of view.
  • Shall not deliberately suppress or distort subject matter relevant to the student's progress.
  • Shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning or to health and safety.
  • Shall not intentionally expose the student to embarrassment or disparagement.
  • Shall not on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, marital status, political or religious beliefs, family, social or cultural background, unfairly:
  • Exclude any student from participation in any program.
  • Deny benefits to any student.
  • Grant any advantage to any student.
  • Shall not use professional relationships with students for private advantage.
  • Shall not disclose information about students obtained in the course of professional service unless disclosure serves a compelling professional purpose or is required by law.

PRINCIPLE II: Commitment to the Profession
The education profession is vested by the public with a trust and responsibility requiring the highest ideals of professional service. In the belief that the quality of the services of the education profession directly influences the nation and its citizens, the educator shall exert every effort to raise professional standards, to promote a climate that encourages the exercise of professional judgment, to achieve conditions that attract persons worthy of the trust to careers in education, and to assist in preventing the practice of the profession by unqualified persons. In fulfillment of the obligation to the profession, the educator:

  • Shall not in an application for a professional position deliberately make a false statement or fail to disclose a material fact related to competency and qualification.
  • Shall not misrepresent his/her professional qualifications.
  • Shall not assist any entry into the profession of a person known to be unqualified in respect to character, education, or other relevant attribute.
  • Shall not knowingly make a false statement concerning the qualifications of a candidate for a professional position.
  • Shall not assist a non educator in the unauthorized practice of teaching.
  • Shall not disclose information about colleagues obtained in the course of professional service unless disclosure serves a compelling professional purpose or is required by law.
  • Shall not knowingly make false or malicious statements about a colleague.
  • Shall not accept any gratuity, gift, or favor that might impair or appear to influence professional decisions or action.
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This author thinks that the ethics of instructors is potentially more dynamic than the two dimensions of the page you now read. As a public school teacher, I believe that ethics of pedagogy and constructivist delivery is fluid and dynamic, and may involve alterations for the "greater good" at the individual level of professional oneonone relationships. Consider that an ethical application that works for best productivity and emotional health may not work in a different situation with the same parties, or even the same situation with different parties. Yes, there are universal principles that advance the profession (as listed in the Code above), but ethics (again) is deeper and more malleable when you consider individual relationships.

Consider the Consequences of Unethical Teacher Practices

Crime and Punishment are a long way removed from the expert qualifications of this module. Our focus here is on strategies that teachers can employ to maintain ethically sound standards of conduct in the virtual environment. The scope of consequences of ethical breaches is a matter of lawlocal and federaland even so, is divided into various disciplines of education (Health, Law, Engineering, etc.). Even considering our specialty of online education, there is a myriad of resources and references (see out reference section) dedicated what is called cyberethics.

The United States Department of Justice has designated an entire webpage to Model Acceptable Use Policy, including but not limited to issues of internet privacy, piracy, slander, security, and inappropriate age barrier breaches[3]. The government has diligently found an entire niche of application to protecting the rights of citizens young and old from the many shades of online crime. In 2002, President Bush met with several level of law enforcement and announced "several aggressive steps we are taking to protect our children from exploitation and from danger on the Internet"[11]. Some of these steps include parents' communicating with children about the dangers of online predation, checking up on kids' internet activity, and keeping computers in a central location. "Innocent Images" is a government initiated program in which the FBI sets out to "identify, we investigate, and we prosecute predators across the country"[12]. Consider how vital a role and responsibility online teachers hold as being the facilitators, overseers, and parental figures of a growing cyber student population!

Besides those more global applications above, consider some of these consequences:

  • [1]A High School teacher/soccer coach, Robert Lamascus, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for child. Lamascus allegedly "used his computer and internet provider to download and trade images and video clips of child in 2006 and 2007". ["Trading or collecting images of child is not a victimless crime, "said U.S. Attorney Ratcliffe. "Each image represents graphic physical and abuse of an actual child. Anyone who uses the internet to trade images of these horrific crimes deserves the kind of lengthy sentence imposed here today."]
  • [6]Fairfax County has been placed on the historic online map! Noted on the "electronic school" website, Fairfax County Public Schools was one of the first districts in the nation to witness the first hints of questionable cyberethics. A student sent a physics teacher an electronic death threat for a low grade, and another pair sent a bomb threat to through their school's website. In this author's experience as a public school teacher, I have seen students arrested for bomb construction materials and recipes obtained online. All these students were caught, and new precedents set about online maintenance. John Gay, chief information officer for FCPS said, "It's "not fair" to place the responsibility of making decisions about what is or is not acceptable behavior on a student". He recommends having a responsible gatekeeper for students' internet behavior. Who do you think will be the best candidate for that sort of vigilance ? Still, to be fair, he did say that help from law enforcement would be a good thing in the prevention of future cybercrimes. But what happens when the teachers go bad? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards? Think about it.
  • [4]To underscore the global implications of internet harm and justice that teachers can illicit, take a moment to consider these proactive points of crime and punishment in France about online child endangerment:

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Endangerment of Minors

  • Article 22723: Taking, recording or transmitting the picture or representation of a minor with a view to circulating it, where that image or representation has a inapropriate character Three years' imprisonment and a fine of (Euro) 45,000. The same penalty applies to the distribution of such a picture or representation, and its import or export, or causing it to be imported or exported. The penalties increased to five years' imprisonment and a fine of (Euro) 75,000 where, for the circulation of the image or representation of a minor, use was made of a communication network open for the circulation of messages to an unrestricted public. Retaining such an image or representation is punished by two years' imprisonment and a fine of (Euro) 30,000.
  • Article 22724: The manufacture, transport, distribution by whatever means and however supported, of a message bearing an inapropriate or violent character or a character seriously violating human dignity, or the trafficking in such a message Is punished by three years' imprisonment and a fine of (Euro) 75,000, where the message may be seen or perceived by a minor.
  • Article 434152: Illegal use of a cryptation key A penalty of three years' imprisonment and a fine of (Euro) 45,000
  • Article 43423:Assuming the name of another person in circumstances that lead or could have led to the initiation of a criminal prosecution against such a person Punished by five years' imprisonment and a fine of (Euro) 75,000.

Further consider implications, consequences, and strategies of ethics in the classroom by visiting the modules on eStudents, eDevelopers, and our Case Scenarios.

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