When Patricia Keith-Spiegel, PhD, asks her research ethics students whether they would report someone who faked their research data, they all say yes.
But when she asks what would happen if the data falsifier
were a supervisor they needed a letter of recommendation
from, they often say they’d be too afraid to do anything and
might instead try to convince themselves they had simply
misinterpreted the individual’s actions. If it were a friend, the
students say they would give the person a chance to explain
what happened and correct the data.
“It proves that decision-making is never a straight line,”
Keith-Spiegel told participants at APA’s 2013 Education
That exercise and others like it can help professors overcome
the challenges of teaching ethics, said Keith-Spiegel, a professor
emerita of social and behavioral sciences at Ball State University
and former APA Ethics Committee chair. These challenges include
shorter attention spans among students, a more realistic view of
the complexity of ethical decision-making and people’s ability to
convince themselves that what they’re doing is right even when it’s
Overcoming these challenges requires innovative approaches
to teaching ethics, said Keith-Spiegel, who shared examples
from her own and others’ classrooms.
Take informed consent, for example. “It’s a terribly
important topic, but not exciting to teach,” said Keith-Spiegel.
To engage students, she said, one psychology professor hands
out package inserts from medications, asks students to pretend
they have the problem for which the medication is intended and
then gives them a minute to decide whether or not to take the
drug. “That leads to discussions that are much more intriguing
and involving,” said Keith-Spiegel.
She and colleagues have also developed ways to respond
effectively to academic dishonesty. Their Multimedia Integrity
Innovative ways to make ethics classes effective and fun.