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Unit 6: Fostering ethical learning environments

Unit 6: Fostering ethical learning environments

The E4J University Modules on Anti-Corruption, Integrity and Ethics provide materials and pedagogical tools to help you teach classes on a variety of ethics topics.

However, effective integrity education requires going beyond the mere teaching of ethical theories and anti-corruption topics; it requires a supportive ethical learning environment. Experiencing an ethical environment while at university enhances the moral sensitivity and ethical behaviour of students and helps them appreciate the importance of ethics in their personal and professional life and in society more broadly.

In addition, when the values and messages emphasized in classes addressing ethics and anti-corruption issues are consistent with those that prevail outside of the classroom, they are more likely to be considered valid by the students.

Thus, an ethical environment is not only important as an educational method on its own right but is also crucial for the effectiveness of ethics classes and courses, including those based on the E4J Modules.

Watch this video which provides an overview of the importance of ethics education as a foundation for ethical conduct.

Download this video clip.Video player: ethics_modules-video_e4j_1.mp4
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People are complex, and societies are complex. Sometimes people consciously make unethical decisions, and sometimes people do do evil things. But a lot of time, people are doing what they feel is the best thing in a particular circumstance.
I want to believe that, overwhelmingly, people are good.
Seems people, when they get into leadership positions, also seem to forget themselves.
Ethics is the most fundamental problem on the planet.
People suddenly say, oh, now, put on your ethical hat.
How do people make decisions that exploit others?
We just want to gather everything for us, even at the cost of others.
Until we have people making decisions that are not in their own self-interest, we will continue to have conflict, political upheaval, irregular migration, economies suffering. All of the big issues that anybody cares about are, ultimately, ethical issues.
People who feel generally unable to change a lot of their ethical environment are caught being unethical just to survive in that environment.
They feel like they can't do anything about it.
It's not so easy to always know what's the best thing to do in every situation.
People always try to get better and better.
So how do we empower individuals to actually either come together individually you know, be able to voice their concern?
How do we get those individuals to reach a higher standard of conduct, so regardless of the pressures you face, that you will make ethical decisions when it most counts?
Almost all the time, people know pretty much straight away what's right and what's wrong. The problem is acting on it.
You shouldn't have to have a camera looking over your shoulder at every decision you make for you to make ethical decisions.
If we are to deal with challenges that are the core that is integrity and ethics, we really need to focus on what can be done by generations to come because, let's face it, and let's be honest with ourselves we, my generation, has done a lousy job. If we have any way of atoning, it is by focusing and preparing the next generations of doing a better job than we have done.
Education is a long-term process. You are working on a generation. And then you can have required results.
It is in that spirit that we have developed the E4J initiative. And we are trying to develop materials that are appropriate for each level of education, and therefore, for each age group.
End transcript
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6.1 Setting ground rules for ethical behaviour

Described image
Figure 11 Students in a classroom

How should students behave in the classroom? Are they allowed to eat, to use electronic devices, what language can be used during class deliberations? How should you behave when dealing with class interruptions, when answering students' mails, when addressing questions during classes?

These are all routine questions that arise during each course in almost any country or field of education, and all of them involve ethical issues.

Examples of unethical student behaviour are well-known, and you will have experienced many of them yourself: arriving late for class, using mobile phones or computers for non-educational purposes in class, engaging in corrupt behaviour such as cheating in exams and plagiarizing the work of others.

Universities are constantly trying to address this behaviour through increased vigilance (e.g. plagiarism software) and disciplinary procedure, but while this might prevent some corrupt or unethical behaviour from occurring, it rarely has a lasting impact.

Activity 6.1 Ground rules

By signing in and enrolling on this course you can view and complete all activities within the course, track your progress in My OpenLearn Create. and when you have completed a course, you can download and print a free Statement of Participation - which you can use to demonstrate your learning.

6.2 Lecturers as ethical role models

Described image
Figure 12 A lecturer in a classroom

Actions speak louder than words. Ethical behaviour can foster ethical learning among students more effectively than merely teaching ethics in isolation. “How you teach” is equally important to “what you teach”, especially when teaching anti-corruption, integrity and ethics.

Lecturers, by the very nature of their job, set an example for their students and should ideally serve as role models of ethical behaviour within and beyond the classroom and the requirements of their employment contracts. Lecturers who teach ethics should be especially committed to serving as ethical role models, as this is critical for the credibility and effectiveness of their courses.

In other words, to create a favourable environment for teaching on ethics and values, you must demonstrate integrity in your daily practice at the university and limit opportunities for corrupt or unethical behaviour towards students, fellow lecturers, and the administrative staff (Hallak and Poisson, 2007).

Activity 6.2 Role models

Part 1

Timing: 2 minutes

You have many opportunities to demonstrate proper ethical behaviour and, by doing so, to become a role model for your students. Identify examples of ethical behaviour from the list below.


Starting and finishing classes on time.


Not being available for meetings with students after agreeing to be there.


Dealing with interruptions and distractions in class in an appropriate manner.


Facilitating class discussion in a way that demonstrates respect for different opinions.


Misplacing students’ assignments.


Not taking advantage of your professional relationship with students for private gain.


Grading in a timely fashion and providing comprehensive feedback to help students learn and improve their skills.


Giving undue advantage to some students simply because of who they are.


Answering emails and other messages from students promptly and respectfully.


Performing assessments of assignments and tests in a fair way.


Demonstrating empathy and understanding to students in difficult circumstances.


Delivering a class without proper preparation.

The correct answers are a, c, d, f, g, i, j and k.


A mapping of possible misbehaviours at higher education level can be found on the online ETICO resource platform.

By signing in and enrolling on this course you can view and complete all activities within the course, track your progress in My OpenLearn Create. and when you have completed a course, you can download and print a free Statement of Participation - which you can use to demonstrate your learning.

6.3 Developing ethical learning environments

In this video Dr Nceku Nyathi, Lecturer in Business, reflects on his experience of developing ethical learning environments when using the E4J resources with his students in South Africa and the UK.

Download this video clip.Video player: ethical_learning_environments.mp4
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So the teaching methodology on which the Education for Justice Modules are built helps us lecturers, I think, develop skills and ideas around how to teach and also how to build an ethical learning environment for our students. Which is really important, I think, to show integrity as lecturers, as we're teaching around issues to do with ethics and integrity.
Yeah, that was one of the starting points, in that the modules contributed in terms of helping me think about setting the environment. So in what atmosphere will these ethics be discussed? So a respect for each other, tolerance, hearing diverse views -- but also learning to unlearn, as well as learn, new things.
So that environment is absolutely crucial in setting up right from the outset. Agreeing some sort of contract about what -- that certain people bringing in certain organisations, protecting people's privacy, names, use of certain language. All that needs to be done in a space that is controlled and done in respect and with dignity.
Because really, what we're doing is trying to build up civic values, civic virtues, within the learning environment that can be transferred very easily to employment situations. Because these kind of approaches, this ethical learning environment, really is an environment for inclusive practise within workplaces and in society on a larger scale, isn't it?
It's challenging the students to be critical, but also allowing them to be reflective. And by being reflective they're exploring beliefs, they're looking at behaviour.
But there's also the issue of action. So there's things happening within the class. It's not just people sitting down and not doing anything. You're moving the class about. People just don't come in and sit still throughout the whole lecture. So that really brings the class alive.
Thank you very much for your insights.
Thank you.
End transcript
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6.4 The role of theory

You have been introduced to a variety of teaching principles in this Module which will help you deliver engaging and effective anti-corruption, integrity and ethics learning opportunities for your students. In doing so you have been introduced to a number of ethical theories. In this section you will explore the nature and role of ethical theories in more detail and consider how they are used within the E4J Integrity curriculum.

The moment we – as human beings – express a desire about the way something should be, we use ethical language. By suggesting that something should be different, we are doing the grading, evaluation and comparison (Newman and Blackburn, 2002, p. 4). We suggest that something could be better, and by implication we support the idea that some things are better, more desirable or more acceptable than others.

The illustration below explains the role of theory – it helps us to understand the world, but theory by itself cannot change the world; we need action. Action – and hopefully ethical action – will be informed by theory. Any theory that addresses the way things should be or ought to be – as mentioned above – can be classified as an ethical theory.

Described image
Figure 13 The role of theory

The E4J Anti-Corruption, Integrity and Ethics Modules address three of the major Western ethical theories: utilitarianism, deontology and virtue ethics. The critical contribution of non-Western philosophy is acknowledged but not addressed in detail in this online training course (although some Chinese ethical theories are briefly discussed).

Modules in the E4J Module Series on Integrity and Ethics that discuss non-Western approaches to ethics include Module 2 (Ethics and Universal Values), Module 4 (Ethical Leadership), and Module 5 (Ethics, Diversity and Pluralism). It is noted that the approach known as ethics of care, while not discussed in this training course, is defined and addressed in Module 9 (Gender Dimensions of Ethics).

No best theory

The E4J Modules do not seek to promote one particular ethical theory. All major ethical theories have strengths and shortcomings. There is no confirmed “best theory” and individuals are encouraged to develop their own preferences and make their own choices.

Theories provide assistance

All the theories presented in the E4J materials can be considered together to provide assistance to make a specific choice. Often instinctive choices are made without reference to an ethical theory, although this could perhaps be best explained by virtue ethics. One risk is to make a predetermined choice about a preferred action, and then to find an ethical theory to justify a decision. Such an approach lacks consistency and, hence, also lacks integrity.

6.5 Conclusion

E4J conference delegates

The E4J Modules have been designed to support you in delivering varied, engaging and impactful anti-corruption, integrity and ethics education. However, they will be most effective if adapted to your particular teaching context, as will be discussed further in unit 7.

Go to Unit 7: Module adaption and delivery  now.