Ethical thinking in a disciplinary context: theethical development of undergraduates andexpectations of tutors in the arts, social and puresciencesDissertation submitted in accordance with the requirements of the University ofChester for the degree of Master of ArtsDr Ruth L HealeySeptember 2012I

AcknowledgementsI would like to thank the students and tutors in English, Geography, and AnimalBehaviour and Welfare from the case study university who participated in thisresearch. Without them, this research would not have been possible. I would alsolike to acknowledge the support of Dr Chris Ribchester and Kimberley Ross, withwhom a previous related project was developed. It was this work which inspiredthis research. Finally, I would like to thank Dr Julie-Anne Regan for her insightful,detailed and supportive comments in preparation of this dissertation.II

AbstractBarnett (2000) argues that universities need to prepare students for‘supercomplexity’, where “the very frameworks by which we orientate ourselves tothe world are themselves contested” (p. 257). Learning to think through ethicalissues develops critical thinking skills for dealing with supercomplexity, since theframeworks the students use to consider ethical issues are contested and likely tochange. Yet, Boyd et al. (2008) question whether universities actually producegraduates who are prepared “for practical and ethical engagement with theirscholarly, professional and personal worlds” (p. 38). Moreover, we might expectdifferences in ethical thinking between disciplines given that the nature of ethicalissues 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 theexpectations of their tutors and to discuss the implications for teaching andlearning ethics in higher education. To address this aim the research objectiveswere to assess whether the ethical development of undergraduate students variesby discipline, gender and year; to analyse how the nature of ethical thinkingexpected by tutors varies between disciplines and evaluate the extent to which thisaligns with the students’ ethical development; and to discuss the implications forenhancing the teaching and learning of ethics. Most emphasis is placed on the firstobjective. To address these objectives, a questionnaire exploring students’ ethicalunderstandings and level of ethical development, was given to students in all threeundergraduate years of the English (art), Geography (social science) and AnimalBehaviour and Welfare (pure science) programmes at an English University. In total335 students responded. Interviews were then conducted with tutors teaching onthe three programmes discussing the nature of ethics within their disciplines, howethics was taught and what ethical thinking skills they wanted their students todevelop.The key findings are that: 1) There are no significant differences between disciplinesin terms of student ethical development. 2) There is some evidence of differencesbetween years, but there was not clear evidence of progression over the threeyears of the undergraduate programme. 3) Male students demonstrate less ethicaldevelopment than their female counterparts. 4) Tutors across all three disciplineshave similar expectations in terms of the nature of ethical thinking desired. 5) Mostof the students exhibit lower levels of ethical development than their tutorsexpected. It is suggested the skill of ‘ethical thinking’ should be included inprogramme outcomes and that teaching and learning strategies which cast studentsin the role of active, social and creative learners offer the best potential to enhancestudent ethical thinking abilities.III

DeclarationThis work is original and has not been previouslysubmitted in support of a Degree, qualification orother course.Signed .Date . .IV

ContentsAcknowledgementsAbstractDeclarationList of TablesList of FiguresIIIIIIVVIIVIIIChapter 1Introduction: The importance of ethics1Chapter 2Ethical thinking: discipline, year and gender variations72. ethical thinking and meta-ethical developmentEthical thinking in higher educationArts, social and pure science discipline comparison2.3.1 English: Arts2.3.2 Geography: Social science2.3.3 Animal Behaviour and Welfare: Pure scienceProgression by yearVariation by genderImplications7811111212131516Chapter 3Methodology: A comparative case study approach183.13.218202125Rationale and approachData collection, recruitment and analysis3.2.1 Student questionnaire3.2.2 Tutor interviewsChapter 4Student ethical development by discipline, year and cteristics of respondentsMeta-ethical questionnaire4.2.1 Discipline analysis4.2.2 Year group analysis4.2.3 Gender analysisMeta-ethical questionnaire elementsOpen ended questions4.4.1 What is ethics?4.4.2 Example of ethical issue previously studied4.4.3 Example of ethical decisionSummaryChapter 5Tutor reflections on the nature of ethical thinking within the disciplines60V

Chapter 6Conclusions6.1Implications of findings for teaching and learning6.2Limitations and reflections6.3Future research70References78Appendices8112345678Ethical thinking in a disciplinary context questionnaireParticipant information sheet: ethical thinking in a disciplinary contextinterviews with tutorConsent form to participateAnalysis of ‘Element I: source and type of moral answers’ by discipline,year and genderAnalysis of ‘Element II: role of authority’ by discipline, year and genderAnalysis of ‘Element III: nature of multiplicity’ by discipline, year andgenderAnalysis of ‘Element IV: personal responsibility and relationship withmultiplicity’ by discipline, year and genderAnalysis of ‘Element V: purpose of moral discussions’ by discipline, yearand gender7176768189909193959799VI

List of TablesTablePage2.1 Outline of the nine positions of ethical development proposed by Perry14(1999)3.1 Questionnaire ethical considerations233.2 Meta-ethical questionnaire response options253.3 Interview ethical considerations264.1 Questionnaire responses by programme294.2 Responses by year304.3 Responses by gender304.4 MEQ usable responses by year314.5 MEQ usable responses by gender314.6 Mean ethical score and range by discipline344.7 Summary of characteristics of different types of ethical development344.8 Mean ethical score by year374.9 Mean ethical score and range by year374.10 Mean ethical score by gender414.11 Mean ethical score and range by gender414.12 Statistical differences between elements454.13 Statistical analysis of elements by subject, year and gender464.14 What is ethics? Categories and examples474.15 Example of ethical issue previously studied by the students: Categories and 52examples4.16 Example of ethical decision: Categories and examples554.17 Research question key findings595.1 Expected ethical thinking in relation to programme outcomes and student 67development6.1 Further research questions77VII

List of ethical score by disciplineA ‘box and whiskers’ plot on the ethical scores by disciplineParticipant ethical scores by different types of ethical development anddisciplineOverall year group differencesA ‘box and whiskers’ plot of the ethical scores by yearMean ethical score by yearParticipant ethical scores by different types of ethical development andyearMean ethical score by genderA ‘box and whiskers’ plot of the ethical scores by genderMean ethical score by gender for each disciplineParticipant ethical scores by different types of ethical development andgenderThe mean ethical score per elementWhat is ethics? Percentage of responses in each category by discipline,year and genderExample of ethical issue previously studied: Percentage of responses ineach category by discipline, year and genderExample of ethical decision: Percentage of responses in each category bydiscipline, year and genderPage333335373839404142424344515458VIII

Chapter 1Introduction: The importance of ethics“Educators need to give greater attention to the teaching of . ethics as part of ourcontribution to the education of responsible citizens.” (Hay & Foley 1998: 169)As competition within the education market has increased, universities haveprogressively attempted to define the distinctive characteristics of their graduates(Barrie 2004; 2006; 2007).Barrie (2004) has identified ‘Ethical, Social andProfessional Understanding’ as one of five key graduate attributes. This attributemeans that “graduates of the university will hold personal values and beliefsconsistent with their role as responsible members of local, national, internationaland professional communities” (Barrie 2004: 270). This graduate attribute relatesto the need to prepare students for ‘supercomplexity’, where “the very frameworksby which we orientate ourselves to the world are themselves contested” (Barnett2000: 257). As students prepare for careers in the 21st Century they require globalcompetences to understand the complex world in which they live (Bartell 2003).Healey et al. (2011) argue that learning to think through ethical issues developscritical thinking skills for dealing with supercomplexity.Ethical issues are anexample of supercomplexity, as the frameworks the students use to considerethical issues are both contested and likely to change. In increasingly dynamicprofessional and social lives, graduates need these skills to enable them tonegotiate an uncertain world.Yet, Boyd et al. (2008: 38) question whethergraduates are leaving university prepared “for practical and ethical engagementwith their scholarly, professional and personal worlds.”1

This project came about in response to several experiences in which many of thestudents I teach demonstrated a lack of consideration of ethics within their studies.One such incident occurred when supervising a physical geography field trip. Thestudents were asked to analyse water quality by indexing the number of differentanimal species they had collected in their sample. After they had noted the speciesin their sample several students did not think twice about returning the creaturesto the water by tipping the trays upside down. When questioned about theiractions some of the students recognised how their actions were inappropriate asthe sudden upturning of the tray disturbs the organisms more than immersing thetray in water to allow them to leave the tray on their own. The students did notappear to reflect or think critically about how they would deal with situationssimilar to this in the future. Experiences such as this led me, with two colleagues,to propose a Learning and Teaching Institute (LTI) project in the Department ofGeography and Development Studies (2010-11) which explored the ethicaldevelopment of students in the department in different years and how the teachingof ethics, particularly in the second year, might be enhanced (Healey et al. 2011).This project led me to contemplate the extent to which the findings for geographyrelated to other disciplines.Understanding and learning about ethics and ethical issues is a skill that developsthroughout an individual’s life (Knapper & Cropley 2000). What happens within aneducational environment is only part of the ethical learning that individualsexperience (Kuh 1994). Despite this, higher education has an important role to play2

in enabling students to recognise and understand ethical issues (Beck & Murphy1994; Cortese 2003).Within higher education the nature of the ethical issues studied by graduates variesbetween disciplines (Lane & Schaupp 1989; Rooy & Pollard 2002). For example, theethical issues pure scientists face when testing on human subjects or undertakinganimal experiments are of a different nature from those dealt with by socialscientists when interviewing or observing people, or those explored in literaturewhen deciding whether a character made the appropriate ethical choice. However,in terms of critical thinking, many ethical issues are multidisciplinary in nature, forexample assisted suicide may be studied from many different disciplinaryperspectives, yet the ways in which students might approach and think about sucha topic may differ between disciplines. For example, science students may analysethe issue from the perspective of the medical issues of the individual body, whereassocial scientists may consider the implications of assisted suicide for broadersociety.For disciplines which involve primary research with animals or people, for manystudents their main contact with ethics relates primarily to the ethics ofundertaking research (Boyd et al. 2008). Students are carefully guided through theprocess of seeking ethical approval for projects, especially students on accreditedcourses which have prescribed ethical standards (e.g. British Psychological Societyaccredited courses). Going through ethical clearance procedures has in many casesbecome relatively mechanistic, after which students may give ethics little further3

consideration. However, in terms of a graduate attribute, ethics is more concernedwith developing individuals to have the broader skill of thinking ethically in all partsof their lives, not just in research.This research was conducted in an English University. The institution became auniversity in 2005 with an emphasis on teaching influenced by research. In itsmission statement, the University identifies four key aspects of the educationstudents receive at the institution: the pursuit of learning for its own sakethe development of skills relevant for the needs of a healthy societythe encouragement of students’ character and valuesthe importance of community in the learning enterpriseAdditionally, the University’s Learning and Teaching Strategy refers to thedevelopment of curricula that ‘encourage reflective engagement with communityand society’ (University [in England] 2010: no page). Engaging students with ethicalthinking supports the development of the character and values of graduates whohave the skills to contribute to a healthy society.As already noted this project builds upon a previous study by the author (Healey etal. 2011). In this project all students studying in the Department of Geography andDevelopment Studies were asked to complete a questionnaire about their ethicaldevelopment.This covered four programmes: Single Honours Geography,Combined Honours Geography, Combined Honours Natural Hazard Managementand Combined Honours International Development Studies.In total 198questionnaires were completed across all three years. Alongside this, interviewswere conducted with thirteen tutors about their views on the importance of ethics4

and what ethical awareness and skills they expected students to have by the timethey graduate. The current study extracted the data from the earlier project forthose students identified as studying one of the social science programmes in thedepartment. By asking the same questions in an arts discipline and a pure sciencediscipline this research was able to test the hypothesis that the ethicaldevelopment of students 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 theexpectations of their tutors and to discuss the implications for teaching andlearning ethics in higher education. This project has five main objectives:1. To analyse the ethical development of students in three academic programmes inthe arts, social and pure sciences.2. To investigate the extent to which there is progression in the ethical developmentof students in different years across the three academic programmes.3. To examine the ethical development of students’ ethical thinking by genderacross the three academic programmes.4. To analyse how the nature of ethical thinking expected by tutors varies betweendisciplines and evaluate the extent to which this aligns with the students’ ethicaldevelopment.5. To discuss the implications of the findings for enhancing the teaching and learningof ethics.Most emphasis is placed on the first three objectives. This contributes to theresearch field in four main ways: 1) by comparing student ethical developmentbetween disciplines; 2) by comparing ethical development within disciplines bygender and year; 3) by replicating Clarkeburn et al.’s study (2003) in a differentuniversity and with different disciplines; 4) by assessing the extent to which studentethical development aligns with tutor expectations.5

The following chapter reviews the literature on teaching ethics in higher educationand defines what is meant by ethical thinking and meta-ethical development,before exploring the differences in ethical development between disciplines, yearof study and gender. Chapter 3 explains the mixed-method approach adopted toexplore ethical thinking and ethical development at the case study university. Theanalysis is then split between two chapters. Chapter 4 discusses student ethicaldevelopment by discipline, year and gender, whilst Chapter 5 discusses tutorexpectations about ethical thinking within the three disciplines in relation tostudent ethical development. Chapter 6 concludes the dissertation by reflectingupon the findings and discussing their implications for teaching ethics in highereducation.6

Chapter 2Ethical thinking: discipline, year and gender variations2.1 Defining ethical thinking and meta-ethical developmentEthics is a commonly-used label concerning a complex set of concepts andbehaviours (Israel & Hay 2006). Ethics are distinct from morals which areconcerned with the individual’s personal character, whereas ethics focuses uponthe broader social system in which morals are applied. Hence a sophisticatedunderstanding of ethics recognises not just an individual’s morals but how these area part of the broader social system, influencing people’s behaviour, and how peoplehave different morals and ethical perspectives.This project is interested in how ‘ethical reality’ is constructed by students. Itadopts Clarkeburn et al.’s (2003) concept of ‘meta-ethical development’ whichdescribes how students construct ethical realities, for example how studentsinterpret the nature of ethical properties, attitudes and judgements. This notion iscomplemented by the concept of ‘ethical thinking’. How students construct ethicalreality influences their ability to think ethically. For the purposes of this research‘ethical thinking’ encompasses two elements (Clarkeburn et al. 2002):1.Ethical sensitivity: an ability to perceive the ethical implications of a situation.Without the initial recognition of moral facts alongside scientific or ‘hard’ facts itis not possible to make moral decisions. Ethical sensitivity is also about an ability tounderstand the moral networks and implications of moral actions.2.Moral reasoning: an ability to engage in sound moral reasoning and use practicalproblem solving strategies. To make a judgement about which course of action ismorally right (or fair, just, morally good or adequate) and thus label one possible line ofaction as what a person ought (morally) to do in that situation. Moral reasoning is alsocalled ‘moral cognitive skills’.7

In order to discuss ethical issues, students require decision making skills, skills tounderstand and recognise moral issues, and skills to consider and decide uponsolutions to moral problems (Clarkeburn et al. 2002). These elements of ethicalthinking are contextualised within the broader skill of critical thinking:“Ethical learning is impossible without the development of critical reasoning (Kant,2003) and, at the same time, critical reasoning is reinforced by the aspiration forjustice and the independence sought by ethical learning” (Boni & Lozano 2007:825).Meta-ethical development therefore occurs through the improvement of criticalthinking skills in relation to ethical issues. Ethical thinking is a particular type ofcritical thinking. Wolf et al. (2010) argues that critical thinking skills can “givestudents the tools to understand what they are learning” (p. 43). This ability relatesto analytical, interpretation, inference, explanation, and evaluation skills (Facione,2000). Ethical thinking requires these skills, enabling students to monitor and,where appropriate, correct their own moral reasoning; meaning that critical ethicalthinking is about “judging in a reflective way what to do or what to believe”(Facione, 2000: 61). Students who have limited meta-ethical development considerreality to be certain, and believe in absolute answers (Clarkeburn et al.2003). Learning to think ethically, to critically reflect on ethical issues, offers theopportunity for students to develop their understanding of ethical reality,recognising the complexities and uncertainties within life.2.2 Ethical thinking in Higher EducationOver the last decade public trust, in business and more recently in politicians, haseroded (Gao et al. 2008; Ruhe & Lee 2008; Carrell 2009).It is increasingly8

recognised that ethically and socially responsible behaviour plays a crucial role ingood business practice (Nicholson & DeMoss 2009) and that “moral meaning andagency are fundamental to the definition of professions” (Robinson 2005: 2).Hence, graduate careers require more than just professional competence; theyneed to include a moral dimension (Boni & Lozano 2007).Ethical thinking is a part of professional responsibility (Solbrekke & Karseth 2006).In the wake of policy led attempts to ‘professionalise’ aspects of academic practice(for example, Higher Education Academy 2006) there has been a renewed interestin the values that define academic life (Macfarlane & Cheug 2008). Some havegone as far as to ask whether or not society’s expectations of higher educationshould be codified, and does higher education need a Hippocratic Oath (Watson2007).The Association of Masters of Business Administration (Association ofMBAs) has even introduced an MBA oath which has been pledged by 7,142students from business schools across the world (Matthews 2012).HigherEducation institutions should be leaders in the development of the cultures and thesocieties in which they are situated (Walesh 2012). It is within the environment ofuniversities where students may first critically discuss the realities of citizenship andtest its moral boundaries (Bruhn 2008), exploring the nature of social responsibility(Vujakovic & Bullard 2001) and developing the skills which optimistically willcontribute towards transforming society for the better (Wellens et al. 2006).Hargreaves (2008) argues that higher education in the UK aims to develop theintelligence and critical thinking skills of undergraduates. Ethical thinking is one9

element of this (Hay & Foley 1998; Smith 1995). It is important to recognise thatstudents are already ethically developed to varying degrees, yet higher educationshould ensure that students graduate with these skills. However, Escámez et al.(2008) found that current ethical teaching “often left students unarmed to copewith the frequent conflicts between ends, responsibilities, rights and duties that arebound to occur in their professional careers” (p. 43). The experiences students arehaving in Higher Education do not always prepare them for the potential moralquestions they need to respond to in their post-graduation employment. Furtherknowledge as to factors which influence the nature of students’ meta-ethicaldevelopment offers opportunities to address these shortfalls.The role of higher education should be to develop an ethics education whichemphasises the significance of ethical consciousness in autonomous individuals(Hay 1998) rather than one structured around a set of ‘rules’ for moral behaviour(Hay & Foley 1998; Clarkeburn et al. 2002). This form of teaching offers individualssupport to become ethically accountable for their own choices and actions whilstsituating them within a supportive ethical community. The skill to think ethically isone of the most important “generic skills that future graduates should have”(Escámez et al. 2008: 50). In developing skills which allow them to handle themoral issues associated with the real world students are also better prepared foremployment (Hay & Foley 1998). However, the extent to which ethics is seen asimportant in the discipline may vary.10

2.3 Arts, social and pure science discipline comparisonSociety’s present problems are global and multidisciplinary in nature (Boni &Lozano 2007). Issues such as pollution, human rights, the fight against poverty,world security and so on, involve everybody and require multi and inter disciplinaryapproaches (Boni & Lozano 2007). Within higher education there are also areas ofacademic concern which cross disciplines, for example academic dishonesty,plagiarism, collusion and cheating (Ellery 2008; Colnerud & Rosander 2009). Yet,previous work has found significant differences between disciplines in terms ofethical beliefs (Lane & Schaupp 1989). This project considers ethics across threeprogrammes: English (English literature), Geography (Human Geography,International Development Studies, and Natural Hazard Management) andBiosciences (Animal Behaviour). These discipline areas cover respectively the arts,social and pure sciences.2.3.1 English: ArtsThe discipline of English contains significant opportunities for exploration of ethicalissues. For example, in English literature stories have the power to “train the moralimagination” (Hilder 2005: 42); in English language, research with participantsraises ethical issues around working with participants in an ethically sensitivemanner; and in creative writing issues of representation highlight ethical concerns.Yet, the English subject benchmark statement has no mention of ethics in relationto the discipline (QAA 2007a). However, for the sub-discipline of creative writing11

and English language the importance of ethics is noted as a cognitive ability (NAWE2008) and as an approach to research (HEA 2011).2.3.2 Geography: Social scienceSmith (1995) argues that moral issues are often marginalised within contemporaryeducation, and that the discipline of geography is particularly well positioned toaddress this deficiency.Geography deals with many “inherently controversialsubjects, from population control to environmental change” (Vujakovic & Bullard2001: 276), providing a significant range of contemporary topics in which to situateethical discussion. For example, ‘sustainable development’, a contested conceptwhich underpins many contemporary geographical debates, is replete with ethicalquestions. The geography benchmark statement claims that:“Geography fosters a range of personal attributes relevant to the world beyond HE,which will promote geographers' ability to engage in lifelong learning, to considerethics and values, and to contribute to the wider community” (QAA 2007b: 3).The benchmark statement emphasises research and field based studies in relationto ethics, but also recognises “the moral and ethical issues involved in debates andenquiries” within the discipline (QAA 2007b: 5).2.3.3 Animal Behaviour and Welfare: Pure scienceAnimal Behaviour and Welfare is categorised as a bioscience. Bioscientists facenumerous ethical considerations whether it is choosing where to apply for funding,the research topic itself, or their interaction with animal (and sometimes human)research subjects (Clarkeburn et al. 2002). However, despite the recognition of theimportance of ethics, the extent to which it is taught explicitly within the life12

sciences varies significantly (Clarkeburn et al. 2002). This may be because membersof staff are concerned that “ethics would demand too much time in a curriculum ata cost to the ‘core’ scientific subjects” (Clarkeburn et al. 2002: 66). Yet with scienceincreasingly being taught within a social context (Reiss 1999), the Biosciencessubject benchmark statement explicitly mentions ethics nine times in relation tocritical assessment of intellectual arguments, professional codes of conduct,research methods, and a need to interpret decisions in relation to the broadersocial context (QAA 2007c).2.4 Progression by yearUndergraduate higher education programmes aim to develop their students’analytical and critical thinking skills (Moon 2008). The curriculum is designed tosupport students at different stages in their development, and as such it would beexpected that students’ skills improve as they progress through their degrees.Perry’s (1999) model of intellectual and ethical development assumes that studentsare at different stages of ethical development at different points in their universitystudies, with the expectation that the further they go through the academic systemthe greater their ethical engagement. This argument is supported by research withpre-service teacher education students, where the findings indicated moderate tosignificant changes in student moral judgement and reasoning (Reiman 2002).Clarkeburn et al. (2003) used Perry’s (1999) scheme to categorise differentstudents’ ethical development (Table 2.1). Students are considered to be moreethically developed when they achieve commitment characteristics (Type C).However, research into changing ethical perceptions and understanding found13

there to be no significant differences by year (Dellaportas 2002; Ludlum &Mascaloinov 2004). Ludlum & Mascaloinov (2004) suggest that this may relate tothe thesis that education does not influence educational beliefs. Yet, continue bypointing out that the lack of significance in their study may relate to the smallproportions of students in the later years of their degree who participated in

examples 52 4.16 Example of ethical decision: Categories and examples 55 4.17 5.1 Research question key findings Expected ethical thinking in relation to programme outcomes and student development 59 67 6.1 Further research questions 77 . VIII List of Figures Figure Page 4.1 Mean ethical score by discipline 33 .