The ethics of teaching (and not the teaching of ethics)

A new PTN series of articles about teaching ethically

By R. Eric Landrum, PhD, Department of Psychology, Boise State University

Let me assure you from the very beginning that I am not trying to sell you a book. In the classroom, I often try to “sell” my students on understanding a theory, writing without using the passive voice or thinking critically about an argument. But I’ve just never had the chops to be an effective salesperson of “things.” Over time and with much practice, I do think I’ve acquired the ability to tell a good story, and I fervently believe that good storytelling is a core trait of good teaching. So my little story begins here.

I had the good fortune in 1999 to co-edit (with my colleague and friend Garvin Chastain) and publish with APA Books a “little red book” titled “Protecting Human Subjects: Departmental Subject Pools and Institutional Review Boards.” About 10 years later, Linda McCarter from APA Books asked me about the little red book, wondering if it could be updated, or perhaps a new volume was appropriate. What did I do? I turned to my colleagues and friends on the PSYCHTEACHER moderated electronic discussion list, which is sponsored by the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP; APA Division 2). I asked broadly about ethical issues in teaching, and not about the teaching of ethics — that, too, is an important topic but separate from the ethics of teaching. My colleagues were overwhelmingly generous, and from those initial emails, a symposium was organized and is presented at the STP Best Practices conference held each October. From that presentation emerged “Teaching Ethically: Challenges and Opportunities,” co-edited with my colleague and friend Maureen McCarthy. So is the moral of the story so far (a) always read those electronic discussion list posts carefully, or (b) strive to do good work with your colleagues and friends? Both, actually!

Co-editing the “Teaching Ethically” book with Maureen was great fun and so rewarding because our authors had the chance to take some ideas out for a spin and consider those ideas in the context of the ethics of teaching. Are there special considerations to teaching ethically when teaching an online course? Are educators ethically bound to use best practices in teaching when those best practices are known to exist? What about the ethical implications of selling textbooks that were received for free? Do educators have an ethical responsibility to challenge students’ core beliefs and impose critical thinking engagement? What are the additional ethical responsibilities that faculty assume when teaching students to be ethical researchers or supervising undergraduates in research assistant or service-learning opportunities? These are just some of the fascinating issues that the authors addressed in “Teaching Ethically.”

So where does the story go from here? In collaboration with Martha Boenau and the APA Education Directorate, we contacted chapter authors from “Teaching Ethically” to inquire if they would excerpt their chapter for the PTN audience. We selected topics that are believed to be broadly relevant to high school, community college, college, and university educators. In the true spirit of the psychology community, each of the four individuals asked agreed to write for PTN (that’s really no surprise; psychology educators are renowned for their substantive generosity). Over the next year in PTN, you’ll be able to read about the following:

  • Strategies for encouraging ethical student behavior, by Vinny Prohaska, Lehman College
  • Aspirations of ethical treatment of diverse student populations, by Melanie Domenech-Rodriguez and Scott Bates, both from Utah State University
  • The ethics of grading, by Bryan Saville, James Madison University
  • Building relationships with students and maintaining professional boundaries, by Janie Wilson, Georgia Southern University

These are all topics that are worthy of the attention of psychology educators, and I am so pleased that my colleagues and friends have agreed to write for PTN. We’re all in for a treat over the next year, and that’s the real story.

About the author

R. Eric LandrumR. Eric Landrum is a professor of psychology at Boise State University, receiving his PhD in cognitive psychology from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. His research interests center on the educational conditions that best facilitate student success and the use of SoTL strategies to advance the efforts of scientist-educators. He has presented at more than 300 professional conferences, published more than 20 books/book chapters and published more than 70 professional articles in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals.

Landrum is the lead author of “The Psychology Major: Career Options and Strategies for Success” (5th ed., 2013), authored “Undergraduate Writing in Psychology: Learning to Tell the Scientific Story” (2nd ed., 2012), and “Finding a Job With a Psychology Bachelor's Degree: Expert Advice for Launching Your Career” (2009). He co-authored “The Easy Guide to APA Style” (2nd ed., 2013) and “You’ve Received Your Doctorate in Psychology… Now What? ” (2012). He is the lead editor for “Teaching Ethically: Challenges and Opportunities” (2012) and co-editor of “Assessing Teaching and Learning in Psychology: Current and Future Perspectives” (2013).