Education Leadership Conference

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 Leadership Conference.

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 not.

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 Teaching Tool is a computerized program that uses interactive lessons to help "cheetahs" change their spots. Similarly, Responding to Research Wrongdoing: A User Friendly Guide, developed by Keith-Spiegel and colleagues, helps researchers overcome their tendency to ignore scientific misconduct.

Keith-Spiegel's 2013 book "Red Flags in Psychotherapy: Stories of Ethics Complaints and Resolutions" is another potential teaching tool. The book grew from her realization that simply telling students what to do doesn't necessarily change their behavior.

Said Keith-Spiegel, "People remember stories."

— Rebecca A. Clay

APA's 2013 Education Leadership Conference