Table of Contents



A Historical Perspective

A Code of Professional Ethics

A Discussion of the Principles of the AECT Code of Professional Ethics

Suggestions for Using This Book

Situations Related to Ethical Principles:

1. Fulfilling the letter or the spirit of the law?
2. Ensuring diverse points of view
3. Putting a square peg in a round hole
4. Protecting an individual's right to privacy
5. Ethical decisions in instructional media selection
6. Computers: Issues of health and safety
7. Adopting and promoting new ideas
8. A clash of cultures
9. Harassment, bias, and discrimination
10. Whose views? Yours or your institutions?
11. All the facts, please
12. Competing with your employer
13. Handling gifts, gratuitites, and favors
14. Engaging in fair and equitable practices with vendors
15. Greasing the squeaky wheel
16. Influencing your colleagues
17. Exploiting professional affiliations
18. Helping one another
19. Is honesty the best answer?
20. An ethical approach to doing business
21. Fair assignment of responsibility
22. Facing new copyright challenges
23. When a colleague is wrong

Enforcement of the AECT Code of Professional Ethics

Resources and Information of Professional Ethics


by Andrew R. J. Yeaman
Chair, Committee on Professional Ethics
Association for Educational Communications and Technology

Why would anyone need to read this book? What is your view as the Chair of the Professional Ethics Committee?

My answer is that when professionals find themselves in difficult situations they should be able to turn to their code of ethics for guidance in making decisions. This book enables members of the educational communications and technology community to visualize their professional ethics and see how those principles ought to influence their actions.

Okay, give me a sound bite.

There is nothing else around like the book you have in hand. The Code of Professional Ethics printed here was developed over time by AECT, the major professional society, which is also actively supporting the publication of this book. The illustrative cases were carefully developed over several years by members of the AECT Professional Ethics Committee. The scenarios were written under the guidance of Paul Welliver who first presented them in the "Ethics Today" column in TechTrends. The Code and this book are relevant to several overlapping fields and professions.

That was more like a 30-second spot.... So, tell me about Paul Welliver.

Paul Welliver's contribution as editor and organizer is exemplary. As an AECT President, Paul was recognized for his leadership in advancing our profession. Subsequently, in my opinion, his most notable contribution has been in educating people about professional ethics. Through 10 years of service as chair of the AECT Professional Ethics Committee, he caused the Code of Ethics to be illustrated with scenarios. I believe they have been effective in helping people understand what the Code's principles mean. His latest consciousness-raising effort is the production of the work before you now. It is important because beyond doing our jobs well, Paul's lifelong leadership in professional ethics shows we can aim toward being virtuous in our work.

Do ethics matter except in the scandals about the rich, famous, and powerful we read in the headlines or see on TV news?

It is difficult for me to take those media images seriously but it is well known that many books on ethics are being printed, sold in bookstores, and collected in libraries. Try searching on-line for books with "Ethics" in the title and you will find hundreds. Try to narrow the search by adding "education" and there are still too many results. Use "ethics" and technology" and you can identify almost 50 titles in print. There is evidence of much serious concern about ethics in general.

Do you think it makes any difference?

There are pessimistic days when I wonder if anyone reads those books or if all the writing on ethics has improved anything. Of course, the pessimistic days are balanced by optimistic days when I wonder about how bad things could be if there were no efforts toward being ethical.

This is confusing for people: It seems ethics are a philosophical subject.

Well, this book describes how a profession's code of ethics is used to prescribe good practice.

All right, break it down for me. How are philosophical ethics different from professional ethics?

In philosophy there is the effort to tell other people how to behave properly on the basis of pure ideas. Results of actions are emphasized by consequentialists whereas an ultimate sense of right and wrong action is emphasized by deontologists. If you talk in this depth at a social gathering you will probably impress people but they may have difficulty liking you, particularly if the discussion becomes serious and you prove their beliefs are inconsistent.

None of these fine points seems to matter much in professional ethics. The emphasis is on verbally negotiating boundary disputes about who is entitled or qualified to do what sort of work. This is an effort to tell other people how to behave properly on the basis of professional power.

Surely, having a good argument is the best way to arrive at the truth?

We appear to live in an adversarial society where the practice of staging debates limits our thinking in bad ways. At present there is acceptance for the debating strategy of evading truth by manufacturing doubt. The case study discussion approach is open-ended in framing ethical issues. It is a suitable instructional tactic because exact solutions to specific problems do not transfer to real life where ambiguities need to be unraveled.

Perhaps these professional ethics are merely traditional and ceremonial?

That was addressed in my April 27, 1997, memo to the AECT Board of Directors, and it makes a good conclusion to this Foreword. This memo from the Professional Ethics Committee recommends the Board adopt an improvement in the Code of Ethics. Specifically, the Committee recommends the creation of Section 1 Commitment of the Profession to Society (unanimously passed February, 1995). After much careful discussion about simple, general statements with precise and understandable wording, consensus was reached for two new principles (unanimously passed February 12, 1997). The Committee will provide guidelines and interpretation by continuing the ~~Ethics Today" column in TechTrends

Here is the text to be added to the Code:

Section 4 Commitment of the Profession to Society

In fulfilling obligations to society, the Association on behalf of the profession:

  1. Shall promote safe and healthy technological learning environments.
  2. Shall promote positive and minimize negative environmental impacts of educational technologies.

For more than 10 years the Professional Ethics Committee has greatly benefited from the leadership of Paul Welliver toward increasing the awareness of professional ethics among Association members. Among other actions, the Committee has reviewed and revised the Code, added one new principle, organized presentations, published scenarios interpreting each principle in TechTrends, and currently has a book in production.

However, there has been little enforcement and in the words of James D. Finn in the first issue of Audio Visual Communications Review, ~~The publication of codes of ethics and manuals of standards in itself guarantees nothing." In the absence of complaints from our clients, whether they are trainee airplane mechanics or sixth graders, Association members have not been disciplined for violations of the Code.

The Professional Ethics Committee is active, nevertheless, and has on request provided letters in support of members who stand by the Code in their professional roles. It has also facilitated the processing of complaints between members on matters that may be characterized as thoughtlessly offensive or unintentionally rude. Formal hearings have not occurred and the Committee's procedures were modified in the last couple of years to be consistent with the normal practice of informal resolution.

The Committee became concerned in the early l990s that the Code may lack true effectiveness. Protecting the public by policing ourselves to identify quacks and charlatans is not possible. Indeed, we should become more competitive with similar professional organizations involved with technology by looking outside of the Association and being explicitly committed to society.

The Committee worked on the problem for several years. First, the Committee analyzed the situation to understand what it meant. Second, the Committee considered possible actions and outcomes. Third, the Committee decided to add a new section to the Code. Fourth, the Committee deliberated over constructing new principles.

The Proposed Section 4 of the AECT Code of Professional Ethics
Establishing Section 4 in the Code will remedy the deficiency in social obligation. The principles in this section will show increased responsibility. The Committee will act by developing guidelines, where they are needed, and by publishing informative scenarios. For example, a draft scenario for Principle 1 explains that furniture as well as equipment and software must be appropriate when setting up computer learning stations. A draft scenario for Principle 2 indicates that nonrenewable resources are a significant factor in educational computing. Other principles under consideration for Section 4 uphold cultural diversity, intellectual freedom, and open access to information regardless of delivery medium. The Committee welcomes any suggestions for further ways to demonstrate how the Association is committed to society in our professional ethics.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Abbott, A. D. (1988). The system of professions: An essay on the division of expert labor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Coady, M., & Bloch, S. (Eds.) (1997). Codes of ethics and the professions. Victoria, Australia: Melbourne University Press.

Gieryn, T. F. (1995). Boundaries of science. In S. Jasanoff, G. E. Markle, J. C. Petersen, & T. Pinch (Eds.). Handbook of science and technology studies (pp. 393-443). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Macdonald, K. M. (1995). The sociology of the professions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Tannen, D. (1998). The argument culture: Moving from debate to discussion. New York: Random House.

Yeaman, A. R. J. (February 20, 1998). Chair for Professional Ethics in Practice presented by J. N. Eastmond, V. S. Napper, R. G. Nichols, A. C. Sherry, & P. W. Welliver. Association for Educational Communications and Technology convention, St. Louis, MO. [Reported by Heebner, A. L. (1998) TechTrends 43(3), 58.1

Yeaman, A. R. J., Koetting, J. R., & Nichols, R. G. (February 19, 1998). The 14th Foundations Symposium: Continuing to Explore and Question the Theory/Practice of Our Field. Association for Educational Communications and Technology convention, St. Louis, MO. Reported by Hall, L. (1998) TechTrends 43(3), 4849.1

Yeaman, A. R. J. (February 14, 1997). The cyborg discourse. In the session on Histories of Educational Technology: Considerations and Techniques. Association for Educational Communications and Technology convention, Albuquerque, NM. Reported by Shutkin, D. S. (1997) TechTrends 42 (3), 52-53.1

Yeaman, A. R. J. (February 13, 1997). Searching for moral discourse relevant to professional ethics. Association for Educational Communications and Technology convention, Albuquerque, NM. Reported by Bromley, H. (1997) TechTrends 42(3), 50-51.1

Yeaman, A. R. J. (1997). The discourse on technology. In R. M. Branch & B. B. Minor (Eds.), Educational media and technology yearbook Volume 22 (pp. 46-60). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

Yeaman, A. R. J. (Ed.) (1994). Educational Technology, 34(2). [Special issue on the social responsibilities of educational technology.]

Yeaman, A. R. J., Hlynka, D., Anderson, J., Damarin, S., & Muffoletto, R. (1996). Postmodern and poststructural theory. In D. H. Jonassen, (Ed.), The handbook of research for educational communications and technology (pp. 253-295). New York: Simon & Schuster/ MacMillan.

A Code of Professional Ethics

A Guide to Professional Conduct in the Field of Educational Communications and Technology

Updated January 21, 2008
Copyright © 2001,
The Association for Educational Communications and Technology

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