OF PROFESSIONAL ETHICS
Section 1: An Introduction
It seems to have entered into all areas of professional life. The reputations and careers of prominent politicians have been tarnished by evidence of ethical misconduct. Well-known television evangelists have been caught in improper behavior. Manufacturers of critical parts of airplanes and other equipment have been detected substituting inexpensive, inferior parts in the manufacturing process. Sports heroes have been suspended, banned, or had their accomplishments stricken from the record books because of rule violations or illegal acts. Wealthy, highly respected financial flgures have been imprisoned for illegal dealings on the stock market. Major universities have received sanctions for improper recruitment and support of athletes. Producers of canned food products have been convicted of using less nutritious, substitute ingredients in place of those listed on their product labels. Computer hackers have illegally gained entry into databases for personal gain. Researchers have fabricated data in order to generate academic publications. Pharmaceutical companies have been indicted for bribing federal agencies to approve their products for release on the marketplace. Police officers have been caught collaborating with criminals in order to profit from illegal activities. Indeed, even a major education agency has been convicted and penalized for illegally duplicating and distributing copyrighted materials.
The result, during the past decade, has been a growing awareness and concern about unethical conduct. This concern reflects a desire in many segments of our society that guidelines be developed and measures taken to heighten an awareness of the importance of ethical behavior. The reaction to the problem is coming from many sources. One of the first and most visible was a project of the Annenberg Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to develop and broadcast a series of television programs, Ethics in America, that featured a number of prominent individuals discussing ethical issues.
Since the Annenberg Project, there have been many other efforts to focus public attention on ethical behavior. There has been a significant increase in the number of books and newsletters on the subject. An illustration of the breadth of interest in this subject is the fact that one book on ethical management brought together Kenneth Blanchard (coauthor of The One Minute Manager) and Norman Vincent Peale (author of The Power of Positiue Thinking) as its unlikely pair of coauthors. A professional association concerned with performance and instruction conducted a major effort to identify ethical issues related to business and industrial training in order to formulate a code of ethics to govern professional behavior in that fleld. A major accounting flrm carried out a three-year, flve million dollar project to prepare instructional materials on business ethics for use in business schools in major universities throughout the United States. Even before these materials were developed, many of the major business schools were introducing and expanding their instruction in this area. Indeed, one of the top 10 business schools in the nation now requires that all MBA graduates sign an ethics code, which was developed jointly by faculty and students, before receiving their degrees. But schools of business are not the only area within universities that are focusing attention on ethics. A major university that was penalized by the NCAA for improprieties in its athletic program now requires all varsity athletes to take a special course in ethics.
Fortunately, the field of educational communications and technology has not been put in a position that it must suddenly develop procedures for dealing with issues of professional ethics. The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECI), a professional association representing members who work in a wide spectrum of specialties within the fleld, has consistently provided guidance in this area. Recognizing that having a code of ethics is an essential characteristic of a profession, AECT has had such a code and has maintained procedures for dealing with ethical issues since its formation as an association. Furthermore, through an active committee on professional ethics, this code is carefully reviewed each year and a number of activities have been initiated to remind Association members of the provisions of the code and appropriate interpretations of its principles.
One such technique that has been used to promote awareness and provide interpretation has been to publish a series of ethics columns in the AECT professional journal TechTrends. Titled "Ethics Today," each column has addressed a different principle from the AECT Code of Professional Ethics by presenting a brief scenario involving an ethical issue, citing the relevant principle from the code, and then discussing the application of that principle to the situation that had been described.
This book, based primarily on the ethics columns in TechTrends, outlines the history of the adoption of a code of professional ethics by AECT, reviews the AECT Code of Professional Ethics, provides a brief discussion of each of the principles in that code, and republishes the columns from TechTrends as a means of further interpreting the principles of the code. It also offers ideas on how this book might be used in a variety of educational and professional settings and lists additional sources of information on the subject of professional ethics for the reader who may wish to explore the topic further.
Finally, it is important for the reader to know that this book is considered a "work in progress" that has been assembled by the Committee on Professional Ethics of AECT. The committee recognizes that this publication can be greatly enhanced by contributions from students of educational technology and practicing professionals in the ffeld who would be willing to share their insights and esperiences. Speciflcally, additional scenarios to be included in Section 6: Situations Related to Ethical Principles would espand the scope of interpretations of the principles of the Code and provide a broader understanding of their meaning and intent. You are, therefore, invited to submit additional case studies in the length and format consistent with those included in Section 6. If used in future editions of this book, you will be given author recognition in the same manner as is currently being provide. Furthermore, relevant material for Sections 5 and 8 is also sought. Such new material should be sent to the Chair of the AECT Committee on Professional Ethics at the address given below.
The Committee on Professional Ethics of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology invites questions and reactions related to any portion of this publication. The committee can be reached by writing to:
Chair, Committee on Professional Ethics