Discussing Ethics Scenarios in Professional Writing

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Gardner_Jun16_205-300x192.jpgLast week, I posted an activity where students compared codes of ethics from different disciplines. Today, I’m sharing an activity that asks students to apply those codes to some simple scenarios. It’s a bridge activity between examining the codes and discussing more detailed and complex case studies. Like last week’s post, this activity grew out of the Pathways Summer Institute, sponsored by the Virginia Tech Office of General Education.

My inspiration is the ‘90s Parker Brothers game A Question of Scruples. When the game was popular, some colleagues used the cards from the game in the classroom to talk about ethics. When playing the game, people read short scenarios that end with a question that generally asks, “Would you do it?” For instance, one card in the game asks, “You make long distance calls as part of your work for a middle-sized firm. Do you make private calls if you know they cannot be traced?”

The classroom activity uses the questions as discussion starters. The teacher or a student reads a scenario. Students answer with the yes, no, or depends cards from the game and then talk about their answers. Teachers and students can write their own scenarios, based on readings or issues the class is exploring. The customized game provides a simple way to introduce and discuss ethical situations.

Instead of using Scruples, I am planning to use a digital compass activity, as explained in the Learning & Leading with Technology article “Developing Ethical Direction” by Mike S. Ribble and Gerald D. Bailey. In this activity, students choose a response from a compass image, which offers these 8 options:

  • Right
  • I am not sure it’s wrong
  • Depends on the situation
  • As long as I don’t get caught
  • Wrong
  • What’s the big deal?
  • It’s an individual choice
  • I don’t know

As with the game Scruples, the teacher or a student reads a scenario, and students respond by choosing a direction on the compass. I will probably gather responses anonymously using a Google Form, which can also calculate the totals for each scenario in a friendly bar graph.

After making their choices, students will consider how the codes of ethics for professional writing and for their fields support (or don’t) the choices of the majority for each scenario. As the activity relates to the Virginia Tech Pathways curriculum, students will “articulate and defend positions on ethical issues” (Indicator of Learning 3 for the Ethical Reasoning Integrative Learning Outcome) by discussing the responses and the ethical principles behind them.

That’s my plan for the activity. Next week, I’ll share a list of ten ethical scenarios students will respond to, and I’ll discuss how the ethical principles relate to other goals for the course. Meanwhile, if you have ideas for talking about ethical reasoning in the writing classroom, please leave me a comment, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+. I’m looking for ways to explore ethical reasoning throughout the entire course, so I would love some advice.

[Photo: Compass Study by Calsidyrose, on Flickr]

TAGS: Activity Idea, Business Writing, Ethics, Professional Writing, Technical Writing

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.