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Communication Ethics: A Vital Resource in an Ever-Changing World (October 2016): Pedagogy and Teaching

By Robert L. Ballard, Melba Vélez Ortiz, and Leeanne M. Bell McManus

Pedagogy and Teaching

Pedagogy and teaching aim to help students learn not only approaches to communication ethics but how to read situations, understand people, evaluate various possibilities of engagement before taking action, make judgments about actions, and articulate reasons for specific communication choices across a range of communication settings.

In 1985’s “Teaching Ethics in Speech Communication,” J. Vernon Jensen researched how teaching communication ethics occurs in communication programs across the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Additional studies occurred in 1970 (Robert Johnson’s “Teaching Speech Ethics in the Beginning Speech Course”), 1977 (Clifford Christians’s “Fifty Years of Scholarship in Media Ethics”), 1959 (Jensen’s “An Analysis of Recent Literature on Teaching Ethics in Public Address”), 1996 (Christians and Edward Lambeth’s “The Status of Ethics Instruction in Communication Departments”), and 2015 (Swenson-Lepper et al.’s “Communication Ethics in the Communication Curriculum: United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico”). Topics include whether ethics were integrated across the curriculum, when ethics is taken in the sequence, if it is taught at the undergraduate or graduate level, approaches used in teaching ethics in the classroom, the emphasis and role of philosophical perspectives and applied approaches, curriculum approaches, textbooks and readings used, and more. Combined, these studies reveal a steady increase in teaching communication ethics to undergraduate students over the years, as either an integrated component or a stand-alone class. Moreover, case study approaches dominate in-class delivery. Recently, there has been a decreased emphasis in philosophical, classical, and normative approaches in favor of more applied approaches that focus on moral reasoning.

Given the emphasis on pedagogy and teaching, the field has spawned a wide range of textbooks designed for teaching. The classic and first textbook originally released in 1975 and now in its sixth edition is Ethics in Human Communication by Richard L. Johannesen, Kathleen S. Valde, and Karen E. Whedbee. It surveys a variety of communication contexts that recognize ethical issues unique to human communication. Another popular textbook providing a framework for ethical reasoning is Communicating Ethically: Character, Duties, Consequences and Relationships by William W. Neher and Paul J. Sandin. A work that provides an original theoretical framework for developing a personal standard of ethics and is integrated with real world communication situations is Practicing Communication Ethics: Development, Discernment and Decision-Making by Paula S. Tompkins. In turning to textbook and pedagogical tools that centralize ethics in a general study of communication are Shelley Lane, Ruth Abigail, and John Gooch’s Communication in a Civil Society, which centralizes the importance of civility in all forms and contexts of communication, while the particularity of persons and the pragmatic necessity of respectfulness is probed in Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters by Julia T. Wood. Of special note are two works by Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life and Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation, which although published in 1979 and 1989 respectively, address topics still relevant today. Since communication ethics is both theoretical and applied, research on its pedagogy and teaching as a field highlights its continual importance. Communication ethics as a field is committed to rigorous knowledge as a well as wise practice (known as praxis).