22 SES 07 B, Paper Session
The purpose of higher education is to train people to be competent, committed, and socially as well as professionally responsible. Although there are clear political tendencies to incorporate ethical competence in higher education, especially since the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), this does not really materialize in classroom teaching practices, as it still has unresolved issues (López, 2013).
Ethical competence development is especially relevant in educational research courses that are part of the initial training of social educators and pedagogues (Espinoza & Calva, 2020; Langlais, 2006; Paz, 2018; Raykov, 2019). The formation of ethical competence is necessary so that they can develop the ability to reflect and make informed ethical decisions when faced with problems derived from any research process (Espinoza & Calva, 2020). According to Barnett (2000), thinking about ethical issues contributes to developing skills related to critical thinking that allow the student and future professional to resolve situations in a “super-complex” reality. Moreover, working on ethical aspects at the academic and research level has an impact on the person’s own life, allowing them to transfer their ethical behavior to their day to day habits (Espinoza & Calva, 2020).
According to Bridges (2018), ethics is not solely based on an ethical code, but is present and has implications throughout the research process; therefore, ethics is a valuable content that needs to be infused in the curricular content rather than being delivered sporadically. One of the strategies to help students in the formation of ethical commitment is to make this ethic explicit in the curricular contents, and understand it as something inherent in the discipline itself rather than as something additional or imposed (Healey, 2014). For this, it is necessary to develop teaching practices focused on achieving this objective since the university per se does not guarantee the development of this competence (Tey, Vilà & Martínez, 2014).
Opazo (2011) proposes the discussion of ethical dilemmas related to educational research as a highly relevant teaching practice for ethics training in higher education. Some research experiences demonstrate the usefulness of the use of ethical dilemmas in different undergraduate studies (De Jager, 2012; González et al., 2007; McLeod-Sordjan, 2014). This teaching practice allows the development of critical and committed reflection through a reflective and dialogic process, so group work and participation in the classroom are key aspects in this discussion (González, 2004).
For this reason, the objective of the study is to characterize an innovative teaching experience based on the use of ethical dilemmas to help undergraduate students from Social Education and Pedagogy degrees to develop their ethical competence in the framework of the Educational Research Course (2nd year), and to show the preliminary results obtained. Through the explicit incorporation of content on ethics and the work of reflection and analysis of different ethical dilemmas within the framework of the subject of educational research, we want to examine if there is an improvement in the ethical competence of the students, before and after the intervention performed.
In order to check the progression of the students regarding their ethical competence, a pre-experimental pre-post-test design with two equivalent groups was used. This research design was integrated into the training process that students follow within the framework of the Educational Research course (2nd year). A total of 80 students enrolled in Social education and Pedagogy degrees at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona participated. To evaluate the improvement of a student's ethical competence, an instrument with 8 ethical dilemmas was designed. The dilemmas are represented in 8 frequent situations in the development of any socio-educational research project (some correct and others incorrect from an ethical point of view) in which students have to make an ethical assessment and graduate on a scale from 1 to 6 if the resolution of the current situation is unethical (1) or very ethical (6). A blank space after each dilemma is also included to justify their answers. For the development of the instrument we were inspired by the instrument created by Artino (2007), and by the ethical precepts established by APA (2010). The dilemmas revolved around the following topics: intellectual property (citation, self-plagiarism, etc.), research credibility (omission or falsification of data, data storage, etc.) and participants’ rights protection (recruitment process, return of the research results, etc). This questionnaire was applied in 2019-20 in two different moments, leaving a space of two months between both phases. During the course, and once the pretest had been completed, the teachers responsible for the course explicitly incorporated ethical content, following the recommendations of Healey (2014) and Opazo (2011). For this, four teaching actions were incorporated: transversal incorporation of the ethical perspective in the research process in the master classes, incorporation in the design of the course of a specific practical seminar to analyse the 8 ethical dilemmas, incorporation of methodologies that allow critical reflection (debates, flipped classroom, etc.) and the incorporation of an individual activity to help them work on critical reflection. Once the intervention (which lasted 8 weeks) was completed, the same questionnaire on ethical dilemmas was applied in the post-test version. To analyse the pre-post-test contrasts, the comparison of means was used by the Students’ t-test for related samples. For the analysis of open responses, the content analysis method was used.
From a quantitative point of view, preliminary findings show that there is a statistical significant increase in students’ ethical perceptions between the pre and post-test, in 5 of the 8 ethical dilemmas. The improvement is more accentuated in those ethical dilemmas of which there are: 1) regulations and protocols that indicate how researchers should proceed, such as the citation of sources or data conservation (dilemma 3 and 9) ; 2) the solution of the dilemma appeals to common sense - as is the case with the falsification of the data (dilemma 5) and, 3) the pedagogical intensity that has been placed during the intervention - as the dilemmas related to the rights of the participants (dilemmas 1 and 6). The qualitative results indicate that there has been an evolution in all dilemmas, even in those in which statistically significant differences are not perceived. At a general level, in the post-test, normative aspects (such as the existence of protocols, norms or laws that regulate the specific question) have more weight when it comes to justifying their answers, and the rights of the participants also have a greater presence in their arguments. These preliminary findings show that this innovative teaching practice helps students improve their ethical awareness in the research process. Nevertheless, most students make a normative ethical reasoning, that is, they show that they have acquired "the norm" but they do not make a critical reflection regarding why ethics is necessary. This normative trend has been documented by Zgaga (2020). Therefore, it is important to reinforce this teaching practice by providing further activities to improve not only their ethical commitment but also their critical reasoning. This project also highlights the importance of having instruments and tools such as the use of ethical dilemmas to design more effective teaching-learning scenarios in order for undergraduate students to improve their ethical commitment.
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