Jennifer Snelling
Students in a classroom discuss controversial topics

It’s hard to avoid ethics in the classroom. And why would we want to since it is those very discussions that help us all think deeply and critically about our roles in society and the larger world.

Whether it’s discussing racism in To Kill a Mockingbird, debating the role of the individual amid a public health crisis or teasing out the ethics of privacy in an increasingly digital world, students learn to formulate opinions by discussing these topics.

In her book, Ethics in a Digital World, Kristen Mattson explores ways to delve into digital ethics with students.

“As technology becomes a greater part of our society, educators must consider the role that innovation, global connectedness, and unlimited access to information play on the moral and ethical underpinnings of society that we have long discussed with students,” Mattson writes in her book.

While educators have long focused on critical thinking, Mattson argues it’s time to teach the process of ethical thinking. Mattson credits the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California for the following framework to help students think through an ethical issue.

1. Recognize an ethical issue.

Students can begin to recognize ethical issues by discussing current events. For instance, what are the many questions and priorities that must be considered when discussing bringing students back to school after the pandemic?
“Any time there tough choices to be made, there are ethical issues to be brought to light,” Mattson says.

Ethics in a Digital World

2. Get the facts.

Mattson’s book is designed to provide educators with the background knowledge, including vocabulary, history and context, needed to aid the ethical decision-making process.

3.  Explore various options.

Brainstorming and keeping an open mind are keys to honest consideration of ethical issues. “Get students in the habit of asking’ what if?” And ‘what about?’ And ‘why is it that way,’” Says Mattson.

4. Make a decision and test it.

Testing a decision in schools is more difficult than in the technology field. Ask students to think through their recommendations, asking such questions as who wins and who loses with this decision.

5. Reflect on the outcome.

This is a great place for teamwork. Students can have group discussions, make pros and cons lists, and listen to each other’s feedback.

Open up the discussion to look at the outcomes through various angles. For instance, consider a social lens, moral lens, what the decision means for health and wellness, the environment or our societal knowledge.

Students come face to face with the reality of how technology is changing our culture and innovation is inspiring new questions. The future of our society and laws is in their hands. Educators have the opportunity and responsibility to help students understand the questions that will shape their ethical and moral principles.

Kristen Mattson, author of Ethics in a Digital World, is one of three authors who will discuss ethics and media literacy at ISTELive 21. Register today and join her session, Ethics and Media Literacy in a Digital World.

ISTELive 21

Jennifer Snelling is an education blogger based in Eugene, Oregon, who explores how technology enriches and enhances learning.