Generative artwork created with the generation prompt “lecturer ethical law”, image of human head connected physically to a representation of the digital world by cables
Annual NTF Symposia

Ethics and professional Standards: why and why not?

Dr Neil Gordon, Reader in Computer Science at the University of Hull, and Chair of the BCS Ethics Special Interest Group 

I became interested in ethics within teaching and practice a couple of decades ago, when our programmes were reviewed for accreditation but initially failed due to a lack of ethical content. This led me to explore ethics within my discipline, and wider, and why it is sometimes lost in teaching and even practice. Indeed, whilst most would hopefully acknowledge the need for ethical behaviours, we need to appreciate that this isn’t always perceived as the case!  

In my talk at the ANTF Symposium, I explored the challenges that ethics creates for use as teachers and lecturers, from carrying out ethical work ourselves, to demonstrating ethical values, to teaching effective ethics within disciplines. We surveyed graduate competencies and values, and how they can mirror our professional values as teachers. We also considered why ethics seems to be missing as an explicit part of the Professional Standards Framework (PSF) though is to be found in the values of the PSF.  

Some of the questions we addressed around ethics for educators were: 

1) How far should ethical practice be an explicit expectation of us? 

2) As professional practitioners, what are the ethical and moral guides? 

3) What aspects of our activities are/should be affected by ethics? 

Ethics is a common feature in many professional standards guides and frameworks, such as social work, and the police. Others consider it as important – certainly in accreditations reviews – although explicit mention of ethics can be missing in actual codes of conduct.  The latest version of the Professional Standards Framework (2023) doesn’t explicitly mention ethics, though as with some other schemes, you can recognize ethical aspects in the Professional Values. However, from experience, one of the weaker aspects of PSF related cases, either being omitted, or lacking clarity and explicit coverage. 

Aspects of our roles impacted by ethics include our teaching content, as well as our approach to assessment practices. This should be integral to our planning our programmes of study and modules, as well as being ethical in admissions, student support and the wider community. 

In terms of teaching ethics, whilst this may be outsourced to philosophy or other areas, it is sometimes entirely omitted, at best being covered implicitly in terms of aspects such as student contacts/academic misconduct guidelines. For me, Sustainable Development provides a helpful framework for raising awareness of wider notions of good and ethical behaviours and endeavours. Though not always appreciated by all colleagues “our students don’t care about this” implying we shouldn’t bother. 

From my experience, putting it within relevant context helps, and utilising the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to position and contextualise some of the ethical challenges and choices. Though discussions with students often shows very different views on ethical questions 

I feel we need to show we are walking the walk, and that we apply ethical approaches in our own research and scholarship. We should demonstrate ethical behaviours in developing and using teaching resources (e.g., acknowledging intellectual property rights (IPR) especially in the age of foundational AI), and considering the “common good” in what we do. As AdvanceHE Fellows we should be doing this according to our Code of Practice, though wonder how many are aware of that? 

Image: Generative artwork sourced from with generation prompt “lecturer ethical law” 

Twitter: Follow @n_a_gordon for more information about ethics and professional standards.