APR Update: Incorporating Ethics Into Coursework

Deb Gentry, Ed.D., CFLE, NCFR Academic Program Liaison
/ CFLE Network, Spring 2012

The focus of this issue of CFLE Network is career opportunities and issues. As I reflected upon the ten CFLE content areas, I concluded such a topic is compatible with the ninth Family Life Education content area, Professional Ethics and Practice. The Handbook for Academic Program Review Application states the following with regard to this content area:

IX    PROFESSIONAL ETHICS & PRACTICE                                                                                     

Content: An understanding of the character and quality of human social conduct, and the ability to critically examine ethical questions and issues as they relate to professional practice.  

e.g., Research and theories related to: Formation of Social Attitudes and Values; Recognizing and Respecting the Diversity of  Values and the Complexity of Value Choice in a Pluralistic Society; Examining Value Systems  and Ideologies systematically and objectively; Social Consequences of Value Choices;  Recognizing the Ethical Implications of Social and Technological Changes, Ethics of  Professional Practice.

Practice—A CFLE is prepared to:          

a.     Demonstrate professional attitudes, values, behaviors, & responsibilities to clients, colleagues, & the broader community, that are reflective of ethical standards & practice

b.    Evaluate, differentiate, & apply diverse approaches to ethical issues & dilemmas

c.     Identify & apply appropriate strategies to deal with conflicting values

d.     Demonstrate respect for diverse cultural values & ethical standards

These curriculum guidelines provide a foundation for faculty as they design a course to fulfill this content area. Course design processes involve formulating course objectives and student learning outcomes; identifying the nature and scope of crucial content; determining the best ways to deliver instruction and at what pace; developing meaningful learning activities for students; and devising various methods and tools for measuring students’ mastery of relevant knowledge and skills. For some faculty, the process of designing a course is intuitive. Yet, for other faculty the process seems dauntingly confusing. L. Dee Fink’s book Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses can be an excellent resource to guide course design or redesign efforts. For those readers who would like to know more about Fink’s approach to course design, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology at Illinois State University has created a set of 12 modules that can be undertaken at one’s own pace. See http://ctlt.illinoisstate.edu/resources/DYC/index.php .

In my short time as APR Liaison, it has been my observation that faculty designing one or more courses for this content area sometimes find it challenging to develop meaningful learning activities and appropriate corresponding assessment methods. It is all too easy to rely on conventional approaches (e.g., readings, lecture, quizzes and exams). As I read Dawn’s column, I wondered if career opportunities could serve as a conduit for deeper, richer students learning and reflection about the concepts and skills associated with professional ethics and practice. Here are some possibilities that came to mind.

  • Students could interview professionals employed in a variety of Family Life Education careers asking about the values that guide their daily work related endeavors. Students could then collaboratively summarize, compare, contrast, and discuss their findings.
  • Students could individually analyze case studies that focus on various ethical dilemmas and behaviors faced by assorted Family Life Education professionals. Using clickers or audience response systems, the instructor could anonymously poll students about their views. Upon showing poll results, small or large group discussion could ensue.
  • After discussing and debating their analyses of various case studies, students could be asked to develop a code of ethical conduct for the Family Life Education professionals. Once completed, students could then be asked to compare and contrast their creation with the ethical code of conduct promoted by NCFR.
  • Students could investigate existing values oriented self-assessments and their reported strengths, limitations, and cautions. Students could complete one or more of these self-assessments, then reflect upon the outcomes and their potential meaning for one or more Family Life Education career opportunities. 

Ken Bain, author of What the Best College Teachers Do, calls upon college faculty to prepare a “promising syllabus” for each course they teach. Such a syllabus typically contains three components. First, it offers an explanation of the course's promise to the students -- what they will gain, in terms of knowledge or skills, by the end of the semester. The focus moves away from what the teacher will cover to what the student will take away from the course. Second, it describes the meaningful learning activities in which the students will engage for purposes of helping them to fulfill that promise. Lastly, it begins a dialogue about how the teacher and each student will jointly come to understand the nature and progress of his or her learning throughout the course. To learn more about Bain’s professional development offerings for faculty, see http://www.bestteachersinstitute.org/kenbain.html.

I wish you well in your efforts to prepare a promising syllabus for a Content Area 9 course, one that creates significant learning experiences about professional ethics and practice for the students enrolled in your academic program.


Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Fink, D. L. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.