BY MICHAEL BUGEJA
I have taught media ethics for 30 years at Ohio University and Iowa State University, assigning final projects that require students to apply philosophy in personal codes, helping secure internships or employment.
We covered all the pertinent philosophers, from Aristotle and Confucius to Clifford Christians and Sissela Bok. Readings, lectures, discussion and various journal exercises helped students understand ethical values such as influence, responsibility, truth and fairness. Then they research professional organizations’ codes, including ones from the Public Relations Society of America, the American Advertising Federation and the Society of Professional Journalists, among others. They also research corporate codes of ethics, and identify firms that share their values and perspectives.
Before the Internet—in the 1980s and early 1990s—students would design brochures, media kits, posters and other creative materials that showcased their personal codes, aligning them with mission statements and codes of associations and prospective employers.
Here’s a montage of posters, brochures and pamphlets from Ohio University students in 1995:
Like everything else in advertising, journalism and public relations, Internet and social media began to appear in final projects, first in the early 2000s at Ohio and then increasingly over the years at Iowa State University.
Now ISU ethics students across disciplines (this class admits non-majors) not only learn the tenets of philosophy and analyze case studies involving ethical principles; they also must design online portfolios that include work on at least two platforms and that share personal codes in stand-alone tabs.
My ethics class is online. You can check out the site at www.myethicsclass.com (yes, I secured that domain). Here is a montage of some 2014 works by this class:
At the start of the course students are shown a presentation explaining the basics of portfolio design. You can access this presentation at myethicsclass.com/2012/09/10/portfolio-design/.
Throughout the semester my teaching assistant and I critique portfolios in progress. At the end of the course, we feature on our Web site a selection of work produced by students majoring at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication as well as other departments from all colleges at ISU.
We found that basic ethics tenets apply to every discipline from agriculture and criminal justice to mechanical engineering and military science. You can view the wide selection of portfolios and codes on the “portfolios” tab of my Web site.
In teaching evaluations, students praise the final project—not only because it helps place them in internships and jobs. They also appreciate how ethics is the foundation of each discipline.
“The portfolio assignment was incredibly useful to most of us as many in the class will need a polished portfolio to get an internship/job,” one student wrote.
Another stated, “I liked that we came out of class with an online portfolio that will actually help me get a job! VERY helpful.”
Other students echoed those remarks.
Each semester more portfolios are added to the site. Graduates maintain them, too, so students in my class can actually follow careers. (Note: Before we post portfolio URLs, we ask students to sign a release form.) We also keep a list of specific portfolios that played a role in securing jobs and internships for our students.
They have an edge in the job market because their work ethic and samples are supported by ethical values as well as carefully aligned and researched codes.