n Innovation : journal of appropriate librarianship and information work in Southern Africa - Teaching information ethics at second year degree level at the University of Pretoria : a case-study of integrating theoretical information ethics with practical application

Volume 2013, Issue 47
  • ISSN : 1025-8892



Practising ethics has been an important consideration since Aristotle, with particular reference to his Nicomachean Ethics. He based his entire philosophy on understanding the nature of ethical interaction between people. Conversely, nowadays teaching ethics is a more complicated task when basing one's considerations on Aristotelian ethics, because, according to Aristotle, ethics cannot be taught. Virtue can only be practised by means of habituation which is similar to stating that one cultivates virtues. Therefore, by means of habituation ethical character can be developed.

Reinterpretation of this in the modern day classroom or lecture hall can be challenging. This is experienced first-hand by the authors of this paper, who are involved in the teaching of an undergraduate module in information ethics. The concern encountered was not due to the lack of content, but rested on the inability of students to internalise the information ethical considerations. As a result, the students found it difficult to critically reflect on and practically apply what they have been taught. In response to this the authors endeavoured to implement a practical component to the module to provide an opportunity for the students to engage more with the information ethical issues of an Information Society. The aim of this article is to discuss the implementation of the practical component, considering the overall theoretical information ethical framework. Thereafter recommendations will be made as to the improvement of this dual structure.
The module was presented over a period of one semester and consisted of both practical and theoretical components. The themes covered during the theoretical component ranged from the foundational concepts related to information ethics; ethical issues of an information society such as privacy, access and intellectual property; intercultural information ethics; social justice and social responsibility. Through the use of a practical portfolio to support the practical component, the students were encouraged to select one topic from any of the themes, on which they had to do research for various objectives: 1) writing a conference abstract; 2) presenting the research in a conference setting; 3) compiling a first draft and final conference paper; 4) designing a conference poster, and 5) formally reviewing each other's work.
The results revealed that the students were more able to engage with the theoretical content as a result of the practical components. In turn, the practical component also enriched the students' understanding of the theoretical content, informing their class discussions and overall quality of work. The authors recommend a similar approach to any other applied ethics course.

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