Ethics Principles

9 Ethical Principles

The Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) developed a list of 9 Ethical Principles that define the professional responsibilities of post-secondary professors and teachers. As the national voice for teaching and learning in higher education in Canada, STLHEs principles are explored here as the model for ethical guidelines related to post-secondary education.

Before exploring the 9 principles, it is important to note here that such principles were intended as a guide, beacon, or an “approximation” rather than “a list of ironclad rules, or a systematic code of conduct” (Murray et al., 1996).

The following list is adapted from the document provided by STLHE. Select each number below to learn more about the 9 principles

Principle 1: Content Competence

A university teacher maintains a high level of subject matter knowledge and ensures that course content is current, accurate, representative, and appropriate to the position of the course within the student’s program of studies.

This means that a teacher is responsible for:

  • maintaining or acquiring subject matter competence related to both their own interests as well as their course goals and objectives
  • ensuring the appropriateness and representativeness of course content
  • taking active steps to be up-to-date in content areas relevant to his or her courses
  • being familiar with the course context (i.e. prerequisites, relationship of course within the academic program)

Principle 2: Pedagogical Competence

A pedagogically competent teacher communicates the objectives of the course to students, is aware of alternative instructional methods or strategies, and selects methods of instruction that, according to research evidence (including personal or self-reflective research), are effective in helping students to achieve the course objectives.

This means that a teacher:

  • has adequate pedagogical knowledge and skills
  • provides students with adequate opportunity to practice and receive feedback on those skills to be mastered during the course
  • is aware of significant differences in the learning styles of their students and, if feasible, varies her or his style of teaching accordingly
  • takes active steps to stay current regarding teaching strategies that will help students learn relevant knowledge and skills and will provide equal educational opportunity for diverse groups

Principle 3: Dealing with Sensitive Topics

Topics that students are likely to find sensitive or discomforting are dealt with in an open, honest, and positive way.

This means that a teacher:

  • acknowledges at the outset when a particular topic is sensitive and explains why it is necessary to include the curriculum
  • identifies his or her own perspective on the topic and compares it to alternative approaches or interpretations, so as to provide students with an understanding of the complexity of the issue and the difficulty of achieving a single objective conclusion
  • invites all students to state their position on the issue, sets ground rules for discussion, is respectful of students even when it is necessary to disagree, and encourages students to be respectful of one another

Principle 4: Student Development

The overriding responsibility of the teacher is to contribute to the intellectual development of the student, at least in the context of the teacher’s own area of expertise, and to avoid actions such as exploitation and discrimination that detract from student development.

This means that a teacher is responsible for:

  • designing instruction that facilitates learning and encourages autonomy and independent thinking in students,
  • treating students with respect and dignity
  • avoiding actions that detract unjustifiably from student development (i.e. arriving for class under-prepared, failing to design effective instruction, or coercing students to adopt a particular value or point of view)

Principle 5: Dual Relationships with Students

To avoid conflict of interest, a teacher does not enter into dual-role relationships with students that are likely to detract from student development or lead to actual or perceived favoritism on the part of the teacher.

This means that teachers are responsible for

  • keeping relationships with students focused on pedagogical goals and academic requirements (from having any form of sexual or close personal relationships, to having excessive socializing with students outside of class, to accepting a teaching (or grading) role with respect to a member of one’s immediate family, etc.)
  • avoiding favoritism or unfairness
  • preventing risks such as that of exploitation, compromising academic standards, favoritism, or harm to student development, from materializing into real or perceived conflicts of interest

Principle 6: Confidentiality

Student grades, attendance records, and private communications are treated as confidential materials, and are released only with student consent, or for legitimate academic purposes, or if there are reasonable grounds for believing that releasing such information will be beneficial to the student or will prevent harm to others.

This means that teachers are responsible for:

  • entitling students the same level of confidentiality as would exist in a lawyer-client or doctor-patient relationship

Principle 7: Respect for Colleagues

A university teacher respects the dignity of their colleagues and works cooperatively with colleagues in the interest of fostering student development.

This means that teachers:

  • interact among colleagues with respect to teaching with an overriding concern with the development of students
  • settle disagreements with their colleagues relating to teaching privately

Principle 8: Valid Assessment of Students

Given the importance of assessment of student performance in university teaching and in students’ lives and careers, instructors are responsible for taking adequate steps to ensure that assessment of students is valid, open, fair, and congruent with course objectives.

This means that teachers:

  • make use of research on the advantages and disadvantages of various methods of assessment to create valid and congruent assessment opportunities
  • use their knowledge of assessment to select assessment techniques that are consistent with the objectives of the course and are as reliable and valid as possible
  • clearly communicate assessment procedures at the beginning of the course
  • grade student exams, papers, and assignments carefully and fairly through the use of a rational marking system that can be communicated to students
  • provide students with prompt and accurate feedback on their performance at regular intervals throughout the course

Principle 9: Respect for Institution

In the interests of student development, a university teacher is aware of and respects the educational goals, policies, and standards of the institution in which he or she teaches.

This means that teachers:

  • share a collective responsibility to work for the good of the university as a whole
  • uphold the educational goals and standards of the university
  • abide by university policies and regulations pertaining to the education of students

Module Workbook

Turn to Activity #2: Reflect and Revise (page 3)

Activity #2 prompts you to reflect upon the STLHE Ethical Principles outlined above and compare/contrast them to the principles identified in Activity #1. Activity #2 also challenges you to consider if and how you would revise the STLHE principles