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The Role of General Education in the Development of Ethical Reasoning in College Students: A Qualitative Study on the Faculty Perspective

Deborah J Erie, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Historically, colleges and universities saw their purpose as educating individuals to be productive, civic-minded individuals. General education was the curricular structure used to provide students with the skills and knowledge that promoted moral and ethical behavior. As societal forces changed the complexion of higher education, the singular purpose of a college education also changed. There has been extensive research on the ethical and moral development of college students, but little research on the faculty role in the development of ethical reasoning in college students through general education coursework. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the attitudes of faculty who taught general education courses in relation to their role in the ethical reasoning development of college students. Understanding how faculty members chose to adopt particular educational purpose(s) such as ethical reasoning, how they translated this into educational outcomes, how they planned educational activities that reflected these purposes and outcomes, and how they integrated this into their syllabi and teaching, has practical implications for the institution's future planning for general education and for faculty professional development. The focus of the research was on fulltime faculty members who taught general education at three campuses of the Pennsylvania State University. A content analysis of general education course syllabi, in-depth interviews with faculty who taught general education courses, and interviews with their past students were used to determine the intentionality that faculty members employ in creating opportunities for the development of ethical reasoning. This study revealed that faculty teaching general education courses created opportunities for ethical reasoning development, but for most of the faculty, there was little or no intentionality. Students, however, remembered those courses where there was an intentional ethical component. No differences were found among the four knowledge domains of communication, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences.

Subject Area

Pedagogy|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Erie, Deborah J, "The Role of General Education in the Development of Ethical Reasoning in College Students: A Qualitative Study on the Faculty Perspective" (2013). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3589758.