Video-based ethics program increases moral awareness, study finds

Video-based ethics program increases moral awareness, study finds
A selection of video title slides from the new Ethics Unwrapped series "Scandals Unwrapped." Credit: the McCombs School of Business of the University of Texas at Austin

Ethics Unwrapped, a video-based behavioral ethics curriculum created at The University of Texas at Austin and adopted by educational institutions around the world, effectively increases student understanding of ethics and human behavior, according to a study published today in the Journal of Business Law and Ethics Pedagogy. The study was based on a two-year survey of approximately 8,600 UT undergraduates.

Before being exposed to the Ethics Unwrapped videos, more than half of the students surveyed reported a lack of confidence in their ability to identify, discuss, or apply ethics concepts such as conflict of interest, conformity bias and relativism. After viewing the videos, 88 percent reported feeling either "confident" or "very confident." And 90 percent reported that watching the videos helped them better understand ethics concepts.

An assessment of approximately 40 at UT and other institutions that use the curriculum revealed that 95 percent found the open-access videos helpful for teaching complex moral concepts. Faculty members from a wide range of academic areas—business, fine arts, liberal arts, communications, natural sciences and education—use Ethics Unwrapped.

"Millennials and Gen Zers spend more than 50 percent of their waking time on screens," said Cara Biasucci, creator and program director for Ethics Unwrapped. "This program meets them where they're at, with a format that appeals to their emotional and moral sense as well as the thinking part of their brain."

Ethics Unwrapped was conceived in 2011 after an anonymous donor gave $500,000 to UT's McCombs School of Business to advance ethics education.

Even though ethics is a subject traditionally taught in philosophy or religion departments, ethical scandals—from Enron and WorldCom to Volkswagen and Wells Fargo—often take place in the world of business. The idea was to create a practical ethics curriculum for business students. But Ethics Unwrapped has expanded far beyond the original plan.

"This began as a way to help students learn how to navigate real-world ethical dilemmas," said Robert Prentice, faculty director of Ethics Unwrapped. "But its reach has far exceeded anything we initially envisioned."

The program has grown to include more than 125 short videos and supportive curriculum resources, freely available on the Ethics Unwrapped website. The materials have garnered numerous awards and have been adopted into curricula across the disciplinary spectrum at institutions across the world, including the Naval War College and Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and Oxford universities. All of the nation's top 20 research universities and 85 percent of the top 20 universities worldwide have accessed its materials. The videos had been viewed 1.4 million times as of June 2018.

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