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A whole of curriculum approach to teaching business ethics

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 12:23 authored by Plummer, K, Burmeister, O, Muntean, D, McGrath, D, Murphy, D, Macklin, R
Until recently literature on the teaching of business ethics has focused too narrowly on individual subjects or upon making suggestions for a whole of curriculum approach (Brady & Kennedy, 1999) without adequately recognising and taking into account current practices across the curriculum (Molyneaux, 2005; McDonald, 2004). In addition, little attempt has been effectively made to consider the role that educational theories can play in incorporating business ethics into the curriculum. This paper extends the literature by examining how ethics is taught across undergraduate business subjects at a multi-campus regional university, and by using a review of literature on the cognitive apprenticeship approach and the findings of the study into business subjects to suggest a whole of curriculum approach to teaching ethics. Prior research into business degree programs has identified two predominant but contesting approaches to including ethics in the curriculum offered by higher education institutions. The first is to include a compulsory stand-alone ethics subject in the program, and the second involves delivering ethics content integrated within subjects throughout the degree (Murphy & McGrath, 2007; Dellaportas, 2006; McDonald, 2004; Molyneaux, 2005). It has been suggested (Murphy & McGrath, 2007; Carroll, 1998; Milton-Smith, 1995; Annstrong, 1993) that a third approach, a mixed model, combining the two approaches referred to above, in which a stand-alone ethics subject is combined with ethics integrated into other subjects, establishes a contextual base and provides the best learning experience for students. Murphy and McGrath (2007) have presented a model of ethical understanding adopting this third way of structuring ethics content, which is based on Kohlberg's six stages of moral development, highlighting the need for a structured whole of curriculum approach to ethics development. Few authors however, have examined the structure of the ethics curriculum from an educational paradigm. Instead, most have used their own classroom experiences in their analysis, other literature on teaching business ethics and literature from areas such as moral development. All three approaches to placing ethics within the curriculum were found to exist within the undergraduate business degrees examined in this study. Further, the findings support a cognitive apprenticeship whole of curriculum approach to the teaching of ethics, which can be systematically implemented within a degree. The cognitive apprenticeship approach is normally associated with teaching design within individual subjects rather than across a degree. Using the cognitive apprenticeship approach within a subject, the teacher/master uses authentic contexts and activities including cases, scenarios and role-plays, scaffolding (Ghefaili, 2003; Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989), modelling, coaching, collaboration and reflection to give students experiences which will help them master the content of the subject. Mastery is not limited to content; the teacher explicitly models the way a master of the discipline thinks so that students can also develop these ways of thinking. Within individual subjects, this approach has been used to help students arrive at the point at which they can autonomously use the subject specific knowledge and skills that they have learnt. Nevertheless, a new approach is to suggest that the cognitive apprenticeship model be used as part of a whole of curriculum development approach where it could be effective as a way to develop mastery of professional skills across a whole degree. In this respect, a cognitive apprenticeship approach (Ghefaili, 2003; Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989) has been identified as an effective critical tool for use in curriculum development for concepts, like ethics, that are frequently linked to a university's stated graduate attributes, and which are expected to be developed across a whole degree.


Publication title

Australian Journal of Professional and Applied Ethics












Charles Sturt University

Place of publication


Rights statement

Copyright 2010 Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics

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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Assessment, development and evaluation of curriculum

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