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PERRIN COHEN

Director NUCASE
Associate Professor Psychology
College of Arts and Sciences
125 Nightingale Hall
617-373-3049

AIR: A TEACHING TOOL FOR CULTIVATING REFLECTIVE ETHICAL INQUIRY

AIR is a model of reflective ethical inquiry that can be used as a teaching tool for cultivating and thinking about ethical inquiry. The goal of the model is to help students make wiser choices through enhancing awareness of ethical concerns that they experience and through clarification and refinement of their ethical thinking, decision-making, and responding to such concerns. The acronym AIR refers to the elements of inquiry: Awareness of ethical issues, Investigation of those issues, and Responding to those issues. It is noteworthy that a student recently thought that AIR was also an appropriate metaphor because, for him, the experience of ethical inquiry was like “coming up for air”! We find that most students have a similar experience. Engaging in the process is both useful and refreshing.

Pedagogically, there are several conditions needed to help students feel more comfortable to engage in reflective ethical inquiry. First, there needs to be an understanding among students and teacher that in raising and discussing ethical concerns, the spirit and goal of the conversation is only to help one another to clarify and refine one’s own ethical awareness and thinking. The point is not to be “right”, to put some one else “down”, to impose one’s thoughts on another, or to judge other’s thoughts. This helps to move students from a “reactive” to a “thoughtfully reflective” mode. Most students enjoy this. Secondly, before having a reflective conversation of this nature, it is useful to clarify that the conversations are only for the purposes of inquiry and the details are to remain confidential. Regardless of whether it is a 15 min. discussion or a semester long class, these “ground rules” put students at ease and support ethical reflection and inquiry.

The AIR Model can be beneficially applied as a teaching tool in many ways. Globally, it can be a guiding framework for collaboration among colleagues and students to cultivate reflective ethical inquiry at departmental, college and university wide levels. The Model also can serve to cultivate ethical inquiry in traditional undergraduate and graduate courses as well as in non-traditional teaching (e.g., co-op, internships, residence halls) and professional development (faculty, teaching and research assistants). At Northeastern, the model is specifically used as an organizing framework in many contexts including Northeastern ethics education center (NUCASE, www.nucase.neu.edu), classroom applications (seminar courses), student affairs (e.g., student leadership workshops), professional development workshops (e.g., faculty, TAs) , co-op courses (ethical awareness on co-op course).

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