A case for ethical development in co-curricular environments



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Co-curricular experiences can provide a rich context for student learning, but there has been little research on the direct learning contribution they make. This study is designed to explore the impact of various co-curricular experiences on students within different curricular environments to determine how co-curricular experiences contribute to ethical reasoning development. There is no organized theory or framework regarding how co-curricular environments contribute to ethical reasoning development. However, Astin‟s Input-Environment-Output (I-E-O) Model provides a general theoretical foundation for environmental impact on student learning (Astin, 1993). Lawrence Kohlberg‟s preeminent ethical reasoning research gives further direction. It was grounded in Piaget‟s cognitive development stage theory from the 1930‟s (Wright, 1995; Nichols & Day, 1982). Kohlberg‟s work in the 1950‟s eventually expanded Piaget‟s two stage model within the autonomy stage to six stages of moral development: stages one and two at the pre-conventional level, stages three and four at the conventional level, and stages five and six at the post-conventional level (Wright, 1995). This study was conducted at a large research institution in the southwest United States in partnership with an institutional assessment effort to gather information on student learning in ethics courses. The study used the Defining Issues Test (DIT) developed by James Rest (Bebaeu, Rest & Narvaez, 1999), which places individuals in Kohlberg's continuum of ethical reasoning. One hundred eighty-two studentsparticipated in the DIT pretest at the beginning of the semester and the DIT posttest at the end of the semester. The primary treatment variable was exposure to the material in two courses that met institutional criteria for ethics curriculum; the control group consisted of students in a non-Ethics course. See “Ethics” note at end. Supplemental questions were added at the DIT post-test to gather demographics including participation in selected co-curricular environments. The resulting data was analyzed using a linear regression to identify which variables were predictive of improved posttest scores on the Defining Issues Test. The research study findings indicated that students‟ DIT scores increased, but that neither curricular nor co-curricular environments had a statistically significant impact.