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‘Business Ethics in a Box’ Website Provides Free Access to Ethics Teaching Materials

Georgetown McDonough is recognized globally for its commitment and innovative coursework surrounding business ethics. Leveraging expertise from the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics (GISME), the school is making these concepts accessible to universities and students across the world by sharing coursework, teaching materials, and other engagement opportunities through its new website, Business Ethics in a Box.

The site aims at making McDonough’s business ethics coursework more widely accessible, alongside the Teaching the Teachers program, where GISME plays a leading role as an institute that educates a new generation of business ethics professors. As a thought leader in the business ethics teaching arena, Georgetown McDonough continues to influence other universities, students, and academics across the United States and around the world with faculty-led research and experiential learning components. 

Jason Brennan, the Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy explained the real-world application of business ethics concepts at the university is largely what sets it apart from other leading institutions.

“The projects and simulations at Georgetown often invite students to go and solve a problem. For instance, in one project, groups devise a mock company and make a series of strategic decisions for the company. At the end of the semester, we provide them with a custom-made dilemma or crisis, based on their previous decisions, to resolve,” he said. “This exercise helps show our students that ‘hey, you can stumble into an ethical dilemma without even realizing it or knowing it’s about to happen’.”

In the modern business world, specifically within the GISME program, there are ongoing conversations surrounding ethical leadership; politics, philosophy, and economics; effective altruism; moral psychology; and other affiliated courses that stimulate critical thinking and engagement around the topics of business ethics and its teachings. 

“The Ethics in a Box website is written to provide instructors with everything they need to teach business ethics well. It contains syllabi, annotated slides, descriptions of experiential pedagogy and assignments, and more,” said Brennan. The website organizes the information in one place and makes it publicly available for professors, students, and administrators alike who are interested in incorporating business ethics into their curriculum and coursework. 

Brennan said business ethics is a fairly new field, however, it continues to gain more traction in schools and interdisciplinary coursework. As a result, a larger group of academics are interested in bringing business ethics discussions to their own classes and syllabi. 

“For instance, all of the slides available on the website are annotated. It will give instructions to the professor who might be using it, such as, ‘on this particular slide, talk about this, ask them this question, or you might expect these types of responses.” 

The new website contains some of the teaching materials included in the Ethics Project, a semester-long group project at McDonough. 

“Business ethics has become more rigorous and it has become more interdisciplinary. If you go back 40 years ago, it was a niche field and mostly applied philosophy. Today, business ethics is more of a practical field focused on managing ourselves and others to produce better behavior. In our teaching methods, we’re teaching our students how to anticipate potential problems in their planning and how they can proactively avoid them.”

This type of experiential learning, which leaders behind the Business Ethics in a Box project recognize as the “Georgetown approach” to ethics, is focused on psychology, management, interdisciplinary education, and beyond.

“Professors often hope that students will transfer abstract concepts and principles to real life. Our approach focuses instead on having students practice using these principles in real-life decision making,” said Brennan. 

Brennan recently received the Provost’s Innovation in Teaching Award for devising the Ethics Project, which asks students to “think of something good to do, and do it”. Each student group receives $1,000 to complete their project. Past projects have included providing a clean water system to a village in Haiti, raising tens of thousands of dollars for disaster victims, and starting a successful screen repair business. The Ethics Project has already been introduced to several universities, some of which include University of Notre Dame; Pennsylvania State University; University of Richmond; Harvard University; West Virginia University, and Tulane University.

Similar to ethics courses taught by McDonough faculty, Brennan hopes Business Ethics in a Box allows those who are interested in business ethics to dive deeper into the subject matter and move away from theoretical terminology.

“The normal way of teaching business ethics is sort of abstract and cool-headed, asking students to think about some abstract principles, imagine people in a situation, and ask what they ought to do. This approach doesn’t allow students to gain firsthand perspectives on how they would in fact approach real-world ethical dilemmas in their careers. Solving a problem on paper is easy; solving it in the real world, with real-world temptations, is hard.”

Brennan explained the significance of early entrepreneurs or business owners having the knowledge on hand that can guide anticipation of a given business ethics dilemma in a proactive manner and perhaps avoid a difficult situation that could lead to setbacks from personal and professional standpoints. 

Business Ethics in a Box is funded through a generous grant on “Markets, Social Entrepreneurship, and Effective Altruism” from the John Templeton Foundation. Visitors of the site are welcome to apply the materials in their own classrooms and tailor the coursework as they see fit.

Anyone interested in learning more about Business Ethics in a Box, or who would like to submit suggestions to the available coursework, can visit the Business Ethics in a Box website.

Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics