An Innovative Way To Teach Ethics

Submitted by Mary Kate Morgan

Merriam-Webster (2019) defines ethics as “a set of moral principles; “a theory or system of moral values”; “a guiding philosophy”; “a consciousness of moral importance”. When working as a family scientist, in any career setting, it is essential to remember the importance of ethics. The National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) provides ethical principles and guidelines for family scientists. Before listing these principles the NCFR provides a purpose statement that reads: “these ethical principles and guidelines were developed to inspire and encourage Family Scientists to act ethically; provide guidance in dealing with often complex ethical issues; provide ethical guidance in areas that Family Scientists may overlook; and enhance the professional image and status of Family Scientists by increasing the level of professional consciousness” (NCFR, 2019). Here are a few examples of the guidelines from NCFR:
  • Family scientists are respectful of others, show sensitivity to the dignity of all humans, and avoid all forms of exploitation
  • Family scientists are not unethically discriminatory on the basis of gender, sexual, orientation, age, marital status, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, or socioeconomic status.
  • Family scientists are sensitive to the complications in dual or multiple role situations and are ethical in those roles.
So how does a teacher teach a complex subject such as ethics? Morgan (2018) suggests the use of “real life” stories from professionals in the field to add depth, relevance, and reality to the class’ discussion of ethical practice in family science. Stories have been used for many years to teach different subjects. “Collecting stories from professionals in the field can also provide us with a window into experiences and settings with which we are not familiar” (Morgan, 2018). In order to get a better idea of how to collect stories, Kari Morgan, from Kansas State University, interviewed six interviews with family science professionals. Specifically, family science professionals working in rural communities, because she knew the majority of her students would be practicing family science in rural areas. After conducting these interviews and using the stories professionals provided her, Morgan (2018) concluded that teachers will have to be okay with being vulnerable and “comfortable with being uncomfortable, to not know all the answers, and be okay with being ‘off the cuff’ or off script”. For students, the use of stories can make them feel more connected with a teacher, which leads to students opening up more in conversations about ethics.

Stories “add great depth to conversations and discussions related to ethics in family science classes” which leads to students having a better understanding of what ethics are in the family science field. Preparing students to enter the world of family science feeling comfortable and having knowledge of the ethical guidelines will strengthen the field of family science. Using stories to teach ethics can also change the way teachers think about teaching ethics. Morgan (2018) stated that using the stories she heard from family science professionals “transformed” her teaching “in ways that are hard to quantify.”

For more information read: Morgan, K. (2018). Using stories to teach ethics in family science. Family Science Review, 22(2), 21-33.

Diversity Discourse in Contemporary College Classrooms

Within the discipline of family science, issues of diversity and inclusion are (or should be) embedded within all of our courses. Consideration of differences should guide our discussions of most topics related to the study of children and families. Examples highlighting the cultural diversity (e.g., race/ethnicity, sexuality, religion, etc.) and family diversity (e.g., single parent, grandparent, military, etc.) of the populations we serve are an integral part of family science education.

The nature of our current societal discourse, namely around social locations and individual differences, is oppressive to many who identify with a marginalized community. Discussions in the classroom may serve to give voice to some while seemingly increase guilt or blame in others. Managing these conversations can be difficult and may even become combative. In recognition that students bring their own biases into the classroom, instructors are tasked with finding ways to respect their students’ lived experiences while also challenging them to be open to new ideas.

After many years of incorporating ‘hot button’ topics and issues of diversity and inclusion in my courses, I have found certain methods to be more effective than others. Some of the things that I use to help guide these conversations include:
  • Experiential activities – Students continue to report the impact that these have on their level of understanding, especially when trying to understand the perspective of another. Activities such as privilege walks, identity wheels, and role plays (just to name a few) help students engage with difficult content.
  • Anonymous polling – To encourage discussion of sensitive topics, anonymous polls (e.g., Poll everywhere, Kahoot!, Plickers, etc.) allow students to provide feedback in a safer and more comfortable manner.
  • Cultural humility – With an overarching lens of cultural humility (read more here), students learn to focus on their own biases and the impact on their personal and professional interactions with others. In addition to learning about diverse populations, students are encouraged to explore their own identities and how they can use their privilege to help others.
In a recently published Family Science Review article, Niehuis and Thomas-Jackson (2019) discussed the role of instructor emotion in teaching diversity within family science. They argue that instructor emotions greatly contribute to the nature of the learning environment. The authors also provide a review of effective methods for teaching diversity and pose questions that family science departments should consider with regard to diversity instruction. To read this article click HERE.

Image credit: School diversity many hands held together by Wonder woman0731. CC BY 2.0

Students Selling Course Material Online

As instructors, we spend countless hours creating, editing, and revising content for our students. Syllabi, lectures, exams, activities, and other course material are created to support and enhance the educational experience. Although these materials are shared by current, former, and future students, they remain the property of the instructor and/or the institution.

A recent phenomenon that is challenging the notion of the intellectual property of instructor created course content is the number of online sites which offer compensation for access to course materials. Sites such as Campus Shift, Course Hero, and NexusNotes are just a few who provide compensation to students for the sale of their course materials. These sites allow students to upload their course materials for free, and then pays them a commission for each sale thereafter. They can also earn free access to content on the site with each upload. A quick search for institution and course will lead you to pages and pages of uploaded materials available for purchase and download.

Our institution recently created a policy to add to the student code of conduct in reference to selling coursework online. In order to prohibit the commercial exploitation of course material, the following statement was adopted and added to our copyright regulations:

Notes of classroom and laboratory lectures, syllabi, exercises and other course materials taken by Students shall not be deemed Student Works, may only be used for personal educational purposes, and shall not be used for commercialization by the Student generating such notes or by any third party without the express written permission of the author of such Works. Violation of University Policy may be grounds for disciplinary action pursuant with the Student Conduct Process.

It does not appear that these sites are going anywhere and they are proving to be quite popular among contemporary college students. Universities and academic programs might consider adopting a similar policy to protect the integrity and accessibility of instructor created course content.

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Strategies for Effective Mentoring

For the 2019-2020 academic year, I am honored to be a Faculty Fellow for The Office for Faculty Excellence at my university. With this appointment, I am tasked with contributing to the professional development of graduate students and faculty across campus. In addition to providing consultations and implementing educational activities, I was given the flexibility to conceptualize programming based on my own interests. With this assignment, I knew that my focus would be mentoring. Further confirmation that I was on the right track was the recent announcement for the mentoring academy offered through NCFR. I saw this as a sign that the timing was right for what I am doing at my university!

During my doctoral work and in preparation for life in academia, I had the honor of being mentored by one of the world’s most renown academic educators. This person taught me how to be an effective teacher, but most importantly demonstrated the power of having a dedicated mentor. In the years after, I searched for similar mentorship but often feel short. I yearned for other devoted and caring mentors to help me with the tenure process and to be my advocates in academia.

From my own personal quest for mentorship and the research, planning, and recruitment process for our university program, I have learned many best practices for mentoring relationships. Key factors for success of a mentoring program are systemic and dynamic in nature. They require thoughtful and flexible decision-making and collaboration with all levels of university operations. Here are just a few that I have found to be important in conducting a mentoring program for faculty or students:
  • There must be buy-in from university administrators. The university community should be supportive of any mentoring efforts in order for them to be successful. Whether they are allocating resources for the program or helping to identify appropriate mentors, administrators (e.g., senior faculty, chairs/deans, provosts, chancellors) should be involved in all stages of planning and implementation.
  • Campus collaborations are a necessity. As systemic thinkers, it was obvious that success meant our faculty development office could not work in a vacuum. Relationships with representatives from diversity and inclusion, global affairs, graduate studies, community engagement, writing success, and student affairs (to name a few) must have a seat at the planning table. They also serve as great resources for your mentoring participants.
  • Mentors must be trained and demonstrate a commitment to the process. Student and faculty mentors have identifiable skills and accomplishments enabling them to work with mentees, but many lack an understanding of how to be a successful mentor. Mentors need training on how to establish working relationships with mentees. They also need information on ways to help mentees identify and work towards academic, professional, and personal goals.
  • Mentees should choose their own mentors. Assigning mentors based on interest and/or availability is a common practice. But to facilitate a more productive working relationship, mentees must be able to choose who they want to work with. After identifying what they want to accomplish from the mentoring relationship, mentees should choose the person they think will best help them reach their goals.
  • Mentors require support too. Mentoring can be an isolating process especially for those who meet one-on-one. Therefore, mentors should be provided the space to connect with and have reciprocal supportive relationships with other mentors. Team or group mentoring models are more successful than traditional ones.
  • Consideration of diversity and inclusion. Mentoring programs should recognize the institutional and cultural barriers that exist in academia for members of marginalized communities. Recruiting a diverse group of mentors is fundamental, but often not possible. All mentors need education on the unique experiences of marginalized students and faculty, which will increase their retention, satisfaction, and success.
In future posts, I will write more about the unique experiences of participants in our mentoring program. As a result of the lessons learned outlined above (and more!), we are excited to provide a thoughtful and deliberate experience for our university community. We have been extremely fortunate to have support and buy-in from all levels at our institution, with the Provost being our biggest cheerleader! Recruitment of mentors was so successful that we had to create a wait-list for those who were interested in participating. Funding was obtained to provide resources, materials, and training for our participants. Collaborative relationships have been established across campus to support these efforts and increase sustainability of this endeavor.

Image credit: Career mentoring – Adventure Jan 24 2018_230 by Thompson Rivers. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Calling All CDFR/HDFS Alumni!

Dean Zvonkovic (East Carolina University/College of Health and Human Performance and National Council on Family Relations President) needs your help. See her message below and please respond to let her know how you have used and benefited from your family science training.

At the NCFR conference in November, I will be giving a Presidential Address. My theme will address the value of a family science perspective to broader work and personal life (as described in the NCFR Report article linked below). I am essentially “crowdsourcing” elements of my talk, and so I NEED YOU (and others!) to help me identify ways that you think a family science perspective has been useful in your life. Please share with your social networks!

Provide feedback here:

NCFR Report:

Photo credit: NCFR 2019 (see above link)

Increasing Course Evaluation Participation

Submitted by Mary Kate Morgan

At the end of each semester, students get emailed continuously about completing course evaluation forms, which often go incomplete. As a student, I know there are many different reasons why this may happen, because I too, am sometimes guilty of not filling out the evaluations. For one, some students do not know the importance of these evaluations and do not believe that professors take time to read them and look at the results. Some students do not believe that evaluations are truly anonymous.  Another reason students may not be filling the evaluations out is the lack of time they have during the end of the year. Yes, the surveys may only take a few minutes, but if a student has five classes that could be over an hour that the student could have spent studying, writing, exercising, or more importantly sleeping. Also during this busy time of year, many students just simply forget.

So how should instructors encourage students to complete their evaluation surveys? The Center for Teaching and Learning at UC Berkeley (2018) has created 5 tips and explanations:
  1. Reserve time during class at the end of the semester for students to complete the survey. For me, this always demonstrated how important the evaluation is to the professor. This also allows the professor to help students find the survey in case the students are new, or the survey is located in different tabs located on a web page. My professors have stepped out of the classroom while students complete the evaluation so we did not feel intimidated and could answer honestly.
  2. Monitor the response rate to further prompt the students and provide additional encouragement. I recently had a professor email the class to let us know that only 30% had completed the evaluation and reminded us of the last day to complete it. This demonstrated that my professor really cared about the evaluation and valued our feedback.
  3. Inform students about the purpose of evaluations. Explain how universities use feedback for merit and promotion. Instructors should let students know how they have changed their courses based on student feedback. In my first year of graduate school, I heard several of my professors say “last year’s students informed of this, so I made some changes to the syllabus, let me know if you think the changes were a good idea or not.” This encouraged me to provide feedback because I felt confident that the professor would take my opinions and suggestions seriously.
  4. Make it an assignment on your syllabus. If bonus points are not an option, deducting points may be a better option to increase participation. I have also had professors excuse the last quiz or homework grade (not a high percentage of grade) if a set response rate is achieved.
  5. Provide other incentives for students: a) offer extra points to all students if a set response rate is achieved, b) use the honor system and give an incentive to students who affirm that they have completed the evaluation, or c) request a screenshot showing that the evaluation has been completed.
Family scientists recognize the importance of evaluations/surveys. It is important to use evaluations to revise courses based on students reported experiences. It is common in family science classes for professors to try new techniques, assignments, group projects, and ways of discussing topics in class, and getting feedback is important for perfecting the way a subject is taught. Once I learned how important evaluations are to professors and that they are actually valued, I made completing course evaluations a priority. Hearing examples of changes made to the class because of feedback provided by evaluations that benefited the class, i.e. less reading material, made me want to help the future students by providing my professors with feedback. If professors value and use the feedback provided from evaluations, but are not getting the results they want, trying one of the tips listed above may help.

For more information: Center for Teach and Learning at UC Berkeley (2018). How can instructors encourage students to complete course evaluations and provide informative responses? Retrieved from:

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Why/How I Round Student Grades

I just read an article in the Faculty Focus daily on the dilemma of rounding grades. This inspired me to write about the process that I use for making this determination in my courses.

First, it is important to discuss issues that some instructors have with rounding grades. Many feel that the total points that a student earns in the class should be the total points that a student will get in the class. Rounding grades therefore can provide an unfair advantage that students have not earned. Also, the idea that some students will get a higher grade based off of rounding anything that is higher than .05 seems unfair to those students who miss that mark by such small margins.

The article (found here) highlighted other issues that instructors face regarding the question of rounding grades. Initiatives to encourage college graduation in four years and students paying increased tuition to repeat courses can play a role in the decision to round grades. College is expensive and most students do not have unlimited funds or time to retake classes. Therefore the small margin between a C and a C- can make or break a college trajectory and delay graduation.

I will describe the process that I use to make the determination of whether or not to round a grade. I believe it is fair and addresses the issues described above. And the responsibility rests solely on the student, which makes it much easier for me.

My method is to use participation to determine the rounding of final grades. Each semester, I outline this process in the syllabus and discuss it with students throughout the semester. I provide the total possible points for completion of all assignments in the class and breakdown the number of points needed for each step on the +/- grading scale. Then I describe in detail the process for earning participation points.

Participation in my courses are earned in the following ways:
  • Students who actively participate during class discussions. This includes asking questions, responding to questions, engaging classmates, and volunteering for in-class activities.
  • Students who visit office hours (more than once) during the semester. This includes students who just drop by to say hello and those that have specific questions. Or those students who make an appointment outside of my identified office hours.
  • Students who talk with me before or after class. I typically arrive to class 10 minutes early to provide students an opportunity to meet with me if they can’t make office hours or have immediate concerns.
  • Students who engage using thoughtful questions or comments with guest speakers. These are students who make our class guests feel welcomed and important to the discussion.
My experience as an educator has taught me that student potential, passion, and ability is not always best demonstrated through traditional assessments. Exams, papers, homework, and presentations only tell a part of the story. Often the capacity to learn or the demonstration of that learning is not reflected by a final grade. Therefore, I find that my justification for rounding grades is an equitable method for students to earn the additional points that they may need.

Image credit: Casio calculator by Mc681. CC BB-SA 4.0

Using Interactive Videoconferencing in Family Science

submitted by Mary Kate Morgan

With the new and improved technology available today, it is no surprise that more and more careers once completed in person, are now exploring options via the Internet. Professionals and clients prefer more flexible delivery methods because of competing demands on their time. Therefore, family scientists should become familiar with and utilize such advances in technology in order to reach a wider audience. For example, interactive videoconferencing technology can be used for a variety of things: meetings, conferences, continuing education, courses, office hours, appointments, etc. While family scientists are very equipped to enter the professional world after graduating, few have had experience using interactive videoconferencing.

So how can family science programs better prepare their students for this? Law et al. (2018) conducted a research study on a family life education methods course that used experiential learning with interactive videoconferencing. The authors warn that before jumping into the subject of interactive videoconferencing, programs need to understand the concept of andragogy, the “art and science of adult learning” (Law et al., 2018, p. 35). Knowles (1984) suggested the following four principles of learning especially pertinent to adults:
• Adults must be active participants in their own instruction.
• Learning activities should be based on acquiring experience.
• Adults connect to information that has significance to their lives.
• Adult learning should be focused on problems and not content.

For this specific research study, the course and resulting workshops were delivered using interactive videoconferencing. Students spent the first half of the semester learning about family life education and preparing a session of a martial enrichment workshop. During the second half of the semester, students were given the opportunity to present their sessions with couples who were recruited from the community. The students reported that this course was “above other family science courses” and the students “felt that the opportunity to prepare and present a real workshop was ‘much more than just an assignment.” The students also commented on the fact that this course design “gave them the opportunity to apply their education to a real-life experience” and “gave them the opportunity to explore what a family life educator career would be like.”

Using interactive videoconferencing in family science courses can benefit students in a variety of ways. It allows geographically dispersed students the opportunity to have an in-class like experience without having to commute to campus. It also allows for experiential learning that goes beyond introduction to content. Finally, interactive videoconferencing provides students with opportunities to conduct classes and engage families similar to what they will see in their future professions. Using Law et al.’s (2018) research to incorporate experiential learning and interactive videoconferencing into a course is a great way to start as long as the class follows andragogy principles to ensure students get the optimum experience.

For more information read: Law, D., Fall, L., Arocho, R., Meyer, S., and Ross, K. (2018). Redesigning a family life education methods course using experiential learning and interactive videoconferencing. Family Science Review, 22(2),34-52.

Photo credit: Video conference 001 by Sarah Stewart CC BY 2.0

Providing Feedback to Students

One of the difficulties many instructors face is how to provide proper feedback to their students. While this will differ based on type of assignment, it is important for students to know why and how they received a grade.

I have found that many students are eager to read comments and suggestions from their instructors and have a vested interest in using feedback to improve their scores. Graduate students especially want to know the rationale behind their grades even if only one point is deducted.

What I, and many others have struggled with is deciding upon a method to use for providing feedback in the best way possible. We want to address concerns and suggest revisions in a manner that does not criticize the student or make them feel inadequate. Current student populations are very sensitive to critique and must be handled with thoughtfulness and care.

One tried and true method for providing feedback is to give examples in cases where correction is needed. For example, instead of saying “this is incorrect”, an instructor might suggest an alternative with “have you thought about…? or “consider using these instead.” This can help students consider other options to use in their work and not spend time focusing on what they have not done well.

During a recent class, a student discussed another method for providing feedback that she uses with children at a childcare center called the sandwich method. With this you enclose the suggestions or critique in between two positive statements. In using this method, an instructor might say, “Your paper is clear and concise. Consider adding more depth to support your argument. It will fit nicely with your excellent writing style and use of tone.”

Expanding on the sandwich idea, the article below suggests a more specific and effective method for providing feedback to students. Click here to read about “The Almond Joy of Providing Feedback to Students.”

Photo credit: Editing a paper by Nic McPhee CC BY SA 2.0

Collaborative Learning in Research Methods Courses

Submitted by Trinity Freeman

As a graduate student in Human Development and Family Science (HDFS), I am challenged with the opportunity and responsibility of moving from a consumer of knowledge to a producer of knowledge.  In this shift, it is important that I learn how to effectively and accurately create new knowledge to contribute to my field.  In order to do so, I need to be proficient in the processes, methods, and ethics that surround research.  These skills are introduced and fostered in undergraduate and graduate level research methods courses.  As a student, I have found that research methods classes can be quite challenging.  There are so many steps to consider when critically analyzing or creating a study, that it can often be overwhelming.  It leaves us to question what is the best way to teach this information so students feel comfortable with the specific concepts of research, while also capturing the vastness and importance of these topics in our field.

In order to address this issue, an instructor at a public university in the western US introduced a new way of teaching twenty-five undergraduate students about the research process.  Students were to create their own research proposals in small collaborative groups.   Each group, consisting of four to five students, was given the opportunity to formulate their own research question and create a proposal to be presented at the end of the semester.  Before working on the proposal itself, the instructor lectured on topics such as the research process, APA writing styles, ethics, etc.  The students were also exposed to a presentation by a librarian who instructed on how to find literature using the library’s database.  In addition, the students were given a variety of homework assignments and readings to increase their knowledge of the research process and to effectively construct their proposals.

After the culmination of the project, students completed a survey to reflect on how the collaborative research proposal contributed to their understanding of research methods and how the faculty support influenced their satisfaction with the project.  Students were also asked to report on the group dynamics and whether it influenced satisfaction with the proposal experience.  The instructor found that overall the majority of students expressed greater understanding of the research proposal process and felt they could construct another proposal in the future.  The students also expressed that the availability and willingness of the instructor to work with them on these proposals was very important in the writing process.  Lastly, the majority of students had positive experiences in their collaborative groups.  Those students who did not report positive experiences (20%), stated that unbalanced group dynamics or lack of personal connection to their topic were barriers.

As a first-year graduate student enrolled in a research methods course, I have had the opportunity to work in a collaborative small group with three other students to create our own research proposal.  In many ways, I can relate to the experiences of these undergraduate students.  Here are a few advantages and disadvantages, from my perspective, of this collaborative learning method.


  • Delegation – As similarly expressed by students in this article, a research proposal is a long and somewhat daunting task.  I was appreciative of the fact that I was not doing this alone.  We were able to split tasks to manage our time better and complete work more efficiently.
  • Understanding the process – It is much easier for me to understand how research is conducted by actually doing it and not just reading or talking about it.  Working in collaborative groups made it possible for us to put into action the concepts we have learned in class.
  • Pool of ideas – Working with others allows for more in depth and meaningful brainstorming.  We were able to come up with very innovative ideas by talking with one another and using the knowledge of each group member.


  • Selecting a research topic – Each member of my collaborative learning group had a unique research interest, which made it a bit challenging to hone in on one research topic.  It may be beneficial for the instructor to group students based on their research interests.
  • Scheduling – Writing a research proposal takes a substantial amount of time. Scheduling for group members to meet outside of class can be difficult and complicate the process.  Additional time is class is needed for group work.
  • Shared responsibility – Even though working together as a team helped quite a bit with time management, because we had our own tasks, there were some parts of the research process that I was not as involved in.  Therefore, I was not evenly exposed to all aspects of the proposal process.  Instructors could possibly allow individual submission of ‘mini’ assignments that coincide with each part, so that every student gets an opportunity to conduct a full research proposal.

Although concepts in research methods classes can be tricky to grasp, I as well as the students in this study, have found that collaborative learning can be effective in teaching students these concepts and provides a deeper understanding of the research process.

For more information:

Walsh, B.A., & Weiser, D. A. (2015). Teaching undergraduate research in human development and family studies: Piloting a collaborative method. Family Science Review, 20(1), 32-47.

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