Chapter 11: Professional Ethics

The term ethics is defined by Merriam Webster Online as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation,” and also, in the case of professional ethics, as “the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group”
( For educational technologists, the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) publishes standards for ethical practice in the field. In addition, educational technologists in academic settings must adhere to ethical standards when conducting research, and must also maintain academic integrity in their academic work. This chapter addresses all three of these categories of professional ethics.

The AECT Code of Professional Ethics (AECT, 2007) presents principles that “are intended to aid members individually and collectively in maintaining a high level of professional conduct” (preamble). The principles are divided into three categories: commitment to the individual, commitment to society, and commitment to the profession. Commitment to the individual includes promoting diversity and multiple points of view, protecting privacy, and making wise choices in the use of technology for communication and learning. Commitment to society includes behaving with integrity in your workplace and being conscious of the effect of technology on the learning environment. Commitment to the profession includes behaviors such as representing one’s skills and education honestly, encouraging diversity of ideas within the profession, and obeying copyright laws. The complete statement of professional ethics can be found at

You may also be a member of other organizations or professions that have a code of ethics.  For example, the Association of American Educators has a code of ethics for teachers (, as does the National Education Association ( The American Educational Research Association (AERA) has a detailed professional ethics document available on their website at

It is not unusual for educational technologists to face ethical issues in the workplace. Lin (2007) surveyed instructional design professionals in higher education and found they routinely faced ethical issues in six categories:

  • Copyright—communicating with faculty about copyright, obtaining copyright clearance to use specific materials, and maintaining a balance between copyright and educational fair use
  • Learner Privacy—protecting student/learner data, including data tracked automatically in learning management systems
  • Accessibility—making sure materials are accessible to all learners, and finding ways to resolve the conflict that sometimes arises between accessibility and the implementation of new and innovative technology tools
  • Diversity—respecting all learners, avoiding the use of stereotypes in images and other artifacts, and avoiding stereotyping learners (for example, not assuming older learners lack technology skills)
  • Conflicts of Interest—avoiding contract work on employer-paid time and respecting the confidentiality of an employer’s materials
  • Professionalism and Confidence—acquiring and maintaining both technical competence and knowledge of learning theory

The strategies that participants in this study reported using to help them navigate these ethical issues included working in teams with diverse expertise, referring to applicable laws for guidance, consulting managers, having a personal sense of right and wrong, and using technical solutions (e.g., passwords) to prevent ethics violations.


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Foundations of Educational Technology Copyright © 2017 by Penny Thompson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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