How to talk about social responsibility in a pandemic

| May 13, 2020 in Higher Education
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To say that people are stressed during the COVID-19 pandemic would be an understatement. The accepted social norms and values, like shaking hands or visiting the elderly, have gone out the window in an effort to stop the spread of disease.

We’re navigating according to new rules, and as a result, decisions about how we behave and the choices we make have become more complex. Understandably, other’s actions are sparking strong emotions and reactions, sometimes referred to as “cancel culture,” making it difficult to talk about at home or in the classroom.

As researchers, we turn to research to help guide our behavior and thinking. Social responsibility helps us be thoughtful about our actions, particularly our actions in relation to other people. We published a framework for social responsibility, based on the body of existing research, that can be used as a lens to understand human behavior in a complex situation.

The dimensions of the framework can be used to spark an emphatic, non-judgemental discussion about making choices during a pandemic. We offer a suggestion for how to initiate a discussion with learners for each of the four dimensions:

1. Multicultural

Multicultural: Is knowledgeable about different cultural identities and sensitive toward cultural differences.

Example of how to engage: Present a set of different choices someone could make during the current pandemic (i.e., decisions related to social distancing). For each choice, discuss how a person’s perspective or prior experiences might influence their decision to make a specific choice.

2. Ethical

Ethical: Demonstrates knowledge and awareness of ethical standards and issues and applies ethical reasoning and standards to make decisions in ethically ambiguous situations.

Example of how to engage: Present a set of different choices someone could make during the current pandemic (i.e. decisions related to social distancing). For each choice, discuss how a person’s values could have influenced their decision to make a specific choice.

3. Civic

Civic: Is an informed and active citizen at the local, national, and global level and understands and acts on issues of local, national, and global significance.

Example of how to engage: Have learners explore the role that the local, state, and/or federal government is playing in managing the pandemic (it can be in their own context or a new context). Learners could also discuss strengths and weaknesses for having a certain level of government managing response to the pandemic.

4. Environmental

Environmental: Is knowledgeable about current issues of environmental significance and is concerned about the wellbeing of the planet and engages in sustainable behaviors.

Example of how to engage: Have learners explore how the COVID-19 pandemic, and human responses to the pandemic, could impact environmental and sustainability endeavors.

If you want to learn more about how to teach social responsibility, a Pearson colleague discusses it in detail in this webinar.

By taking time to teach socially responsible thinking and decision-making, you’re also helping your students develop a life skill that will help them navigate challenging situations in the future, whether daily decisions about climate change or even what career path to take.

It is also a skill that is considered to be important for employees to demonstrate. Regarding hiring decisions, 81 percent of employers rated “ethical judgment and decision-making” as very important, but only 30 percent thought recent college graduates were well prepared in this area (this source and more listed here).

For these reasons listed above and more, that’s why we have listed it in our framework for what makes someone employable and are working to embed how to teach social responsibility into our products to enable classroom conversations during normal, less stressful times.