Care Ethics in Online Teaching

April, 2021

Source: Studying Teacher Education, 17:1, 38-56

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Care ethics has been both curriculum and research focus for the author as a teacher educator (Rabin, 2019);
In this three-year self-study, she explored her efforts to prioritize care ethics in online instruction, which became particularly relevant as the 2020 pandemic pushed all instruction online.

In this self-study in one multiple-subject joint credential/MA program at a large public state university, over the course of six iterations and seven courses, the author sought to understand the prioritization of care ethics in a fully online course with both asynchronous and synchronous activities.
Care ethics was course content in her teacher preparation program; thus, the tension between instructional demands and care was resolved (Berry, 2019).
With care ethics as curriculum, her teacher candidates-students were uniquely situated to critique its implementation (Rabin & Smith, 2013).
She drew on LaBoskey’s (2004) characteristics of self-study as self-initiated, self-focused, improvement-aimed, interactive, drawing on multiple qualitative methods, and demonstrating validity through trustworthiness.
Further, Kitchen’s conceptualization of relational teacher education (RTE) illuminated the imperative of relationships with teacher candidates as critical from a methodological standpoint in this study (Kitchen, 2005b).
She aimed to be receptive to learning from her teacher candidates’ perspectives how (and if) she could design in the online environment for care.
This appeared implausible but imperative to her to ‘live my values more fully in my practice’ (Whitehead, 2000, p. 90).

Context and Participants
Over the course of six semesters, seven cohorts of multiple-subject teaching credential candidates enrolled in one fully online course, Health and Special Education.
Of the 203 candidates (average 29 per course), a third had taken Sociology of Education with the author or another instructor; here candidates encountered care ethics by discussing Noddings’ seminal work, Caring, and intersections of care, culture, and racial context, in Valenzuela’s Subtractive Schooling.
In the health and special education course, care ethics was integrated through cases related to caring-for students; inclusion; diverse ways of knowing; interrupting deficit mindsets; de-centering neurotypicality (Fernandes, 2019); physical and mental health; and caring-for teachers given the emotional labor of teaching (Kostogriz, 2012).

Data Collection
Data collection was iterative; the author implemented changes in her teaching each semester based on what she learned with teacher candidates (LaBoskey, 2004).
Data included:
(1) candidates’ written reflections over their learning,
(2) student work,
(3) video-ed synchronous class sessions,
(4) her reflective notes and course materials,
(5) four periodic surveys of all candidates per semester, and
(6) self-nominated candidate interviews.
The author opened interviews with a request for ‘brutal honesty’ to help her improve her practice.
To reflect the focus on relationships and dialogue, she offered candidates the choice to interview in groups of 3–4 and only 5 candidates interviewed solo.

Findings and discussion
This study expands the application of care ethics within the context of the estrangement of online teaching from the perspectives of teacher candidates who were familiar with – and thus poised to analyze the authors pedagogy from – a care ethics perspective.
Authentic care within care ethics differs from quotidian niceties and requires responsiveness that the cared-for perceives as meeting their needs and cultivating reciprocity and connection. Caring in the online environment highlighted rigidities in the teacher–student hierarchy and was perceived as manifest in cumulative experiences of -
(1) modeling authentic caring,
(2) continuity,
(3) dialogue and collaboration, and
(4) centering self-assessment.
Throughout this study, self-study methods uncovered the authors assumptions as a long-time teacher and researcher in care ethics.
Without the systematic, self-focused, and improvement-aims of self-study, she could have assumed thin independent coursework was an unavoidable consequence of restrictions of digitization.
She assumed candidates would perceive her relatively the same as they had face-to-face.
An outgoing and vocal candidate informed her that the author intimidated her online; she can only imagine how diffident students might experience her online presence without her having found that she needed to make explicit efforts to model authenticity and weave opportunities for candidates to do so throughout their collaborations.
Focusing on authenticity helped to transcend aesthetic caring, a veneer of neutrality and equality; without candidates’ background in care ethics, they may have been more liberal in deeming pedagogies caring and the findings here might have reflected social presence.
Toward practicing authentic caring, the author learned that she needed to explicitly share her own reflection on her educational experiences as they intersected with her race, class, and gender and to include relationship-focused prompts for groupwork so candidates had the impetus to practice caring.
The author learned to afford herself the breathing room to be receptive to her teacher candidates’ perspectives and infuse dialogue and collaboration despite her own distanced role (Kitchen, 2005b).
Dialogic collaborative pedagogies in the online environment led to deeper thinking and a moral ecology.
While fostering caring collaboration in an online (or any) course may be tied to caring teacher–student relationships, it is critical for teacher preparation to not overlook cultivating caring collaborations between candidates; teacher education must prepare teachers to create communities of learning and collective efficacy (Goddard et al., 2004).
Programs and the courses within in them are always pressed for time and caring between teacher candidates is often disregarded in teacher education for care ethics (Murawski & Dieker, 2013; Rabin, 2019b).
The possibilities that downplaying assessment while drawing on self-assessment opened for caring collaboration in the online space is promising for preparing teachers who understand the value of professional relationships and can interrupt the isolation associated with high attrition rates.
As one candidate put it in a survey: ‘The most important thing I learned in this course was how and why to collaborate with teachers.‘
Over the course of this three-year study, the promise of self-study for teacher-educators to live our ‘values more fully in practice’ (Whitehead, 2000, p. 90) seems particularly critical to practicing care ethics because caring is idiosyncratic and sensitive to the individual across differences of culture, race, age, and all that divides and distinguishes each cared-for in each situation (Barnes, 2018; Noddings, 1984; Valenzuela, 1999).
The boundaries to caring in the online context manifest in a multitude of invisible forms in each teaching context; differences of age, culture, experience, race, etc., contribute to discontinuities for care.
The unforgiving nature of online interactions clarifies the efforts educators always need to make to learn what cultivates a caring environment for each individual in each case.
Since relational aims like caring are elusive in any realm, it is likely they’ll fall by the wayside without self-study practices.

Barnes, M. E. (2018). Conflicting conceptions of care and teaching and pre-service teacher attrition. Teaching Education, 29(2), 178–193.
Berry, S. (2019). Faculty perspectives on online learning: The instructor’s role in creating community. Online Learning, 23(4), 181–191.
Fernandes, L. (2019). ‘Could a focus on ethics of care within teacher education have the potential to reduce the exclusion of autistic learners?’ TEAN Journal,11(4), 47–56
Goddard, R., Hoy, W. K., & Hoy, A. W. (2004). Collective efficacy beliefs: Theoretical developments, empirical evidence, and future directions. Educational Researcher, 33(3), 3–13.
Kostogriz, A. (2012). Accountability and the affective labour of teachers: A Marxist–Vygotskian perspective. Australian Educational Researcher, 39(4), 397–412.
LaBoskey, V. (2004). The methodology of self-study and its theoretical underpinnings. In J. Loughran, M. Hamilton, V. LaBoskey, & T. Russell (Eds.), International handbook of self-study of teaching and teacher education practices (pp. 817–869). Springer.
Kitchen, J. (2005b). Conveying respect and empathy: Becoming a relational teacher educator. Studying Teacher Education, 1(2), 195–207.
Murawski, W., & Dieker, L. (2013). Leading the co-teaching dance: Leadership strategies to enhance team outcomes. Council for Exceptional Children.
Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. University of California Press.
Rabin, C. (2019). “I Already Know I Care!” Illuminating the Complexities of Care Practices in Early Childhood and Teacher Education. In R. Langford (Ed.), Theorizing Feminist Ethics of Care in Early Childhood Practice: Possibilities and Dangers, (pp. 125-145). Bloomsbury Academic, London, England
Rabin, C. (2019b). Co-teaching toward collaborative and caring teacher preparation. Journal of Teacher Education, 46(4), 67–92.
Rabin, C., & Smith, G. (2013). Teaching care ethics: Conceptual understandings and stories for learning. Journal of Moral Education, 42(2), 164–176.
Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive schooling: U.S.-Mexican youth and the politics of caring. State University of New York Press.
Whitehead, J. (2000). How do I improve my practice? Creating and legitimating an epistemology of practice. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 1(1), 91–104. 

Updated: Oct. 08, 2021