Bellisario College professor wins award for media ethics teaching

Jonathan F. McVerry
June 25, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.— A Penn State faculty member who challenges students to do more and think differently has earned a teaching award from an international organization comprised of mass communications educators, students and media professionals.

Patrick Plaisance, the Don W. Davis Professor of Ethics in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, earned the Teaching Excellence Award from the Media Ethics Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). Plaisance was a unanimous choice based on strong recommendations from both colleagues and students.

The award specifically highlighted Plaisance’s “infamous” term project, which he assigns to students in his COMM 409: News Media Ethics course. For the project, students conduct a thorough media analysis of a news topic. The project is research-heavy, and students often read four to five dozen articles about the topic.

“They’re used to reading the headlines, so this project makes them go deeper,” he said. “They take a heavy look at these topics, and I get some awesome stuff.”

Plaisance said the project is a “win-win” for both of his teaching goals, which are to apply ethics theory to current media practices and to increase media literacy among students.

“He continuously pushes the envelope when it comes to challenging his students’ ways of thinking and encouraging debate within the classroom setting,” one of the student nominations said. “[Plaisance’s expertise] provided me with critical thinking skills and tools that I found myself needing to utilize as I transition into the media industry."

In addition to his own teaching, Plaisance makes himself available as an ethics resource for other Bellisario College faculty members. He frequently visits other classrooms to discuss a wide range of ethics topics; “from native advertising to the use of graphic images to moral development theory,” he said.

Kent State professor and teaching chair for AEJMC’s Media Ethics Division Jan Leach said there were several outstanding candidates and that Plaisance’s unanimous vote spoke to his committed and innovative teaching. This is only the third year this recognition has been awarded.

“The committee noted Patrick's dedicated teaching philosophy and innovative assignments,” Leach said. “We were excited to honor his commitment to teaching ethics.”

Plaisance will accept the award Aug. 8 during the annual AEJMC 102nd annual conference in Toronto.

In addition to receiving an ethics award, Plaisance will also be giving one out. During the division’s meeting at AEJMC, he will present an award to a recent scholar who wrote and defended a top dissertation on media ethics. It will be the first year for the Penn State Davis Ethics Award, and the winner of the national competition will receive funding for further research. The winner will also visit the University Park campus as a visiting lecturer.

“It’s another win-win,” Plaisance said. “It showcases media ethics research more prominently and it makes Penn State a place for media ethics research.”

Plaisance has been teaching media ethics for more than 15 years. He is the editor of the Journal of Media Ethics and an affiliate faculty member with Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute. He is also the author of “Virtue in the Media World,” a blog on the Psychology Today website.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 25, 2019