This module is a resource for lecturers  




This section contains suggestions for in-class and pre-class educational exercises, while a post-class assignment for assessing student understanding of the Module is suggested in a separate section.

The exercises in this section are most appropriate for classes of up to 50 students, where students can be easily organized into small groups in which they discuss cases or conduct activities before group representatives provide feedback to the entire class. Although it is possible to have the same small group structure in large classes comprising a few hundred students, it is more challenging and the lecturer might wish to adapt facilitation techniques to ensure sufficient time for group discussions as well as providing feedback to the entire class. The easiest way to deal with the requirement for small group discussion in a large class is to ask students to discuss the issues with the four or five students sitting close to them. Given time limitations, not all groups will be able to provide feedback in each exercise. It is recommended that the lecturer makes random selections and tries to ensure that all groups get the opportunity to provide feedback at least once during the session. If time permits, the lecturer could facilitate a discussion in plenary after each group has provided feedback.

All exercises in this section are appropriate for both graduate and undergraduate students. However, as students' prior knowledge and exposure to these issues vary widely, decisions about appropriateness of exercises should be based on their educational and social context. The lecturer is encouraged to relate and connect each exercise to the key issues of the Module.


Exercise 1: Today's News

Students are encouraged to bring a daily newspaper to class or to access any news-related web site. They are given five minutes for individual preparation - the task is to explore the front page or headlines and to identify three to five stories with a clear ethical component. After five minutes, small groups are formed (existing syndicate groups, if applicable) to discuss and share examples (10 minutes). Each group is required to select one example to present to the class as a whole (15 minutes).

Lecturer guidelines

  • Have one example ready to illustrate what is required (articles about legislation to protect consumers or the environment and measures to accommodate refugees or to promote anti-corruption are a few examples that could be useful).
  • Demonstrate clearly what the ethical component is in the example and instruct groups to look for similar relationships when they select examples to share with the class.
  • When groups present to the class, the lecturer should use a flip-chart or board to capture the main issues.

Exercise 2: The Everyday Ethicist

Watch the following talk: The Significance of Ethics and Ethics Education in Daily Life.

This is a TEDx talk in which Michael Burroughs discusses different kinds of ethical issues we face in our daily life. Because we all have to make ethical decisions on a daily basis he describes the concept of "everyday ethicists".

Students are paired in groups of two and three to discuss the video and in particular the following questions: What is the relationship between ethics and society? What is the origin of our own ethical standards and the ethical standards of society? The lecturer should invite some students to provide feedback.

Lecturer guidelines

  • Have one example ready to illustrate what is required (for example, ask students whether they believe that they would have had the same ethical standards if they had been born in a different part of the world).
  • Refer to one or more of the ethical theories discussed in Module 1, and refer to the material addressed in the Key issues section of this Module.
  • When groups present to the class, the lecturer should use a flip-chart or board to capture the main issues.

Exercise 3: Expedition to Mars [1]

This exercise comprises a simulation of John Rawls' Veil of Ignorance thought experiment. It includes the following components (the time allocation is a guideline only and can be adapted by the lecturer according to the circumstances):

  • Initial information provided to students via presentation and handout, as well as video (10 minutes)
  • Small groups discuss and come up with recommendations (20 minutes)
  • Presentations by small groups on recommendations (10 minutes)
  • Students vote on best recommendation (5 minutes)
  • Individual membership of roles revealed (5 minutes)
  • Students meet in groups defined by roles (20 minutes)
  • Presentations by five different roles (20 minutes)
  • Debrief by facilitator (10 minutes)

The lecturer starts this session with the one or both of the following videos to set the scene:

  • This clip provides an animated overview of the technology that might enable the colonization of Mars, as well as the typical activities that might characterize a Martian colony.
  • This clip shows SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiling his plan for colonizing Mars. It was delivered in 2016 at the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. The purpose of using the video is to show to students that this case study is no longer simply science fiction, but could soon be a reality.

Each student receives the following message in the form of a printed handout:

Dear Student,

Congratulations! You have been selected to be a member of the first human colony that will be established on Mars. You will stay on Mars for five years and then return to Earth. You have been preassigned to one of the following roles, but you will only be informed what this role is at a later stage: builder, administrator, entertainer, scientist or caterer. No transfers will be allowed from one role to another - you will have to fulfill this role for the duration of your stay. You will receive your allocated role only once you reach your destination.

The roles are defined as follows:

  • The builders have to build a house for each member of the colony. They will have to work 14 hours a day for the first year in order to complete all the houses (basic temporary shelter is available while construction takes place). For the final four years they only need to do minor maintenance and are not expected to work more than two hours per day. Builders will comprise 60% of the members of the colony.
  • The administrators will be responsible for law and order and the general administration of the colony. They will have sole authority to resolve all disputes and to decide on appropriate punishment in the case of transgression of rules. They will be expected to work eight hours per day for the duration of the five years. Administrators will comprise 10% of the members of the colony.
  • The entertainers will be responsible for all social and educational events in the colony. They will have to arrange regular events such as plays, musical events, art classes, discussion groups, etc. The entertainers will be expected to work four hours per day for the duration of the five years, but mostly in the evenings. Entertainers will comprise 10% of the members of the colony.
  • Scientists will only be responsible for scientific research, which is the core objective of the entire expedition. They need to develop interventions to improve the quality of life of all members of the Mars community, but they are also conducting highly confidential research which they are not allowed to share with anyone. Scientists can determine their own working hours and will comprise only 5% of the colony.
  • The caterers are responsible for feeding the whole colony. This involves planting crops, harvesting, and preparing food. They will need to work eight hours per day for the duration of the five years. Caterers will comprise 15% of the members of the colony.

As mentioned, you will receive your allocated role only once you reach your destination. Your task as a group is to agree on a few rules of engagement (a social contract) for your colony before your arrival. You have to reach agreement on the following issues:

  • How will you determine the order in which completed houses will be allocated? Who will move in first and who will move in last?
  • Should the houses all be the same or should they be different? For example, will the first houses be smaller than the later houses, in order to reward the people who have to wait longer? Will your status be taken into account in terms of the house that you will receive?
  • You have to determine the salaries that will be paid to all members of the colony. You have an average of $10,000 per month per person to spend, but you can determine how much each position will earn, and whether you want to create a mechanism whereby bonuses will be paid. Money will be paid into earth accounts, since no money is required on Mars.

Afterwards, students are presented with the following summary (or an alternative presentation) of the concept of the Veil of Ignorance:

The original position is a central feature of John Rawls' social contract account of justice, "justice as fairness," set forth in A Theory of Justice ... It is designed to be a fair and impartial point of view that is to be adopted in our reasoning about fundamental principles of justice. In taking up this point of view, we are to imagine ourselves in the position of free and equal persons who jointly agree upon and commit themselves to principles of social and political justice. The main distinguishing feature of the original position is "the veil of ignorance": to insure impartiality of judgment, the parties are deprived of all knowledge of their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances. They do know of certain fundamental interests they all have, plus general facts about psychology, economics, biology, and other social and natural sciences. The parties in the original position are presented with a list of the main conceptions of justice drawn from the tradition of social and political philosophy, and are assigned the task of choosing from among these alternatives the conception of justice that best advances their interests in establishing conditions that enable them to effectively pursue their final ends and fundamental interests. Rawls contends that the most rational choice for the parties in the original position are two principles of justice: The first guarantees the equal basic rights and liberties needed to secure the fundamental interests of free and equal citizens and to pursue a wide range of conceptions of the good. The second principle provides fair equality of educational and employment opportunities enabling all to fairly compete for powers and positions of office; and it secures for all a guaranteed minimum of all-purpose means (including income and wealth) individuals need to pursue their interests and to maintain their self-respect as free and equal persons.

Lecturer guidelines

Depending on the time available, the lecturer can decide to make the two videos compulsory preparatory work. Use the first part of the class to give clear instructions, and - whenever small groups are engaged in discussion - move from group to group to answer any questions they might have. The general flow of the session is as follows:

  • The groups should come up with recommendations on the three issues: order of the houses, size of the houses and salaries. Inevitably the discussions on salaries will dominate. The lecturer can provide a spreadsheet template to facilitate discussion, where different salaries can be tested - remember that the average has to be $10,000 per person, therefore differences between the roles will have an impact in proportion to the size of the group. For example, it is much easier to accommodate a very high salary for the scientists than it would be for the builders.
  • The lecturer should capture the feedback from the groups in a table in order to facilitate the voting process. It is advised to vote on each aspect separately, e.g. one group can receive the most votes for their view on the houses while another can win the salary vote. The final "social contract" should be displayed to the class before the roles are revealed.
  • There are different ways in which the roles can be revealed, and this would depend on the size of the class. If hard copy handouts of the instructions are handed out to a small class, an individual code can be added at the bottom of each copy. The lecturer can then indicate the meaning of the code, e.g. 1 = builders, 2 = administrators, and so on. Alternatively, the lecturer can determine other ways to do the allocation, e.g. if your birthday is in January you are a builder, or if your surname starts with an A, B or C you are an administrator, and so on. The actual proportions of the roles in class do not have to reflect the percentages as they are described in the handout.
  • When students meet in groups defined by roles, they should be instructed to discuss the fairness of the allocation. For example, it is likely that the builders - when they meet as a group - will not be satisfied with their salaries compared to some of the other roles. All the groups (defined by role) should prepare a short presentation in which they assess their own position and make some recommendations on changes. The idea is not to enter into debate about actual changes to the original social contract, but simply to experience the difference between discussing something when you do not know your role, and then to discuss the same issues once you know what your role will be.
  • The lecturer wraps up the session with a brief explanation of the original description by Rawls, and then explains to students that they have just had a personal experience of one of the most famous thought experiments in philosophy.

Exercise 4: What do I owe society?

The lecturer explains to the students that the university environment forms part of society. The different sectors of society and the roles that they play are discussed: e.g. the public sector is involved through funding and regulation of university and degree requirements, the private sector is involved through the production and sale of text books and other support material or through the creation of infrastructure, and the students themselves - especially once qualified and working in a professional environment - will be in a position to make a contribution to society. The lecturer then introduces the question: What do I owe society? The question can be discussed in two distinct ways:

  • Given the investment that society has made to educate me, how should I behave while I am a student? Is it acceptable to get involved in activities such as buying or selling exam papers or written assignments, or plagiarism?
  • What do I owe society once I graduate? Should I consider societal needs when I make a decision on where I want to work?

Lecturer guidelines

  • Depending on the time available, the lecturer can ask students to discuss in small groups first, or simply solicit individual responses from the floor.
  • Be prepared to let the students engage in debate. While there may be broad consensus on undesirable behavior such as plagiarism, the degree to which societal needs should influence career choices will be controversial.
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[1] This exercise was developed by Prof Daniel Malan of the University of Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa.