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: Personal values

View the video; review the Mindtools website list of personal values: Think about the values and morals that you live by. List your top ten personal ethical rules.

Lecturer guidelines

The video is self-explanatory and provides clear and practical guidelines on how to conduct the exercise. The lecturer can screen the video and then allow time in class for students to develop the list. If time allows, they can read the article and discuss in small groups.


Exercise 2: Shipwreck situation

This is a classic case in ethics theory. Give the following information to the students: Imagine that you are involved in a shipwreck situation - a ship has started to sink in the middle of the ocean. Eleven people have jumped into a life-boat that has been designed for a maximum of ten people only, and the life-boat is also starting to sink. What should the passengers do? Throw one person overboard and save ten lives? Or stick to the principle of "do not kill", which means that everybody will drown? The lecturer can invite contributions from the class and even take a vote, and then illustrate how different theoretical approaches (e.g. utilitarianism and deontology) will lead to different solutions that are both valid in terms of the particular approach.

Lecturer guidelines

This exercise can be used in different contexts, either to precede a presentation on ethical theories, or as an exercise in which students can apply newly acquired knowledge about such theories. The most effective use is probably to do the exercise before the ethical theories are discussed in detail. This will lead to lively discussion and debate, and the lecturer can illustrate how our decision-making processes can be explained by ethical theories. The lecturer can then revisit the example afterwards with a more formal approach, by clearly indicating what specific solutions the different theories will offer.


Exercise 3: Case study (Baby Theresa)

This full case is included in The Elements of Moral Philosophy (Rachels and Rachels, 2012). The following is a summary of the case:

Summary: Baby Theresa was born in Florida (United States of America) in 1992 with anencephaly, one of the worst genetic disorders. Sometimes referred to as "babies without brains", infants with this disease are born without important parts of the brain and the top of the skull is also missing. Most cases are detected during pregnancy and usually aborted. About half of those not aborted are stillborn. In the United States, about 350 babies are born alive each year and usually die within days. Baby Theresa was born alive. Her parents decided to donate her organs for transplant. Her parents and her physicians agreed that the organs should be removed while she was alive (thus causing her inevitable death to take place sooner), but this was not allowed by Florida law. When she died after nine days the organs had deteriorated too much and could not be used.

Lecturer guidelines

The lecturer facilitates a group discussion by posing one or more of the following questions:

  • How do we put a value on human life?
  • What should one do when there is a conflict between the law and one's own moral position about an issue?
  • If you were in a position to make the final decision in this case, what would it be and why?

As a variation, students could be asked to assume different roles, e.g. parents, physicians and lawmakers, and have a class debate.


Exercise 4: Case study (emails exposed)

The case and questions, authored by Akshay Vyas, appear on the website of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at the University of Santa Clara.

Robert is on the baseball team at a small college in Texas. He's a high profile player on the team, and as a result he has a lot of followers on Twitter and a large network on Facebook. For this reason, the members of the athletic board at his college think it's necessary to monitor his social media accounts. In Texas, there is no law to prevent schools from requiring individuals to give up their personal social media login and password information, so Robert is forced to hand over his social media account information.

University officials say that the intent of monitoring is to identify potential compliance and behavioral issues early on, enabling athletic departments to educate athletes on how to present themselves online. They regularly check what Robert posts and flag certain postings with which they have issues.

One day Robert tweets "Skipping class to break bad #schoolsucks #bettercallsaul #breakingbad." Since Robert publicly admits to skipping class, school officials flag the post and decide to also start monitoring Robert's email account without informing him.

Since the school provides an email account as a service to its students and faculty, it reserves the right to search its own system's stored data. According to the college's student handbook, administrators may access student email accounts in order to safeguard the system or "to ensure compliance with other University rules." The policy does not mention whether or not account owners have to be notified that their emails are searched.

When searching Robert's email account, university officials find several questionable emails between Robert and his tutor. It seems that Robert's tutor has been sending him all answers to homework assignments and quizzes. As a result of the investigation, Robert is placed on athletic probation and his tutor is fired.

Lecturer guidelines

The lecturer facilitates a group discussion by posing one or more of the following questions:

  • Should universities be allowed to monitor student email and social media accounts? If so, under what circumstances?
  • What crosses the line between campus safety and invasion of privacy?
  • Are university rules regarding email and social media monitoring too vague? If so, how can these rules be changed for more clarity?
  • Should Robert have been punished for cheating in class if he did not know his email was being monitored? What about his tutor?

As a variation, students could be asked to assume different roles, e.g. Robert, his tutor, university officials, and have a class debate.


Exercise 5: Case study (The Parable of the Sadhu)

The following summary is available here:

In 1982, [Bowen McCoy] spent several months hiking through Nepal. Midway through the difficult trek, as he and several others were preparing to attain the highest point of their climb, they encountered the body of an Indian holy man, or sadhu. Wearing little clothing and shivering in the bitter cold, he was barely alive. McCoy and the other travelers - who included individuals from Japan, New Zealand, and Switzerland, as well as local Nepali guides and porters - immediately wrapped him in warm clothing and gave him food and drink. A few members of the group broke off to help move the sadhu down toward a village two days' journey away, but they soon left him in order to continue their way up the slope. What happened to the sadhu? In his retrospective commentary, McCoy notes that he never learned the answer to that question. Instead, the sadhu's story only raises more questions. On the Himalayan slope, a collection of individuals was unprepared for a sudden dilemma. They all 'did their bit', but the group was not organized enough to take ultimate responsibility for a life. How, asks McCoy in a broader context, do we prepare our organizations and institutions so they will respond appropriately to ethical crises?

The full case study is available here.

Lecturer guidelines

The lecturer facilitates a group discussion by posing one or more of the following questions:

  • Can you identify the ethical issues in this case?
  • If you were in the position of the travelers, how would you respond?
  • What is the relevance of this case in contemporary society?
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