Introduction to Ethics

BALS AND ETHICS: Colleagues have deliberately constructed this “Ethics” course over a dozen years as a central part of the BALS program and important piece of our Georgetown identity in this capital city. SCS Ethics 101 is a foundation course for the BALS program and kind of nutshell for Jesuit education that is wholistic in educating the entire person called cura personalis. The course description is clear: “A signature piece of a Jesuit education is the study of Ethics. While all Core Courses explore human values and moral issues in particular historical contexts, in this course students (1) study and critique fundamental moral principles, categories, and terminology drawn from the Western philosophical and religious traditions; (2) examine basic approaches to and recurring debates about perplexing ethical issues; (3) explore through literature central moral quandaries and complexities of human life; and (4) elucidate what is normative in human experience and whence the norms are determined.”

The ethics course was originally designed and has been modified over about a dozen years by Associate Dean Vince Kiernen and its chief Instructor Professor Paul M. Lewis, Esq. who is Department of Defense Special Envoy for Guantanamo Detention Closure. At the gracious Invitation of Associate Dean Kiernen and Professor Lewis, I served as Co-Instructor in Fall, 2014.

FALL, 2014: Using technology-enhanced learning in the classroom, and an online Blackboard website for students on their own, this Ethics course teaches active learning as:

  • effective reading of classic texts posted online,
  • effective writing of convincing reasoning posted online by using key topics and a final presentation and paper
  • critical in class discussion of topics by
  • “Socratic” (interactive) professor-directed lectures on weekly topics

Students post weekly one-page (250 word) thesis statements responding to each set of readings. Instructors respond to readings and weekly student writing, student in class oral comments, and student final presentations and papers. There are also guest lecturers. This course is highly interactive. Students in Fall 2013 are diverse in several senses; six women, six men, four veterans, most non-traditional students (older than 18 years old), including a Native American, Guatemalan, Pakistani, Indian, Nigerian and African American.

This project aimed to answer the following questions:

  • Did students find the in-class and online resources useful?
  • Did online resources enhance student performance of course objectives?

The pedagogical intention was to enable students to engage course content (readings) using

  • diverse learning styles (visual, aural, oral, reading, kinesthetic) including
  • tiered writing assignments such as
    • self-reports in Biog Blog and Moral Inventory,
    • response to readings in weekly thesis essays,
    • constructive final essay,
    • oral classroom conversations and
    • in-class presentations (including final presentation).

The technological intention was:

  • for the instructor was to see how technology-enhanced learning created efficiencies in achieving performance of course objectives.
  • for the students was to provide interactive modules that could be easily accessed with the spaces (LMS Blackboard, email) and devices that students primarily use to get information that enabled performance of course goals (laptops, mobile phones and tablets).

A dozen students completed the course using the Blackboard LMS and email. Five students began the questionnaire but only four answered most questions (1/3 of class members, all males). The data collected was a 29 question ethics seminar feedback evaluation asking some seventy items I adapted from other resources and combined with ITEL questions. Kristine Bundschuh, Graduate Associate for Assessment at CNDLS was decisively helpful in organizing the questionnaire for students about student perceptions of how their knowledge and attitudes about technology enhanced learning from before the seminar to after, the rating of the instructor, and if they used and liked the technology. Included were questions about types of technology used.

Three items are noteworthy:

  • TECHNOLOGICAL INTERACTIVITY ACHIEVES COURSE GOALS: Of particular interest is how technology enabled students to be interactive with each other and instructors to achieve course goals.
  • SPACES WORK TOGETHER: In addition is the recurrence of shared spaces (LMS Blackboard and email) and devices (Iphones/smartphones and tablets). Student answers suggest these different realms are becoming either seamless (or “fuzzy”). Nontraditional students simply expect top of the line online web assistance from Georgetown as though it was Verizon (e.g. pdf’s to be available on tablets and mobile phones); whether a ticket system helps our non-traditional students at SCS remains an open question. Demographic questions are included as commended by our training.
  • USAGE CORRELATES WITH COURSE GOALS: Technology usage consistently correlates and enhances achievement of course goals. The data collected showed that the students were highly satisfied or satisfied overall with the Ethics seminar and that technology helped. Questions and responses on the feedback forms as well as analyses are provided in charts and tables separately available.

Students report that online resources help with performance of course objectives. In particular students liked the online postings (readings and lecture notes), weekly responses to posted work, instructor responses to emails, use of Blackboard (screen/website) in the classroom to Preview, Review and View each week’s assignment, use of Blackboard (screen/website) to collaboratively review readings/assignments/key lecture points during class, and use of additional readings and notes posted. Students likewise report better, more prompt and coordinated Instructor responses to their work and email can enhance their success.


  • REPUTATION: Ethics 101 is already a successful course in a demonstratively successful program.
  • DEMONSTRATED EFFICIENCIES OF TECHNOLOGY ENHANCED LEARNING: This project of Technology-enhanced learning aimed to locate and demonstrate what efficiencies could “value-add” to student experiences. Based on self-reported information, students were able to access materials, feedback, interact with instructors and one another in ways they enjoyed that helped them achieve course goals.
  • ASSESSMENT DEMONSTRATED IMPROVEMENTS: This is my first time with the course. As Co-instructor, student essays and class participation did improve as a result of Instructor responses, and website resources. Students used, cited and referred to materials on the website.
  • CONCLUSION: Technology-Enhanced Learning demonstrably creates efficiencies for BALS Ethics 100.


  • ASSESSING LEARNING IN TECHNOLOGICAL SPACES AND DEVICES: It is second nature to most students to use technological devices and spaces. Students are much less accustomed to assessment of formal learning in these environments. For example, those who use “tablets” (or cell phones) to access online readings in pdfs, were not necessarily reading more carefully, even if they reporting “liking” the convenience and “access” of reading. (I write as one whose most recent 2013 book in print has just gone “Kindle”, “Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Death and Dying”.)
  • COORDINATION: Co-Instructors in a hybrid course must co-ordinate responses to students (email and posted). Student report better, more prompt and coordinated Instructor responses to their work and email can enhance their success.
  • INVISIBLE FACULTY LABOR REQUIRES MANAGING WORKLOAD: Making an LMS with complex functionalities a smooth experience takes labor-intensive work for Instructors. For example, timely acquisition and updated learning of revised functionalities require labor-intensive networking with diverse GU staff (e.g. SafeAssign). Politely put, IT work for faculty is invisible labor.
  • MANAGING STUDENT EXPECTATIONS: Nontraditional students simply expect top of the line online web assistance from Georgetown as though it was Verizon (e.g. pdf’s to be available on tablets and mobile phones). Whether a ticket system helps our non-traditional students at SCS remains an open question.


  • PEER RESPONSES: I recommend we think about how to have students respond to each other’s work.
  • TEXTBOOK: We are exploring turning the course into a text and online work with a publisher.
  • QUIZZES ON READINGS: We may have to weigh having some kind of quizzes on readings to help some students who are having a hard time with the readings.
  • PRESENTATIONS: I gave a short presentation at an ITEL meeting and I recall colleagues had marvelously succinct questions about class format and feedback options.
  • FUTURE PLANS: We have integrated several items into the website; such as weekly “Learning Goals”; “Discussion Boards” some Lecture Notes and additional Readings.