Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 51 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Teaching (Engineering) Ethics Online Using “Theater of the Oppressed” and #LiberatingStructures


Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 51 seconds

I’ve been receiving some speaking invitations lately from unexpected places for unexpected things. But nothing should surprise us any more in times of COVID. This one was BY FAR the most surprising.

I was invited to speak at an Engineering Ethics event, and specifically they referred to my blogpost about doing Theater of the Oppressed online. Ummmmm I never ever expected anyone from a STEM, let alone an engineering background, to ask me to speak about Theater of the Oppressed (also, I am not an expert of any kind on Theater of the Oppressed, just a very digitally confident critical pedagogue with imagination).

In any case… I agreed to this unexpected opportunity and I wanted to think aloud on my blog to prepare. I have only 15 mins so I may record a practice video.. but I want to make it interactive so I am talking it out here to see if I can achieve that or if it is better off as pseudo interactive? I will explain quickly.

My chosen title is: Teaching Ethics Online Using “Theater of the Oppressed” and “Liberating Structures” (eh, same as title of this blogpost!)

And I want to argue that one can teach engineering ethics (which I realize is a subset of professional ethics which is a practical philosophy and not truly STEM, but taught by engineers, usually, yes?) can be taught in these ways.

First, I assume many people teach ethics via role play, case study, and debate/dialogue. I suspect there is lots of what-if, why-if, and such. I have actually taught professional ethics in a multidisciplinary context. Though I had to learn it to teach it. So I’m not an expert on it either. But I get the basic differences in philosophical approaches to ethics.

Second, I want to build on the above to show how “Theater of the Oppressed” can take traditional role play and invert it on its head to teach ethics more effectively. So, for example, either teacher gives a case study, or students act out their own written scenario. The role play can either be acted out live on Zoom with other students watching one time, then second time round, observers can participate and try to change the outcome/flow. It can also be written in a Google doc and observers make a copy and use suggest mode to change the outcome. I guess in the workshop I could demo the Google doc version? I could get a short case or scenario from MERLOT maybe? If you know good OER on this plz point me to it. Students could also pre-record video and observers can re-enact it with the modifications and also record and send on.. so all that could work asynchronously also.

Third, I would like to try two Liberating structures for this. Purpose to practice (see original description here and my video for Equity Unbound/OneHE demo-ing it here) and TRIZ (original here, my demo here)

Ok sooooo I wanna demo one of the above and I have a kind of… umm… hidden/explicit agenda and I am hoping the convo will go in a particular direction, but it may not… so I dunno if I can go with the flow or give my hopeful scenario as an example. Here is how I imagine purpose to practice to go.

If our purpose is to cultivate a strong sense of ethics in engineers, what practices do we need to have in our curricula?

I assume if we go to principles, accountability might be one, but also something around intrinsic moral responsibility that is based on values and not on being seen or caught? On priorities and maybe cooperation? Maybe a belief also in the good nature of ppl as a default we just have to nurture and help act ethically in contexts that are not black and white?

Skipping now a couple of steps on stakeholders and structures.. eventually, I am hoping that we would conclude that you need the entire engineering curriculum to nurture this…. and that perhaps doing proctored exams goes against this as it makes the motive to be ethical one based on extrinsic motivation… and also it is based on a belief that (some?) students are inherently gonna cheat unless you stop them, and done online, itself is an unethical practice.

I know this is actually a very directive agenda and not necessarily what others would say. It is what is on my mind these days. So I can see myself asking ppl to type in the chat for each of the rounds, and I can also add to what they have there and fingers crossed there will be enough there to get us to something worthwhile. That’s one route. The other is to model thinking aloud through the process and just stick to my message. Which is less engaging but takes less time. I think my message would be stronger if the audience at least shaped part of this, so I would probably go that route. But time? I don’t know!!

Last but not least: TRIZ. I wonder if we can do an anti-goal of “how can we make it difficult for an engineer to act ethically in situation or context X?” And take the audience down the route… where they do 3 rounds but in the chat instead of a Google doc. Or i guess in a Google doc can work!! Just silent.

Whatcha think? I will try to run this idea by a couple of engineers I know and see what they think… maybe someone would be willing to record a video with me about it, talk through it as a sample/demo. I could add the video to the Equity Unbound resources under title of using LS in STEM. Thoughts? Loopholes? Other critiques or recommendations?


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