Experiential Ethics Workshop: Brainstorming for a New Summer Program

By Sophia Fang MIT ‘22

As part of the Festival of Learning, Kate Trimble, MIT’s Senior Associate Dean and Director of the Office of Experiential Learning, ran a brainstorming workshop to plan a pilot program for the summer. The title of the workshop was “Experiential Ethics: Infusing Ethics Education into Experiential Learning Opportunities.” According to Trimble, the new program will seek to “leverage, amplify, and measure experiential and ethical learning during summer experiences” whether that may be a UROP, PKG fellowship, or internship.

Trimble specifically hopes that students will gain practical and relevant ethical knowledge and skills through an “engaging, effective, and scalable approach to ethics education.” Realizing that many students participate in off-campus experiences, Trimble hopes to “build something that works for everyone,” which may involve online distance learning. Existing models for the pilot program include MIT Ethics for Engineers course, NEET ethics modules, GEL ethics leadership lab, philosophy courses, Radius ethics seminars, and iDiplomats.

The purpose of the hour and a half-long workshop was to brainstorm ideas to meet anticipated challenges for the new program: incentives for student participation; staffing (especially at scale); online learning tools and platforms; assessment; participation by faculty, employers, and alumni; frameworks for students to repeat the program; and potential to customize content and focus.

After hearing Trimble present these challenges, participants in the workshop split into smaller groups to discuss three brainstorm questions central to the heart of the pilot program: how will our students be changed if we succeed? How do we incentivize students to participate? What do we call this?

An interesting takeaway from my group session was that ethical considerations vary between different disciplines. Someone in my group also pointed out that not everyone agrees on the politics surrounding issues of climate change and equality, and that students should be encouraged to define what problems they are interested in, rather than be given set problems to work on.

After the brainstorm, we regrouped and shared our ideas. In answer to the first brainstorming question about how students would change, several participants proposed that students would learn how to be comfortable with the lack of definitive answers and more aware of the consequences resulting from their actions.

For the second question concerning participation incentives, the group discussed a valid observation that younger students strongly prefer recommendations from older students rather than administrators, and that inviting older students would be a huge boost to the success of the program.

For the final brainstorm question, we discussed “what to call this?” Yes, the program would be about ethics, and specifically, “experiential ethics,” but some argued that “the term ethics has a right and wrong feel to it.” Others suggested that undergraduate students tend to focus internally, and would be more interested in a program devoted to “grappling, wrestling, and exploring their values,” rather than “ethics.” However, other participants felt that the term “values” was too neutral and unfocused.

Overall, I enjoyed the brainstorming session, and I think this program will be an interesting supplement to the rich MIT experience. I look forward to hearing about how it goes this summer!

About the author:

Sophia Fang ’22 is a second year MIT undergraduate

Originally published at https://openlearning.mit.edu on February 6, 2020.



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