I am doing the Professor Paul Bloom course “Moralities of Everyday Life” for credit from Coursera. This is an approach to ethics based on psychology. Paul is a very talented lecturer (and author) based at Yale. Weekly assignments are online and students are identified from their typing style and using photographic imaging. A 70% average score across the assignments is required to get a certificate – the assignments themselves are challenging and test not only the lecture content but also knowledge of the set reading and the extra required videos. The general approach is based on a “gut instincts” theory of ethics that I am finding attractive.
Maybe this is one way university teaching can go. It costs $49US to attempt to gain credit for this subject and the teaching and materials are better than anything I have experienced in Australia. The first week consisted of 7 lectures ranging between 12-25 minutes each (that’s a good idea – not operating oppressively long lectures) and there are several readings, some excellent video clips, a text and a multiple choice assignment. The lectures have quizzes in them that are not for credit but they do keep you on your toes. There are discussion groups although I have not participated mainly because the reading takes quite a lot of time.
The reading itself in the first week involved extended newspaper articles by Steven Pinker and Peter Singer and video clips of quite different approaches to ethics by Sam Harris and Jonathon Haidt both of who are experts in this area. Fascinating.
Incidentally it was interesting for me to be a student after 35 years of teaching in a university. Looking at course design and designing reasonable work loads as well as incentives to do the required work was much easier to see from a student’s perspective. The idea of using newspaper surveys to introduce students to new materials makes more sense than plunging directly into academic journals. And there is nothing “low level” about the approach at all – real effort is required.