Medical Ethics PHIL 148 @ Binghamton University, Sum 11

Learning Packet


Duties of Group Leaders
General Discussion
General Strategies
A Note on Comments
Reading Days
Case Study Days
News Days
Debate Days
Extra Credit: Twitter
Make Up: Summaries


Welcome to Medical Ethics!

Online learning is a very different experience from many of the in class experiences you have had in the past.  Instead of listening to (or reading) lectures day after day, which tell you what the problems in Medical Ethics are, you will be holding discussions with one another, trying to work out some of the problems in Medical Ethics for yourself. The success of this class is, more than most others, dependent on all students. On most days, it will be other students leading group discussions, finding new information, and making new arguments.

Of course, you students are not on your own. My job as instructor is to help facilitate discussion and to provide you with the framework and tools you need to have fruitful, productive discussions. I will be responding to individual comments on my Lecture each week, participating in the Twitter extra credit, and always available for questions. Additionally, every Monday I will provide in depth feedback on your performance the previous week, suggesting ways to improve your work. Below, I try to lay out clearly how each kind of discussion is run and what is expected of each student. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! Return to Contents

Duties of Group Leaders

On days when there are Group Leaders, it is their job to ensure a satisfying discussion.  This is best achieved by providing provocative and interesting first posts that raise various questions and challenging other students in thoughtful (and civil) ways.  Remember, you are responsible for helping each other learn about Medical Ethics! Return to Contents

General Discussion

Description: Although each day’s discussion portion is different in the details (analyzing news stories, arguing conclusions to case studies, etc.), the overall goal is the same: to expose each other to different points of view and to work out, through conversation, potential solutions to various problems.

Form: There are various different ways to engage with one another.  Most importantly, all students give each other substantial answers.  No answers that simply say “I agree!” or “You’re wrong!”  If that’s all you have to say, don’t say it at all!  Instead, think of what you can do to build on what has been said previously.  Below you’ll find different strategies for discussions to start you off.

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General Strategies

Ask: What is at stake?

Identify a concept/idea

  • Is the concept/idea being used correctly?
  • If not, what is the correct way?
  • Is it used in an interesting way?
  • What makes it interesting?
  • Are there related concepts/ideas that could be added to the discussion?
  • Is there an alternative way of approaching the concept/idea?
  • Can the concept/idea be applied in a different way?

Identify an ethical perspective

  • Is the ethical perspective being applied in a way that makes sense to you?
  • What is the person assuming to be morally relevant?  Why do you think they assume this?  Do you agree?
  • What do you take to be morally relevant?  Why?
  • Would another ethical perspective be more helpful in these circumstances?
  • What would it provide that the other perspective cannot?

Identify an argument

  • Does the argument follow intuitively?
  • If so, what are some of the intuitions it draws on?  Can those be examined?
  • If not, what step do you find problematic?
  • Is it a factual problem? If so, what are the alternative facts?
  • Can you find an alternative step that is intuitive?
  • Do you think this problem leads to the opposite conclusion?
  • Talk about what you agree/disagree with and why
  • Can you strengthen the argument in any way?
  • Do all the elements of the argument contribute to the argument?

Identify a weakness

  • Why is this a weakness?
  • Is there a solution to the weakness?
  • Is there an alternative that does not have the same weakness?

Identify a strength

  • Why is this a strength?
  • Can it be used to support other points related to the topic?
  • Are there any unintended consequences to this strength?

Identify an example

  • What is it about the example that supports the point?
  • Can it be used to prove the opposite point?
  • Can a counterexample be provided? Particularly good for News Days.

These strategies are not exhaustive, what other questions can you think of?

Grading: Go to Grading Rubrics for specific grading details and here to see examples.

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A Note on Comments

Every student is required to comment 10 times by Midnight EST Sunday each week. These comments are in addition to the required posts and comments that selected students must make as Group Leaders and to the comments on the Readings site.  So, if you are group leader on Debate Day of a week, you are required to post once and comment once.  Neither the post nor the comment count towards the minimum comment count for the week.

At the end of the course, the number of comments short of the minimum will affect your discussion grade.  Return to Contents

Reading Days[Mon - Tues]

Description: Readings Days are an opportunity to engage directly with each week's texts.  There are no Group Leaders on Reading Days.  Instead, all students are responsible for all aspects of the assignment.  Reading Days are broken into two parts.  On Mondays, students will make concentrated comments on the readings and ask questions or comment on the week's lecture.  On Tuesdays, students will respond to each others' comments on the readings and take a brief (ungraded) quiz on the texts


  • Learn to pick out arguments from texts
  • Learn to think critically about connections between texts
  • Collaborate with others students to increase understanding


Some Questions to Consider:

  • What topic is the author talking about?
  • What position does the author take on the topic?
  • Does the author appeal to any specific concepts?  Which ones?  Are you familiar with them?  If not, what do you think they mean?  Hint: use context to figure out meaning.
  • Can you identify a premise (one main point) of the author's argument?  Do you agree with that premise?  Why or why not?
  • Does the author refer to any other positions explicitly?  If so, what are they?  Why does the author reject or accept them?  Be careful not to mistake a position the author is referencing (perhaps to critique) with the author's own position.
  • Can you connect one part of the reading or other parts of the reading or perhaps one reading to another?
  • Do you think a classmate is misinterpreting the author?  How?
  • Did a classmate make a point you didn't consider?  Can you build on this point?

Form: The Marginalia consists of two main components: initial comments and responses.  Use these comments and responses to think about the text as you read.  As you comment and others comment there will be a running commentary next to the text. If you see a comment that you think is interesting, start a conversation. If you see an interpretation you disagree with, argue about it. What is important is building on each others understanding of the text as we go along.

  • Initial Comment: On at least three of the week's readings (reachable through the "Readings" link at the top of the page), comment on a paragraph that you think is particularly important, interesting, or both.  Explain why you chose this particular paragraph and identify any important concepts, premises, or arguments in the paragraph.  If other students have already commented on a paragraph, you may still comment, but make sure to say something new or different either by using the other student's comment as a spring board or by emphasizing a completely different aspect of the paragraph.
    DUE: Every Monday by Midnight EST
  • Response #1: Respond to two other students initial comments on the week's readings.  Build on, critique, correct, debate or something else entirely.
    DUE: Every Tuesday by 3:00 pm EST
  • Response #2: This is a conversation! Respond to the students who responded to you.  Use this as an opportunity to further explicate or clarify a point you made, change your mind, take things in a different direction, etc.
    DUE: Every Tuesday by Midnight EST

Note: When responding to another student, please make sure to always start the comment with @username, where username is the student's username.  This makes it clearer who is being responded to.

Grading: Go to Grading Rubrics for specific grading details and here for examples

Lecture Discussion

Some Questions to Consider:

  • Can you connect a point in the readings to something in the lecture?
  • Are you confused about a concept or argument brought up in the lecture?
  • Do you have an interesting story or point that you think adds to the lecture?


  • Every Monday a lecture will be posted to the main course site the night before, giving an overview of the week's topics and concentrating on central concepts and arguments.  All students are required to post at least one question or comment on the lecture post. The requirements for this assignment are fairly lenient, but do not ask a question that has already been asked. Always be aware of what has been said previously in any discussion.
    DUE: Every Monday by Noon EST

Grading: If you ask a question or make a comment (that shows awareness of other students' questions and comments), you receive full credit.



  • Every Tuesday, a multiple choice quiz will be posted on the main course site.  The object of this quiz is to test your knowledge of the texts and correct any inaccurate understandings.  All students should take the week's quiz and submit proof of completion by emailing the instructor the number correct out of the number of questions (x out of y).  This is tracked at the bottom of the test during the questions and given in full at completion.
    DUE: Every Tuesday by Midnight EST

Grading: If the confirmation of completion is emailed by the due date and time,  you get full credit.

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Case Study Days[Weds - Fri]

Description: Each Case Study Day, the class will be given one case study. All students will attempt to figure out what the morally correct solution to the case study should be by arguing from their assigned ethical perspectives.


  • Apply ethical knowledge to concrete situations
  • Apply critical skills to discussions with other students
  • Determine what ethical perspectives have to say about these situations
  • Determine what these situations have to say about the strengths and weaknesses of the ethical perspectives

Some Questions to Consider:

  • What is/are the main conflict(s) in the case?
  • What details of the case are ethically relevant according to your assigned ethical perspective?  Why?
  • What is your intuitive solution to the case?  Can this be justified by your assigned ethical perspective?
  • What solution can be justified by your assigned ethical perspective?  How is it justified?
  • Were there any ethical problems created by how the case was approached in the first place?
  • Are there any common solutions that can be found from the different ethical perspectives?
  • Did the case raise ethical questions you hadn't considered previously?

What other questions can you think of?


  • Group Leaders: Group Leaders will start the discussion by arguing for a specific solution from their assigned ethical perspective. The initial post should include at the top of the post the name of the assigned ethical perspective. Each Group Leader should then state what the proper outcome to the case is and detail the reasons why.
    DUE: Every Wednesday by 10:00 am EST
    WORD COUNT: 300-500 words
  • Non-Group Leaders: Read and discuss the Group Leaders' posts from your assigned ethical perspective in the comments section of each Group Leader post.
    First Post DUE: Every Wednesday by Midnight EST

Discussion ENDS: Every Friday at Midnight EST

Grading: Go to Grading Rubrics for specific grading details and here for examples

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News Days[Thurs - Sat]

Description: Each Thursday, the selected Group Leaders will post a link to a news article related to the week's topic and their analysis of that article.  All other students will contribute at least one comment discussing one or more of the articles.


  • Learn to identify ethical issues in real life events
  • Apply ethical perspectives to concrete situations
  • Learn to identify and pick out morally relevant details
  • Learn to distinguish fact from opinion

Some Questions to Consider:

  • What does this news story reveal about the week’s topic?
  • Are there any ethical conclusions about the issue implied by the news story?
  • Are there any ethical conclusions implicit in how the medical personnel are treating the patient?
  • What ethical issues are raised by the details of the news story?
  • How does the news story reveal some problems surrounding the assigned ethical concept?
  • Why did you choose this news story?
  • What details of the news story are ethically relevant?  How do you justify this?


  • Group Leaders: Each Group Leader should select one of the week’s sub-topics (listed under the heading of each week on the Schedule). They should then each find a different news article that they think concerns the assigned sub-topic. These articles should be news articles—no opinion pieces. At the top of their post, they should post a link to the news article. Following the link, each Group Leader should provide an analysis of the article, focusing on the assigned sub-topic.  This analysis should make explicit use of at least one of the week's readings.
    DUE: Every Thursday by 10:00 am EST
    WORD COUNT: 400-600 words
  • Non-Group Leaders: All other students in the group should post at least once responding to the Group Leader postings. See the General Strategies above for some ideas of what to write.
    First Posts DUE: Every Thursday by Midnight EST

Discussion ENDS: Every Saturday at Midnight EST

Grading: Go to Grading Rubrics for specific grading details and here for examples

Debate Days[Fri - Sun]

Description: Two or more students will debate an assigned topic each Thursday. There are three parts to this debate: each Group Leader’s position statement, their response to the other Group Leader’s position statement, and group discussion.

Some Questions to Consider:

  • What is your position?
  • Do you think your position is clear to others?  Are you sure?
  • Is your argument clear to others?  Hint: Be explicit; spell everything out.
  • What details do you think are ethically relevant in the debate?
  • What do the other Group Leaders think is ethically relevant?
  • What facts support your side of the debate?
  • How can these facts be combined with ethical arguments to support your position?
  • Do these facts contradict or support one another?
  • Can these facts be used to draw other conclusions?
  • What ethical perspective are you arguing from?
  • What ethical perspective are the other Group Leaders arguing from?
  • What side of the debate do you favor intuitively?
  • What side do you find most convincing independent of your intuitions?


  • Group Leaders: Position: Each Group Leader will be assigned a topic and side in debate. Their job will be to argue and defend their side. The position statement is each Group Leader’s opportunity to set out their position and support for their position. Here is where Group Leader’s are given the chance to make the strongest possible foundation for their side in the debate. This is the positive element of each Group Leader’s contribution.
    Position DUE: Every Friday by Noon EST
    Position WORD COUNT: 600-800 words
  • Group Leaders: Response: This is the negative element of each Group Leader’s contribution. Here, each Group Leader should argue against the other Group Leader’s position by accepting at least some of the assumptions of the other Group Leader. Do not try to defeat the other side on your terms. Instead, determine what perspective they are arguing from and what proof they put forward and use their own perspective and proof to defeat their argument.
    Response DUE: Every Friday by Midnight EST
    Response WORD COUNT: 400-600 words
  • Non-Group Leaders: The Non-Group Leaders’ job is to draw the Group Leader’s out on their position, ask clarifying questions, challenge their assumptions, and make arguments and counterarguments.
    First Post DUE: Every Friday by Midnight EST

Discussion ENDS: Every Sunday at Midnight EST

Grading: Go to Grading Rubrics for specific grading details and here for examples

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Extra Credit: Twitter[Mon - Sun]

Description: The Twitter portion of the class is meant to provide a more casual forum to relay information and links, ask questions of other students, and generally allow more open communication on class topics. If you are on a website and see something that you think is relevant to the class please post a link on Twitter. If you have a quick question or comment, post to Twitter. If you need help clarifying something from a reading, post to Twitter. If someone posts a link, question, or comment, take the time to send back a quick response. Twitter is a space to simply let your thoughts out to your fellow students.

Form: To earn this extra credit, sign up for a Twitter account (if you don’t already have one) at To make this work, your account will have to be public (otherwise, no one in the class will see your posts). If you do not feel comfortable making your personal account public, simply create a new account for the sole purpose of this class. All tweets for this class should include the hashtag #phil148.

The most recent tweets will appear in the bottom of the right sidebar on the main site. Clicking “view more” below the list will take you to a full list of search results for #phil148.

Hashtags: Doing a search for the hashtag #phil148 on Twitter should bring up all posts in the last six days that contain the tag. You can save this search by clicking “Save this search” at the top of the search page. From then on, you can access the search from your main Twitter page. For posts older than six days, do a search on Google with the text “#phil148” NOTE: When searching for posts older than six days, do not include the quotation marks in the search. You will get no results if you do.

Grading: Like Lecture Discussion, Twitter grading is flexible. It is more important that you are participating in some way than that you are participating fruitfully (although the latter is to everyone’s benefit). Full credit will be awarded if you have 3 bioethics-related tweets a week (Mon to Sun).

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Make Up: Summaries

Description: Summaries are student-provided material meant to provide other students with an easy way to review the class’s discussions on a single activity.

Form: Summaries should focus on condensing a single activity’s (i.e News Day, Case Study Day, etc.) worth of discussion into two or three paragraphs (no more than 350 words per paragraph). A good summary will try to locate common threads in a discussion in order to tie those discussions together. Daily Summaries must cover the day the student was absent. To receive make up credit without penalty for daily summaries, you must post the summary by Midnight EST on the day after the assignment ends unless a different time has been previously assigned by the instructor.

Grading: Go to Grading Rubrics for specific grading details

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