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Tales of monsters, robots, clones and aliens teach ethics in new approach

Monsters, robots, clones and aliens — not the first things that come to mind when one thinks of ethics. Yet, those are subjects Lamar University’s English 2300 course uses to spark critical thinking in a new approach that explores ethics through literature.

“We’ve been really liberal in creating courses that benefit not only our own students, but a lot of others at Lamar,” said Jim Sanderson, chair of the Department of English & Modern Languages.

“Its unique to be able to take an English course that breaks away from what you’ve been doing ever since you were in elementary school,” said Marleen Swerdlow, director of general business and the online BBA offered through Academic Partnerships. “You’re not covering the same materials in the same way.”

When the Texas Core Curriculum changed in the fall 2014 semester, the revisions required engineering and business students to vie for limited spots in ethics courses. Because the update enabled the development of more courses within the colleges, faculty members found the opportunity to make a new class that could accommodate the needs of students in both majors.

The result is a blended study: English 2300 Special Topics: Ethics and Literature. Rather than taking a traditional philosophy class on ethics, students can consider various ethical approaches though examination of texts, film and works of art.

Topics include “The Death Penalty and Literature,” “Victims, Criminals, and Punishment” and “Gaming and Ethics.”

“Some ethics courses aren’t as much about applications as they are about theory. This turned out to be a really great alternative,” Swerdlow said.

Sanderson says that though the course adopts an innovative approach, students will still meet the state qualifications and outcomes.

“The conservative side of me says, ‘We need to teach traditional English courses!’ while the liberal side of me says, ‘We need to teach something that people can get interested in.’ I think there’s a value to both. Either way, we have the same amount of expectations, requirements and writing,” said Sanderson.

Accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), LU’s business college endeavors to emphasize ethics in its curriculum.

The two most recent additions, Business 2300 and English 2300, use the same booklet: “Theory and Practice: A Primer for Students of Applied Ethics.”

“There have been so many unethical things in business that have happened over the years. Of course, we can’t make everybody ethical. But if you can take ethics and apply it, even in an area that has nothing to do with business, it makes you more aware of how your decisions impact other people. It’s important that we cover it early on, often and build on it,” said Swerdlow.

“When you come to the point where you need to make an ethical choice, it won’t be easy. That’s why we have whole courses on it. We want to have the effect of making students better people. We want to bring out the humanity,” Sanderson said.

The new class requires students to submit essays about what they’ve learned, allowing faculty members to determine their impact.

“As our professor guided us through group discussions, it became evident that I had much to learn,” wrote Jennifer Shults, Human Resource Management major from Hull, Texas, in one of her assignments.

She explained that readings from the class such as “The Yellow Wallpaper” have taught her many lessons, such as the importance of timeliness and thoroughness in addressing problems.

“As a Human Resources Management representative, I will be walking the fine line between the best interest of the business that employs me and that of the employees,” she said.

Business students may now take English 2300 as an alternative to the more traditional ethics course, Philosophy 2306 Ethics. Nursing students sometimes take the new course as well — it covers controversial topics like trauma and illness, which prepares them for their career. The course is open to all students.