INTRODUCTION: For five years I have
facilitated training for Peer Learning Assistants (PLAs are similar to tutors).
Critical thinking and ethical decision making are skills necessary for our PLAs
to possess because they often work with very little supervision. I use this
activity to engage them in discussions about unclear issues they may encounter,
such as how much help to offer a desperate student. Case studies can be adapted
to provide a different focus for the discussion. This strategy works best within
a 90 minute period.
STEP 1. Set the stage for the Trial (10 min)
STEP 2. Pre –court preparations (10 min)
STEP 3. Trial begins - Judge presides over
this section using the ‘Time Table’ (30-40 min)
STEP 4. Public Jury Deliberation/Discussion
(10 -20 min)
STEP 5. Voting (2 min) (supplies: same 3 x 5
cards on reverse side marked AFTER)
There is a bit of chaos during the set up time in order to coordinate everyone; however it is worth it because once attorney parties are in place, the jury settles in their seats and the judge takes control, the trial really gets going. The witnesses usually have to extrapolate and sometimes exaggerate his/her story in order to answer questions. I’ve had a student volunteer for a character of the opposite gender and create a very funny voice and story. Everyone in the room was laughing so hard, the judge had to use his hammer to quiet everyone down and proceed. Cross questioning the witnesses is more impromptu and seems to perpetuate some odd questions which invoke giggles and smiles. Sometimes the judge is very strict about the time and the attorney exhausts his/her questioning time with a monologue. Although the students are laughing throughout this role playing, I observe students being attentive to the questions, stories, and arguments.
The closing arguments are a good wrap up as the attorneys make a clear statement of their position. After these arguments are completed and the judge makes a closing statement, I stand up and provide directions again in order to keep the activity moving. During deliberation I’ve observed students taking it very seriously, voicing their opinions and capitalizing on the witness statements.
I’ve used different case studies for this activity. With the appended case study, the jury debated whether Marty was really taking a risk being alone with a student, whether he technically had permission to stay late, if his behavior was student-centered and if he was being good role model. Several students questioned Marty’s motivation, the risks he took, and the options he had available but did not invoke. There are students who sit silent and students who have a lot to say. I require speakers to stand to keep some order regarding who has the floor.
The voting cards comparison gives concrete evidence to students of the existing ‘grey’ areas; however this role play offers opportunity for the teacher/trainer to provide immediate feedback about ‘grey’ issues raised related to job expectations.
My goal with the Trial by Jury is to develop students’ ethical decision making skills and personal responsibility. The 30 PLAs provided feedback at the end of the semester responding to the question, ‘What was your favorite discussion during PLA training and what was learned from the experience?’ Responses included…
Feedback from clients indicates that the PLAs are professional in how they represent the program. After listening to the PLAs discussion, I feel more confident in their ability to make ethical decisions associated with the program.
I have not been a fan of role playing exercises, but find the Trial by Jury is one that can be a serious topic and also allow for some fun. The Trial can be embellished with additional characters and props, such as a bailiff, court reporter, Student Conduct Code as the Bible, and articles of evidence i.e. Cynthia’s lab report. When I’ve embellished, it adds to the fun and laughter.
During the jury deliberation, I hear the
PLAs’ perceptions and opinions that may need more shaping (addressed in later
training sessions). I have to listen very closely during the deliberation and
pose a guided question when the discussion strays from the case study or the
evidence provided. Although students might demonstrate a strong need to
arrive at a verdict, it is okay; and it works better to focus on guiding
deliberation if needed. I’ve learned that the PLAs who demonstrate strong
ethics and critical thinking become role models for the other PLAs.
I also have learned that the voting provides a concrete illustration to the PLAs that there are gray areas and a need to employ good ethics and critical thinking.
SOURCE: Adapted from ‘101 Ways to
Make Training Active’ by Silberman, Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer Copyright 1995, pages
139 and 140.
SUPPORT MATERIALS: The Case Study: Trial by Jury
MARTY, a tutor, is having a slow night for
walk-in tutoring, and no student has come in for help. With a half-hour to
go, one of Marty’s regulars, CYNTHIA, rushes in. She explains that she
has a major laboratory report due tomorrow in the class that Marty normally
tutors for, but she hasn’t had a chance to work on it much because she has
been ill. There are many calculations associated with this particular lab
and she says that she has been having problems with understanding what equations
to use. Cynthia tells Marty she needs to score well on the report because
“as you know, I’ve been having problems with this course.”
Marty asks Cynthia to explain what the
laboratory task was and to describe the data she collected. She is
flustered and anxious as she speaks, making her difficult to understand. So
Marty reads the laboratory assignment and looks through her data.
By this time, Marty’s normal tutoring time
is up but he stays to help her. He starts going through the methodology of
analysis appropriate for the assignment with the student. Time is running
out for Cynthia and she starts to cry. Marty says all will be fine, and
starts to structure the data, write down the necessary equations, and
demonstrate where the data goes into them. Cynthia calms down and listens
intently. Marty continues to do the calculations and Cynthia parallels
calculations with another portion of the data set. They get done in an
hour, and Marty outlines what she should say in the report. The student
leaves in an upbeat state, and says she will see him next week for normal
Cynthia’s lab report is returned with an
‘A’. She is so thrilled that, during a study group for the course, she tells
ROY, her friend, what happened.
Another student in the study group, FRANK,
hears the story and seeks out the tutor supervisor, DR. WYMEE. Frank says to Dr.
Wymee, “I think it’s unfair that some students get such help with lab
Marty is called in by Dr. Wymee to determine if his actions were ethically inappropriate.
We are in a courtroom. We will decide if
Marty is guilty of unprofessional (unethical) behavior.
TIME TABLE (Recommended~60 minutes
Witness stand for prosecuting witness
Witness stand for defending witness
--Tammy Pratt, Director, Assessment and Learning Center, University of Oklahoma, OK
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