University of Massachusetts Lowell offers the Mock Trial Project as a part of an ethics course to get students to think critically about ethical issues.
Based on results for the student surveys conducted after each course interaction (a computer ethics course), many students stated that the mock trial (and the on-line group process) was engaging and challenging, and it was also one of the more rewarding experiences online.
learning effectiveness: The Mock Trial Project, which is used as a part of an ethics course at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, is designed to get students to think critically about the ethical issues inherent in our general use of and reliance on technology. Sometimes group activities can help reinforce these concepts better than reading about them or discussing them in generalities. This mock-trial is designed to foster group thinking with regards to ethical reasoning and analysis. To accomplish this goal, students use the example of the "Therac 25 Machine", which is a machine for treating certain cancers. Several years ago, patients in the U.S. and Canada were reporting burns from the machine (something that was not supposed to happen). Ultimately, some deaths occurred. There are two teams for the mock trial, a prosecution team and a defense team. Students are randomly assigned to one team or the other. All students must participate in a team. In each team there are a few roles that must be fulfilled: Lead Attorneys - These team members, no more than two people, are responsible for answering questions posed by the judge, in a public discussion area, after the opening statements have been made. Since A Lead Attorney will usually have to consult with others on the team before answering a question, this role can involve back-and-forth communication. Basically, Lead Attorneys are the point-people for the team, but they are not the boss or the leader. They must always act with the agreement of the other team members and collaborate when creating and revising the opening and the closing statements. Preliminary Supporting Attorneys - These team members, no more than four people, are responsible for preparing the opening statement. This two-page (single-spaced) document is reviewed by all of the other team members who give feedback, corrections, etc. for the final submission of the opening statement. Trial Attorneys - These team members, no more than six people, are responsible for preparing the closing statement. This four-page (single-spaced) document is reviewed by all of the other team members who will give feedback, corrections, etc. for the final submission of the closing statement. NOTE: All team members are responsible for taking on at least one role during the trial period (this activity can support anywhere from six to 24 participants). Also, all team members are expected to participate in the discussions during their respective opening and closing statements, in the discussion/debate after both opening statements have been posted, and in trial discussions. Part of a student's individual grade for the mock trial is determined anonymously by their teammates so it is important that students take their role seriously, do the work that is expected, produce high quality work, and engage in the discussions as much as they can with as much depth as possible. The final judge in the exercise can be the instructor or a guest (such as a trial lawyer or an actual judge willing to dedicate the time to read each team's documents). EVALUATION Part of each student's job as a team member is to evaluate his or her fellow teammates after the mock trial project is over. Five of the 20 points possible for this project are awarded by students. Each team member, at the end of the mock trial, emails to the instructor the grade they feel each of their fellow teammates should receive. Five points total are possible (the instructor awards the remaining points) and points should be awarded in a manner as follows: 1 point - Team member fulfilled their role on the team by completing assignments on time. 1 point - Team member adequately participated in the drafting of the opening statement. 1 point - Team member adequately participated in the drafting of the closing statement. 1 point - Team member participated appropriately in the on-line discussions that occurred between the written assignments. 1 point - Team member fulfilled their role on the team by completing assignments in a quality manner. GRADING RUBRIC The final grade for the project is based on a total of no more than 30 points. These 30 points represent 30% of a student's final grade for the course. The 30 points breakdown as follows: - 5 points are determined from fellow teammates as described in a prior section. - 15 points are determined by the quality of the opening and closing statements (5 = Letter grade of "A", 4= Letter grade of "AB", 3= Letter grade of "B", 2= Letter grade of "BC", 1= Letter grade of "C or lower"). - 10 points are determined by the quality and amount of discussion that the student personally engage in throughout the Mock Trial Project in the discussion area.
It is necessary that a course or learning management system be utilized that allows for the creation of additional asynchronous discussion areas, where students in one area can not read postings in another area. A synchronous chat system that can support adhoc scheduling by students is also useful for teams to meet and brainstorm ideas.