Unlike the traditional approach to ethics education that involves reading, writing, and discussing moral reasoning in the abstract, our new pedagogy uses experiential games to position students in situations that require first-hand ethical decision-making. The games allow students to personally explore what factors prevent them from living up to their moral ideals, and what strategies are effective for coordinating groups to address collective-action problems, where personal incentives are at odds with the group’s best interests. Each game consists of complete and independent modules that can be combined to form undergraduate & graduate level courses in sustainability ethics. Furthermore, both the modules and the course are deliverable in a synchronous (or semi-synchronous) fashion at multiple Universities, wherein students at multiple campuses interact on-line through game play. The games can also be played entirely in-class, in blended learning environments (online and in-class), or completely online. This novel multi-campus form of instruction allows students to be mentored by multiple instructors from different disciplines.
Also, when played internationally, students are exposed to the inequality of globalization since they engage directly with peers from distant places and experience first-hand whether they are willing to treat them with as much respect as their own classmates, or whether distance discourages moral behavior. To date, three full courses have been delivered at Rochester Institute of Technology and Arizona State University, while modules have been adopted in engineering, environmental science, and business courses at Mesa Community College, Michigan State University, University of Colorado -Boulder, Purdue University, Northeastern University, University of Arizona, University of Puerto Rico – Mayaguez, Dartmouth College, Mountains of the Moon University (Uganda), the Management Development Institute (India) and Desert Vista High School (Phoenix AZ). The project has trained nearly two dozen faculty and a dozen graduate and undergrad students to deliver the modules in two workshops. Moreover, the grant allowed for both student training and professional development, as it funded a four-year PhD dissertation in Sustainability as well as an undergraduate research experience. Dissemination of results is taking place both through traditional modes (several academic conferences, multiple public lectures, workshops, & journal articles) and through digital media, including on-line articles in Slate, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and other web-based media. Experience in several instructional contexts reinforce the hypothesis that the game-based pedagogies move students from passive to active, apathetic to emotionally invested, predictable to surprising, and from narratively closed to experimentally open. We’ve also been surprised at the ability of some groups to behave cooperatively, despite the inherent incentives to act otherwise. We attribute this success to the moral suasion of ethical leaders in our classrooms, and we argue that the importance of our findings extends beyond the classroom by offering potential models of cooperation for addressing real-world resource management challenges. Furthermore, an invention disclosure has been created for the Tragedy of the Commons Game (a.k.a the Pisces Game, which is our most successful and widely used game) that will be the first product of a spin-out company called 'Experiential Sustainability Ethics Training Games, LLC' (XSET Games). The Pisces Game simulates dilemmas where decisions must be made about depletion or preservation of resources held in the public commons, such as the problem of overfishing occurring in Lake Victoria -- the second largest freshwater lake in the world. In the game, players fish from a shared lake and make decisions related to conservation, consumption, capital investment, trading, or other transfers. XSET Games is unveiling a smartphone interface of the game on November 18th, 2013 at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) Annual Conference in Nashville. Participants are expected to obtain a greater understanding of the human dimensions of sustainability problems, such as diverse values and worldviews, social media skills related to leadership, teamwork, negotiation, and empathy, and (if the classroom experience is any indication) may discover relevant insights into their own or others’ moral character.