Expanding the Scope of Ethics Bowl - National Ethics Project

The National High School Ethics Bowl (NHSEB) began life in 2012 at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Parr Center for Ethics, with 11 states’ and roughly 1000 students’ participation in a handful of regional competitions. A decade later, those numbers have exploded to over 4000 students from 34 states competing in 44 regionals. Quadrupling in size is an accomplishment, but reaching those numbers primarily through organic word of mouth is an achievement. 

“The most common growth mechanism hasn’t been us going out into communities and convincing people of the value of doing Ethics Bowl, it’s been teachers coming to us and saying ‘this is really cool, how do we do it’,” said Alex Richardson, NHSEB Director. “Our growth has been people coming to us, and we continue to build structure around that demand year after year.”

Recently, the program’s structure was built around the obstructions of COVID. “2020 happened, and the broad national shutdowns began a couple weeks before we were set to do our National Championship that year,” said Richardson. Luckily, the NHSEB team were sitting on old plans to “techify” the ethics bowl — to find modern solutions to the logistical hassles of an analog, paper based system. With a few tweaks and test models, these aspirations bloomed into NHSEBOne, an all-in-one web platform to provide online space for the National High School Ethics Bowl. The software “provides a pool of Zoom Pro licenses for Organizers, spins up zooms rooms, automated breakout rooms, timers, all the logistics needed for Ethics Bowl to happen,” according to Richardson.

The pandemic also clarified some additional priorities for the NHSEB program. Because so much learning takes place long before the Ethics Bowl events themselves, and because the resources to do this aren’t always equally distributed, the team at the Parr Center launched NHSEBAcademy and NHSEBBridge

NHSEBAcademy provides Ethics Bowl resources for students, coaches, organizers, and volunteers as well as on-demand coaching assistance from UNC-based experts, allowing NHSEB staff and volunteers to “multiply themselves in a way that on-site training simply couldn’t.” For high schools which struggled with the resources to get Ethics Bowl teams up and running, NHSEBBridge was developed. This program is an engine for ensuring ubiquitous access to the NHSEB program’s benefits. It brings together first-year High School Ethics Bowl teams in a standing virtual regional competition, as well as working in person to recruit students and teachers from rural and under-resourced areas in North Carolina (NHSEB’s home state) with one-to-one coaching and classroom integration, driven by undergraduates enrolled in a service-learning course in the UNC-CH Philosophy Department. In 2024, the NHSEBBridge initiative will launch a micro-grant program to assist with outreach and development across NHSEB’s regional competitions.

While these developments get NHSEB into more high schools around the country, they also push Ethics Bowl to be a more universal tool. “We’re doing experiments and work to think of Ethics Bowl in terms of all its pedagogical benefits, which is making it more portable than it’s ever been. We’ve taken what’s worked and seen success using it in retirement communities, with middle school students, and increasingly now in workplaces,” said Richardson. “It’s becoming the live pedagogical thing that we suspected it could be — far beyond simply serving high school students.”

NHSEB’s Tenth Annual National Championship is scheduled for March 31-April 1, 2023. The final championship match is set to be live streamed via NHSEBAcademy on Sunday, April 2nd.

Has ethics made a difference at your institution over time? Contact Alexis Jimenez Maldonado, alexismaldonado@fas.harvard.edu, with ideas for forthcoming Spotlights.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *