Write On: Creating an Ethics Bowl Case Study

Everything That Is the Case

Just like many business and law school courses, Michigan High School Ethics Bowl's focus is the "case": an ethically complex scenario worthy of the student's thoughtful input. The success of Ethics Bowl (as an educational, competitive, and entertaining enterprise) depends on our ability to present participants with a rich array of challenging, yet accessible, case studies. We depend on writers like you to make this happen. This page provides prospective case writers all the information they need to complete this very important task.

Cases and Points: How Cases Work

The Ethics Bowl season begins in November with the distribution of the year's cases to team coaches. Between then and the statewide competition in February, teams "practice" by reading, analyzing, and forming arguments about the cases, the questions they pose, and the decisions they force. Each team undertakes this process differently: some assign each case to an individual student, while others study all cases as a team. Regardless of the team's strategy, though, the cases consume the minds of the competitors over the winter as they grapple with the issues the cases raise: in classrooms, hallways, coffee shops, and living rooms. That process looks something like this:

At the competition in February, students present the resulting arguments and engage in dialogue with judges and the opposing teams. Judges evaluate each team's analysis and argumentation. Importantly, judges may be experts in the field from which the case study is taken or know very little about it. Students' arguments must therefore be accessible to all and still impressive to specialists. The winner advances to the nationwide competition in April.

What Makes a Good Case?

A good case study meets all of the following criteria:

  • Is at most one page long
  • Asks students to make ethical judgments of realistic scenarios
  • Is morally complex; has no clear right answer (i.e., reasonable arguments can be made from multiple perspectives, or in support of multiple approaches)
  • Is comprehensible to someone with minimal background knowledge
  • Requires little outside factual research (i.e., allows students to focus on analyzing the facts as presented by the case itself without needing to research technicalities)
  • Is original (i.e., has not been published before, though it may be inspired by real events, or focuses on different aspects of situations similar to prior case studies)
  • Poses "study questions" at the end of the case highlighting interesting aspects

Possible approaches for constructing a case study include the following:

  • Exploration of ethical concepts like obligations, rights, diligence, utility, virtue, special relationships, conflicts of interest, equity, moral courage, curiosity, freedom, autonomy, trust, integrity, kindness, justice, forgiveness, gratitude, debt, desert, dignity, duty, honor, care, etc. Especially fruitful are scenarios in which two such concepts "pull" in opposite directions (i.e., in favor of different choices)
  • Exploration of ethical issues arising in a particular field like business, medicine, science, education, technology, engineering, law, retail, law enforcement, sports, politics, arts, environment, design, philanthropy, government, information technology, construction, etc.
  • Exploration of ethical issues affecting the state of Michigan

However, we encourage you to be creative and choose ethically complex scenarios that personally interest you, or which you think would be good for high school students.

A few logistical notes:

  • Cases are due by Friday, September 15.
  • All cases may be edited before use will become the property of A2Ethics.org. At the same time, all submissions can be included in current and future case sets, in full or in part.

See sub-pages here for prior cases, past case study authors, and student perspectives on cases.