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Intertwine your lecture with case discussion by means of meta-comments.

Case discussions do not replace lectures. But many of the ideas that are introduced by lectures can also be integrated into case discussions by means of meta-comments. Meta-comments are comments made in the course of a discussion that focus on the discussion itself. Here are some examples of meta-comments that could be made during the course of a discussion of an ethics case:

  • "In your comment, you justify your decision by referring to the results it is likely to produce. This looks like utilitarianism." (Here the meta-comment frames a discussion point in terms of the ethical approach it makes use of.)
  • "So far we have been discussing only two alternatives to this problem and both of them seem to be bad. Is this a true dilemma, i.e., a problem that allows only two course of action, both of them bad?" (Here, the meta-comment exposes an assumption that has been driving the discussion and calls it into question.)
  • "In your argument, you propose suspending certain rights in order to secure safety for the society. This ties into a debate between right-based and outcomes-based ethical approaches." (Here, the meta-comment shows how the debate is being driven by the classical conflict between rights and goods that has been considerably discussed in ethical theory.)
  • "Your comment assumes that reliability and safety are the same thing in a system. Could this system be reliable but unsafe?" Here the meta-comment raises an issue relating to the distinction between two important intermediate concepts.

Meta-comments are often an extremely effective way of introducing key points. During a lecture, it is necessary to establish a context (often an historical context) by spelling out all the elements of this context. It is also necessary to clarify abstract concepts by means of examples. Meta-comments delegate parts of both of these functions (contextualizing and concretizing points) to the students. The discussion itself establishes the context and the example. The teacher highlights what is already there. Or she can advance what is already there by taking it one step further. Often meta-comments can be set up in advance by writing cases in a particular way (to highlight certain ethical issues) or structuring the discussion (by means of worksheets or frameworks or narrative structure). Hence meta-comments avoid the trade-off between lecturing and discussion; we can often get the benefits of both