Project THRO: Teaching Human Rights On-line
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Project THRO:
Teaching Human Rights On-Line

I. Introduction

Project THRO employs the latest technology for Teaching Human Rights On-line with text exchange and videoconferencing. THRO provides a unique website of interactive cases as an initiative of DIANA, the electronic research data base at the University of Cincinnati and the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights. In a youth culture dominated by television and computer games, Project THRO employs interactive world wide web exercises to improve i) knowledge of human rights; ii) critical thinking; and iii) transnational communication. The project employs information age technology for classical forms of active learning—the Socratic method, case-based teaching, and simulation. Human rights dilemmas challenge students to balance competing values as they develop both moral and cognitive reasoning skills central to a liberal arts education.

Teaching Human Rights On-Line began at the University of Cincinnati in 1996 with the successful pilot test of an interactive world court case on genocide. A second prototype problem on counter-terrorism in India went on-line in 1997. 1 Teaching notes are available on-line for both prototype cases.

Pending grant proposals seek funds to expand the project significantly from 1998 to 2000. The grants would partially fund faculty authors writing [End Page 945] new case problems, technical consultants to “webify” the interactive curriculum materials, computer hardware and software technology facilitating text exchange and transnational videoconferences, international dissemination to course instructors, and external evaluation of educational impact. The project will arrange peer review for well-designed cases submitted by faculty who wish to contribute interactive curriculum materials to the electronic database.

II. Project Goals and Case Design

THRO enables instructors to use the case method, simulation, and Socratic dialogue both in the classroom and in cyberspace communication between students of different cultures. The asynchronous exchange of text, audio, and video can link a global audience in unprecedented interaction to explore humanities principles. Dewey’s 1916 prescription applies to both the school and the Internet:

All that the school [or Internet] can or need do for pupils, so far as their minds are concerned . . . is to develop their ability to think. . . . The alternative to furnishing ready-made subject matter and listening to the accuracy with which it is reproduced is not quiescence, but participating, sharing in an activity. 2

Disputes over “universal” human rights challenge uncritical credulity and force students to explain reasoned conclusions. Whitehead admonished: “[B]eware of ‘inert ideas’—that is to say, ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilized, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations.” 3 Case problems educate students in normative reasoning by posing moral dilemmas. Professor Vicki Golich describes why educating through case problems is so unique:

In a narrative case, a whole story is told in all its complexity and multiplicity of actors and interests. Students must tease through complex, contradictory and ambiguous information to discern the major principles at play. In a decision-forcing case a problem facing a decisionmaker is defined, but the story is stopped at the point of decision. Here students must work through different decision scenarios, assessing options, debating diverse solutions, and making recommendations. 4

THRO’s decision-forcing problems require students to evaluate ambiguous choices confronting a judge, administrative official, or business [End Page 946] executive struggling to balance ethical claims against legal, political, and economic values. Respect for human rights norms can have consequences for criminal procedure, national security, and corporate profits that students must evaluate with philosophical rigor. Closely decided legal precedents compel students to weigh opposing arguments in majority and dissenting opinions. Students must identify unresolved issues, recognize relevant facts and legal authority, and reason by analogy.

Teachers can use THRO cases for individual or group exercises, analysis/discussion or role playing/simulation, and structured or free response choices. 5 Simulation is especially educational, as “valuing can be achieved when students actually play a character. By experiencing a character as oneself they go beyond a mere accepting of the character’s point of view that is typical of ‘responding,’ into an active involvement, internalization and commitment to it.” 6

Encouraging students to play an unfamiliar role promotes understanding of alternative truths. As...