Inspiring Student Learning: Ethical dilemmas as a compass for problem-solving | Harbord & Khan | 5 Min Read

Many students and teachers will be physically returning to school in the Fall, others will be in ‘lockdowns’ due to the pandemic. This ‘morphing’ from one system of learning to the other requires adaptability and flexible approaches from all constituents, but it is emotionally draining. There has been much written about student and faculty emotional states during the pandemic; however, this issue still needs to be addressed. Many students have thrived learning at home but others feel lost and discombobulated with a confused sense of self and are struggling to readjust from their isolation. It’s time for a mental health check for all! Now we need to focus on reconnecting and building relationships as this past year has been tough for both our students and our educators with many losing loved ones.

Our existing school structure has become a home-based system heavily reliant on technology that has affected all our school communities. ‘Zoom fatigue’ has become a common term in our culture. If adults are suffering, what about our students and how can we make online learning meaningful again? This new form of online collaborative learning challenges our old concept of face-to-face collaboration in the classroom. The pandemic has challenged us to review what and how we do things. As a result, we may need to question whether we are now just teaching to the standards and meeting learning outcomes? This is a time to change our perspective on the students’ learning experience. So how can we do this? Is it time to rethink a more holistic approach not only to our grading and testing but our delivery so we can ensure our students use the Global Skillset to develop their whole self? Perhaps we need to look at things through another lens. How do we make this fun and show students new and creative ways of reconnecting with their learning experience?

Looking for New Directions from Google Earth

Many of us enjoy certainty: pinpointing an exact location of where we are traveling on a map. Regarding student learning, via feedback through grades and assessment, we would like to know exactly how our kids are doing. But what if we thought about it less as a fixed spot on a graph and more like Google Earth, where, for example, scale and perspective are key factors? By sharing the idea of the learning experience with students as an analogy of Google Earth, we could use it as a way of thinking and a mechanism for reflection.

Google Earth and Problem-Solving © Harbord & Khan

Google Earth and Problem-Solving with Ethical Dilemmas

Using the creative lens of Google Earth, we can also embed ethical dilemmas into the curriculum to make learning even more meaningful and purposeful. In this way, ethical dilemmas can act as a compass for problem-solving and critical thinking guided by curiosity, adventure, exploration, and discovery.

Google Earth tools and features:

  • SCALE & PERSPECTIVE: This tool gives us opportunities to zoom in and out, to see the details and the bigger picture. When we think in this broader way, we can compare this to how ethical dilemmas require an understanding of the whole situation from multiple points of view. They are always guided by a values-based perspective and encourage students to examine their own values.
    • Exploring multiple points of view in an ethical dilemma about sustainable ways of growing food (Engineering Design & Science)
      • Deforestation is causing major problems such as global warming, and we need to explore how this affects our ability to grow food. 80% of the world’s plants and animals are found in forests and some experts predict they will be gone in 100 years unless we preserve our environment.
        • Should we clear the forest to grow palm oil for human use or should we conserve orangutan habitats?
        • Is it always unethical to destroy the rainforest, no matter what the reasons are?
        • How much rainforest can we lose to clear land for growing crops for people before the drawbacks begin to outweigh the benefits?
        • What about the jobs that corporations from the palm oil industry offer to local people, which support families? (Harbord & Khan, 2020)
  • CREATE INDIVIDUAL PROJECTS: The tailor-made option in Google Earth is comparable to student voice and choice. Students can custom-make their own map and explore it with their preferred view. Similarly, ethical dilemmas can be nuanced and complex and provide students with opportunities to follow their emotions and interests. 
  • VOYAGER & DICE COMPONENTS: These explore new places you want to visit, purposefully or randomly. We can think about these in relation to how the emotional response to ethical dilemmas can harness student attention and motivate students to explore innovative solutions to real-world problems.
  • MEASURE DISTANCE & AREA: This feature lets you measure the distance from one spot to another, you can see how far you need to go and ultimately, how far you have traveled. Likewise, ethical dilemmas offer a structured framework for students to use as a context for learning. They can choose their ethical trajectory and understand how it changes over time as they consider solutions. 
    • Teacher’s tip: Teachers can use this concept as a mechanism for reflection or as a pre-skills test. When the students first read the ethical dilemma they can discuss their initial opinions and knowledge on the concept. When they have researched and thought more deeply about the issues it is interesting for them to reflect again and see how or if their opinions have changed. This is their ethical trajectory or journey that develops as their critical thinking skills grow in sophistication.

Can the divergent and convergent perspectives that Google Earth offers inspire us to explore new perspectives? From this vantage point, facilitated by technology, our exploration of the pale blue dot, our home can be explored as many homes, many streets, many cities, and many landscapes. One of the landing spots for Voyager is ‘Safeguarding Iconic Parks.’ Our priority is to safeguard the emotional and mental health of our students and excite them about their learning. Let us take this 360-degree view to make online learning meaningful again; road signs on this journey such as adventure, discovery, curiosity, exploration, knowledge building are all valuable landmarks for the student learning experience.  As educators, we can share novel approaches to learning with students and encourage them to write their own ethical dilemmas. Students can explore the importance of values in their lives, as the decisions they make are often guided by these. The discovery and recognition of the importance of these ethical considerations can help students find their way to a sense of self and emotional connection, develop empathy, and reconnect with their friends and communities.  

Harbord and Khan

Meredith Harbord EdD and Sara Riaz Khan are global educators who use ethical dilemmas to enrich and transform curriculum. Their student centric approach is driven by an ethical model and innovative tools that support critical thinking and creativity. Meredith and Sara’s collaboration as Design teachers at ABA Oman International School in Muscat, focused on sustainability, ethical design and global mindedness and inspired them to establish Harbord & Khan Educational Consultants. They develop units of work based on real world issues to engage and challenge students for diverse curriculums (IB, PBL, Common Core and Australian) and are available for professional development and to create programs to meet the specific needs of your school. Meredith and Sara have authored two teacher curriculum books ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 1, 2 & 3’ and ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 4 & 5’ (2020). Website:

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