Enquiry-Based Learning in business ethics kicks off

Dissatisfied with what she saw as a ‘highly consumerist model of education’ La Trobe University’s Dr Rosaria Burchielli went back to the drawing board and developed a new subject which sits well within her own ethical framework.  

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‘I taught large classes, where it was difficult for students to engage with the subject and for me to engage with the students,’ said Dr Burchielli.   


 ‘The majority seemed to come to class with a attitude only motivated to complete set assessments satisfactorily and passing the exam. I felt unstimulated and disengaged myself.’

Realising to that in order to reengage her students, she would have to first reinspire herself, Dr Burchielli, from the School of Management, enlisted the help of the faculty’s Academic Developer Matthew Riddle and set about redeveloping her Business Ethics subject.

‘Matthew and I talked at length about role-play as a teaching and learning method with enormous potential for creating authentic learning contexts with highly desirable learning outcomes such as complex problem-solving, communication and teamwork,’ she said.

This led to her decision to adopt the ‘enquiry based learning approach’ in the Business Ethics subject, which would now encompass contextually relevant role- playing.  

‘Specifically, the subject is structured around simulated government hearings and debates on the ethical issues in the Wonthaggi Desalination Plant,’ she said.  

 ‘Around the time the subject was in development, the state government was finalising its community consultations; it had announced the tender process for construction, and community groups were beginning to organise protest action around the proposal.’

Since the beginning of the second semester 2009, students have been researching, discussing and considering the ethics of desalination, public-private partnerships, privatisation and corporate management of natural resources and public goods.

‘Some students are preparing their written submissions to the Hearings, while others are writing media pieces intended to analyse or stimulate debate on these issues.’

Dr Burchielli said the practical application is exciting her students- and she is enjoying the process.

In October, they will have the opportunity to present their views, and the results of their enquiries to panels of experts – drawn from the wider community of politics, media, business, pro-environment groups and academics.

The panellists include Rob Gell, Coastal Oceanographer and former TV personality; Cam Walker (Friends of the Earth); The Principal Litigator from Morehead Legal firm, Paul Barclay, Richard Aedy, Annabelle Quince and other people outside of La Trobe who are interested to hear what the students have to say.  

 ‘I feel confident that the students are grappling with, and developing a deep appreciation of the complexities involved in the interface between business ethics, multi-stakeholder demands and the environment,’ said Dr Burchielli.


Other lecturers feeling like it is time for a subject shake up, may draw inspiration from a Dorothy Parker quote, which initially reignited Dr Burchielli passion.


‘The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.’
‘For someone who has always loved learning, these words worked a powerful enchantment ,’ Dr Burchielli said.

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Mikhaela Delahunty

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