Sophomores watch pilot online ethics course

Claire Goldsmith

Sophomores watched an online video course about character and values during the summer to prepare for their Choices and Challenges class this year.

The video series, Optimal Living 101, is the school’s first entry into web-based education and complements the curriculum of the required 10th grade class on personal development.

Assistant to the Head of Upper School Michelle Bracken was looking for an online character education course, but when no such program was available, she and Head of Upper School Audrius Barzdukas worked with entrepreneur Brian Johnson to adapt his video lectures for adults to the school’s needs.

Barzdukas and Bracken tested the course on a few Choices and Challenges teachers at the end of the last school year before opening it to students and parents. As of the beginning of school, more than 200 people have registered for the course, Barzdukas said.

“It’s just Harvard-Westlake now, but I’m learning that it’s kind of virally sneaking outside, and we’re fine with that,” he said.

Johnson, CEO of En*theos, decided to share what he deems 10 essential truths of philosophy and teaching. Optimal Living 101, branded as “the class we never had,” shares Johnson’s views on optimism, purpose, self-awareness, goals, action, energy, wisdom, courage and love in 11 videos.

“There was a lot of information, so I keep going back,” Bracken said. “There are three or four things that really resonated with me, especially the rubber band, where doing something that stretches myself out pushes me out of my comfort zone.”

Of the 123 sophomores who responded to a Chronicle poll, 22 percent watched none of the series, 32.2 percent watched less than half and only 31.4 percent watched the entire 4.5 hour course. 52.6 percent said the course was not useful in their daily lives, 43.9 percent had thought about the concepts and only 14.9 percent discussed the videos with friends or family.

Barzdukas, who calls himself a believer in Optimal Living 101, thinks the values in the series can be useful to parents and students in other grades and hopes to create other developmentally appropriate courses highlighting the same ideas.

“I do think that those lessons can help you lead a happier and more productive life, and ultimately, everybody wants that,” Barzdukas said.