Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 257-276

First online:

Teaching for adaptive expertise in biomedical engineering ethics

  • Taylor MartinAffiliated withDept. of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Texas, Austin Email author 
  • , Karen RayneAffiliated withDepartment of Educational Psychology, University of Texas
  • , Nate J. KempAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, University of Texas
  • , Jack HartAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, University of Texas
  • , Kenneth R. DillerAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Engineering, University of Texas

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


This paper considers an approach to teaching ethics in bioengineering based on the How People Learn (HPL) framework. Curricula based on this framework have been effective in mathematics and science instruction from the kindergarten to the college levels. This framework is well suited to teaching bioengineering ethics because it helps learners develop “adaptive expertise”. Adaptive expertise refers to the ability to use knowledge and experience in a domain to learn in unanticipated situations. It differs from routine expertise, which requires using knowledge appropriately to solve routine problems. Adaptive expertise is an important educational objective for bioengineers because the regulations and knowledge base in the discipline are likely to change significantly over the course of their careers. This study compares the performance of undergraduate bioengineering students who learned about ethics for stem cell research using the HPL method of instruction to the performance of students who learned following a standard lecture sequence. Both groups learned the factual material equally well, but the HPL group was more prepared to act adaptively when presented with a novel situation.


engineering ethics stem cell research adaptive expertise instructional methods ethical decision making undergraduate engineering education