Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 257–276

Teaching for adaptive expertise in biomedical engineering ethics


    • Dept. of Curriculum and InstructionUniversity of Texas, Austin
  • Karen Rayne
    • Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of Texas
  • Nate J. Kemp
    • Department of Biomedical EngineeringUniversity of Texas
  • Jack Hart
    • Department of Biomedical EngineeringUniversity of Texas
  • Kenneth R. Diller
    • Department of Biomedical EngineeringUniversity of Texas

DOI: 10.1007/s11948-005-0045-9

Cite this article as:
Martin, T., Rayne, K., Kemp, N.J. et al. SCI ENG ETHICS (2005) 11: 257. doi:10.1007/s11948-005-0045-9


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 ethicsstem cell researchadaptive expertiseinstructional methodsethical decision makingundergraduate engineering education

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© Opragen Publications 2005