Navigating Bioethical Waters: Two Pilot Projects in Problem-Based Learning for Future Bioscience and Biotechnology Professionals
We believe that the professional responsibility of bioscience and biotechnology professionals includes a social responsibility to contribute to the resolution of ethically fraught policy problems generated by their work. It follows that educators have a professional responsibility to prepare future professionals to discharge this responsibility. This essay discusses two pilot projects in ethics pedagogy focused on particularly challenging policy problems, which we call “fractious problems”. The projects aimed to advance future professionals’ acquisition of “fractious problem navigational” skills, a set of skills designed to enable broad and deep understanding of fractious problems and the design of good policy resolutions for them. A secondary objective was to enhance future professionals’ motivation to apply these skills to help their communities resolve these problems. The projects employed “problem based learning” courses to advance these learning objectives. A new assessment instrument, “Skills for Science/Engineering Ethics Test” (SkillSET), was designed and administered to measure the success of the courses in doing so. This essay first discusses the rationale for the pilot projects, and then describes the design of the pilot courses and presents the results of our assessment using SkillSET in the first pilot project and the revised SkillSET 2.0 in the second pilot project. The essay concludes with discussion of observations and results.
KeywordsFractious problems Navigational approach Ethics education Problem-based learning (PBL) Ethics assessment
We acknowledge support in conducting these pilot projects and preparing this article from a National Science Foundation (NSF) Ethics Education in Science and Engineering (EESE) grant, NSF EESE Award ID 0832912 (PI: R.M.B.) and additional support in preparing the article from a NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant, NSF DRL Award ID 1150114 (PI: A.D.L.). We acknowledge additional support for the second pilot project from the School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations set forth in this article are those of the co-authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of these funders. We acknowledge the efforts of the NSF EESE Research Team for the first pilot project: John D. Banja, Gillian Hue Beckford, Roberta M. Berry, Laura Palucki Blake, Jason Borenstein, Robert J. Butera, Lara Denis, Matthew Drake, Martha L. Elks, Kathy Kinlaw, Robert J. Kirkman, Michelle Lampl, Aaron D. Levine, Paul A. Lombardo, Patricia Marstellar, Robert M. Nerem, Wendy C. Newstetter, Douglas F. Paulsen, Edward L. Queen II, Mark Risjord, Charity Scott, Lisa A. Tedesco, Keith D. Wilkinson, Leslie E. Wolf. We thank Wendy C. Newstetter, a member of the NSF EESE Research Team, in particular, for her assistance in operationalizing the “navigational approach” in the form of the “fractious problem navigational” (FPN) skills. We also extend thanks to the following members of the NSF EESE research team for their efforts in scoring the results of the first pilot project: Roberta M. Berry, Laura Palucki Blake, Jason Borenstein, Robert J. Butera, Kathy Kinlaw, Robert J. Kirkman, Aaron D. Levine, Wendy C. Newstetter, Edward L. Queen II, Leslie E. Wolf. We thank Ethan Butler for his extensive and invaluable research assistance in support of the work reported here for both pilot projects. We also thank both of the following for their very helpful efforts as graduate research assistants for the NSF EESE pilot project: Alexander M. Smith, William Edward Staley, Jr. We acknowledge the efforts of the Science, Technology, and Human Values Research Team for the second pilot project: Roberta M. Berry, Laura Palucki Blake, Ruchir N. Karmali, Sharon E. Norman, Jason L. Wang. We extend thanks to the following for their efforts in scoring the results of the second pilot project: Caroline H. Appleton, Kathryn J. Kline, Stephanie C. Noble, Carter M. Parker. We also thank the following for their efforts in facilitating the Science, Technology, and Human Values PBL teams: Christopher Y. Bellew, Bekim Haliti, Susan Kibler, Hannah T. Santoro, Claire E. Woodring.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
- Barrows, H. S., & Tamblyn, R. (1980). Problem-based learning: An approach to medical education. Springfield, IL: Problem-based Learning Institute.Google Scholar
- Beckford, G. H., Berry, R. M., Queen, E. L., II, Kinlaw, K., Newstetter, W. C., & Wolf, L. E. (2013). Problem based learning (PBL) course addressing ‘fractious problems’ in science and technology. National Academy of Engineering: Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science. http://www.onlineethics.org/Resources/TeachingTools/Modules/27534.aspx.
- Berry, R. M. (2007). The ethics of genetic engineering. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Berry, R. M. (2012). NSF EESE interdisciplinary PBL course on “fractious problems”—course materials. National Center for Professional and Research Ethics: EthicsCORE-Resources. https://nationalethicscenter.org/resources/808.
- Hammersley, M. (1992). What’s wrong with ethnography?: Methodological explorations. London; New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Herkert, J. R. (1999). ABET’s engineering criteria 2000 and engineering ethics: Where do we go from here? Paper presented at the OEC International Conference on Ethics in Engineering and Computer Science, March 1999. National Academy of Engineering: Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science. http://www.onlineethics.org/Education/instructessays/herkert2.aspx.
- Jones, N. L., Peiffer, A. M., Lambros, A., Guthold, M., Johnson, A. D., Tytell, M., et al. (2010b). Developing a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum for professionalism and scientific integrity training for biomedical graduate students. Journal of Medical Ethics, 36(10), 614–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- National Science Foundation. (2010). Ethics education in science and engineering (EESE). http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=13338.
- Spiro, R. J., Feltovich, P. J., Jacobson, M. J., & Coulson, R. L. (1991). Knowledge representation, content specification, and the development of skill in situation-specific knowledge assembly: Some constructivist issues as they relate to cognitive flexibility theory and hypertext. Educational Technology, 31(9), 22–25.Google Scholar