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Teaching ethics in the UK: A Bioscience perspective

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Slides from a presentation given via Skype to the First International Bioethics Conference, on Teaching and Learning in Bioethics. The meeting was organised by Víctor Grífols i Lucas Foundation and held at the Universitat de Vic - Universitat Central de Catalunya in January 2019. The talk was a personal reflection on the teaching of ethics to bioscience students as it has occurred over the past 17 years or so.
A back-up version of the talk (in case of technical difficulties) was recorded and is available at https://youtu.be/JS--0SDAYTk.

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Teaching ethics in the UK: A Bioscience perspective

  1. 1. Teaching Ethics in the UK: A Bioscience perspective Teaching & Learning in Bioethics Dr Chris Willmott Dept of Molecular and Cell Biology cjrw2@le.ac.uk
  2. 2. Overview • Context: geographical and disciplinary • Evolution of bioethics teaching in UK • Content and methodologies
  3. 3. Genetic Fingerprinting Context: Leicester • University of Leicester
  4. 4. Context: Leicester • University of Leicester Richard III
  5. 5. Bioethics is inter-disciplinary Medicine Philosophy Law Sociology Biology Media Studies Bioethics
  6. 6. Context: Leicester • University of Leicester School of Biological Sciences • Approx 320 students per year • Most Bioethics teaching in Yr 2 Research Topic • Also teach Medical students MSc Science, Society and Responsible Research
  7. 7. Context: beyond Leicester • Co-lead on Special Interest Group on Teaching Ethics to Bioscience Students (2002 – present) • Education committee for Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2008-2015) • School talks • Writing
  8. 8. Writing includes Authentic Assessment
  9. 9. Writing includes
  10. 10. Quality Assurance Agency UK’s independent quality board for HE Context: QAA Benchmark “We safeguard standards and improve the quality of UK higher education wherever it is delivered around the world. We check that students get the higher education they are entitled to expect.”
  11. 11. QAA Subject Benchmark Statement for Biosciences Three editions: 2002, 2007, 2015 Ethical implications of discipline have been prominent in all three versions Context: QAA Benchmark
  12. 12. • “Students should expect to be confronted by some of the scientific, moral and ethical questions raised by their study subject, to consider viewpoints other than their own, and to engage in critical assessment and intellectual argument. Graduates should be comfortable with dealing with uncertainty.” • “Recognise the moral and ethical issues of investigations and appreciate the need for ethical standards and professional codes of conduct.” Context: QAA Benchmark
  13. 13. All honours graduates MUST have “an appreciation of ethical issues and how they underpin professional integrity and standards” A typical honours graduate WILL be able to “construct reasoned arguments to support their position on the ethical and social impact of advances in the biosciences” Context: QAA Benchmark
  14. 14. • November 2002 – March 2003 Survey • 47 universities (45%) • 69% included some ethics teaching • 86% had ethics teaching in Yr 2 (+/- other years) • Majority taught only (or mostly) by bioscience staff Engagement survey
  15. 15. • Core v optional? Benchmark implies core • Stand alone module v distributed? Ethics module &/or within another module • Instrumentalist v Thematic? e.g. “working with animals” v “xenotransplantation” • Level of programme? Tensions in Bioethics education http://tinyurl.com/l247m7x
  16. 16. • How much moral philosophy? - Does a bioscientist need to know about Kant, Bentham, etc? - Rights/Duties & Consequences - A framework for evaluation • How do we assess ethical thinking? - Temptation to assess other skills, e.g. presentation - Construct reasoned arguments? - Appropriate representation of more than one perspective? Tensions in Bioethics education http://tinyurl.com/mefkey9http://tinyurl.com/independentessay
  17. 17. • What? Some aspects generic, others depend on cohort • Who? Bioscience staff? Non-Bioscience? Guests? • How? Different approaches Tensions in Bioethics education
  18. 18. Can consider issues in three categories: 1. Research integrity 2. Biomedical ethics 3. Environmental bioethics Ethical issues for Bioscientists
  19. 19. e.g. responsible use of humans & human material responsible use of animals responsible use of GMOs appropriate use of funding bias/suppression of results > “confirmation bias” fabrication, falsification, plagiarism (FFP) sabotage dangerous research: “dual use dilemma” Research integrity
  20. 20. e.g. genetics and genomics personalised medicine stem cell research gene therapy & gene editing cognitive enhancement neuroimaging xenotransplantation antibiotic usage funding of drugs in developing countries conduct of trials with vulnerable people Biomedical ethics
  21. 21. e.g. GM crops sustainable agriculture synthetic life biodiversity & conservation introduced/alien species climate change biofuels Environmental bioethics
  22. 22. • Lectures: Who? • Reading: Required? Recommended? • Videos and other media? • Case studies Methods for teaching bioethics
  23. 23. • Real v Fictional? Real: News clips, News websites Fictional: Can “tidy up” &/or seed specific points Work best when based on real cases • Formats? - longer scenarios? - open ended v structured v standard tool? Case studies http://tinyurl.com/n5tvz6f
  24. 24. • Promotes: - Engagement with topic - Higher-level skills, e.g. critical thinking empathy • Appropriate medium for debate about controversial issues with legitimate divergence of viewpoint Why Case studies are attractive
  25. 25. • Bioscience teaching disproportionately about passing on factual content • Although case studies are tried-and-tested method of teaching in other contexts, this is unfamiliar approach in Bioscience • Students require some explanation and/or training to maximise benefits of this approach Why Case studies are problematic
  26. 26. • Secondary (i.e. High school) education in the UK does not include philosophy as a core subject • Bioscience students do not necessarily expect to be studying ethics in a biology degree • Bioscience staff do not necessarily expect to be teaching ethics in a biology degree • Bioscience staff unlikely to have had any formal training in ethics or philosophy Issues: Expectations
  27. 27. • Anecdotal evidence for decline in bioethics component within Bioscience programmes • Momentum lost when loss of funding led to closure of Higher Education Academy Subject Centre • Many leading figures in teaching ethics to bioscientists have retired • In crowded curriculum, ethics can look like luxury we cannot afford The rise and fall of Bioethics?
  28. 28. • Although core teaching on Bioethics may be declining, possible module-specific content emerging (e.g. a lecture on ethics in a neuroscience module) • Remember most staff have no ethics training, so this content is likely to include little or no ethical theory The fragmentation of Bioethics?
  29. 29. Gracias E-mail: cjrw2@le.ac.uk Twitter: cjrw Slideshare: cjrw2 Blogs: www.bioethicsbytes.wordpress.com www.biologyonthebox.wordpress.com www.biosciencecareers.wordpress.com www.lefthandedbiochemist.wordpress.com ¿Alguna pregunta?
  30. 30. https://youtu.be/JS--0SDAYTk
  31. 31. References Herreid C.F. (2011) Case Study Teaching New Directions For Teaching and Learning 126:31-40 Willmott C. (2013) Headline Bioethics: Engagement with bioethics in the news Bioscience Education 21:3-6 Willmott C. (2014) Boxing Clever: Television as a teaching tool Times Higher Education (28th August 2014) Willmott C.J.R. (2015) Teaching Bioethics via the Production of Student- generated Videos Journal of Biological Education 49:127-138 Yadav A. et al (2007) Teaching Science with Case Studies: A national survey of faculty perceptions of the benefits and challenges of using cases Journal of College Science Teaching 37:34-38

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