This project, supported by the cross-NSF program in Ethics Education in Science and Engineering, conducts an experiment in ethics education for graduate engineering and science students and an experiment in assessment of this educational effort. These experiments draw on a theoretical foundation integrating contextualized approaches to ethics and policy, problem-based learning, and the cognitive science supporting problem-based learning. If these experiments yield promising results, this would invite further research on a larger scale to examine whether effective ethics education can be delivered and assessed in the ways tested by this project.

Advances in research and innovation sometimes stimulate 'fractious' policy problems that generate contentious and unproductive policy debate, threatening to undermine public trust in science and engineering. These fractious problems share five characteristics; they are (1) novel, (2) complex, (3) ethically fraught, (4) divisive, and (5) unavoidably of public concern. Examples of fractious problems include policy problems surrounding the development and use of neuroimaging technologies; human-nonhuman chimeras; human enhancement technologies; and genetic technologies to predict the onset of disease, predict behavior, or identify individuals. Future scientists and engineers can contribute to the social capacity to understand and address these fractious problems, and it is the responsibility of the science and engineering professions and of educators to equip future professionals to do so.

Investigators will design and deliver experimental ethics courses aimed at cultivating skills needed to understand and address the five characteristics of 'fractious' problems by incorporation of the following course elements: small groups of diverse, multi-disciplinary learners; problem-based, student-directed learning; facilitation by similarly diverse and multi-disciplinary faculty mentors; preparation of findings and policy recommendations regarding two or more fractious problems of current policy concern; and presentation of these findings and recommendations to the public and to policymakers and/or their staffs. Learners will be drawn from four Atlanta-area institutions, including private and public and historically black and primarily white institutions: Georgia Tech (graduate students in bioengineering and in public policy), Emory (graduate students in bioscience and in ethics), Morehouse School of Medicine (graduate students in bioscience), and Georgia State (law students). Investigators will also design and test a new assessment instrument aimed at measuring progress in developing these skills, named SkillSET (Skills for Science/Engineering Ethics Test).

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Linda Layne
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Georgia Tech Research Corporation
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