The Ethical Reasoning InstrumentTM (ERI)
We built a digital resource instrument (a wizard) to assist in the development of life sciences curricula that frame biology competencies in the context of ethical reasoning, since ethical and moral reasoning are important dimensions to college student development (Kohlberg, 1976). Using the "Eight Key Questions" framework developed at James Madison University, we generated a series of questions and examples of how instructors can adapt their syllabi, classroom activities, assessment, and pedagogy to re-center ethical reasoning. The result is an instrument called the Ethical Reasoning InstrumentTM (ERI), which will then be available to instructors via the wizard. We envision that this ERITM can be adapted for use in disciplinary courses outside of life sciences.Example Applications of the ERI »
Goals of the Instrument
The goals of the instrument (Ethical Reasoning InstrumentTM; ERI) are
- to assist instructors in infusing ethical reasoning into a new or existing life science course by providing a framework for addressing eight characteristics of ethical reasoning practice.
- to infuse these characteristics into student learning activities, performance assessments, and pedagogical strategies that model ethical behavior.
- to create a learning context through which students engage with and practice ethical reasoning in classes associated with their life sciences curriculum.
Users of the ERI instrument will be able to incorporate some or all of the eight characteristics of ethical reasoning (listed below) into their life sciences courses. Here, the focus is incorporating these ethical reasoning dimensions into three area of courses: pedagogy, assessment, and course activities. Instructors can also use the ERI to evaluate the success of their course implementation. The instrument provides scaffolding for assessment and activity development, as well as examples of each of eight key characteristics of ethical reasoning.
- Fairness - How can I (we) act justly, equitably, and balance legitimate interests?
- Outcomes - What possible actions achieve the best short- and long-term outcomes for me and all others?
- Responsibilities - What duties and/or obligations apply?
- Character - What actions help me (us) become my (our) ideal self (selves)?
- Liberty - How do I (we) show respect for personal freedom, autonomy, and consent?
- Empathy - How would I (we) act if I (we) cared about all involved?
- Authority - What do legitimate authorities (e.g. experts, law, my religion/god) expect?
- Rights - What rights, if any, (e.g. innate, legal, social) apply?
Assessing Instrument Outcomes
Outcomes will be assessed through a discourse analysis of syllabi using Wizard Outcomes as thematic categories. Faculty members will also be given a survey to assess whether the ERI Wizard is valuable, easy to use, and is effective in achieving student learning outcomes. A sub-set of faculty members will be interviewed before and after course development through semi-structured interviews to get a more intimate description of their experience with using the ERI.
Wizard Outcome 1 - Fairness
Learning Activities: Does the course include opportunities for students to practice just and equitable science by considering how biological research questions are impacted by the culture, ethnicity and gender of the scientists who ask them? Does the course include examination of how research in biology may affect Indigenous populations? Does the course provide opportunities for students to learn about inequities in science and the consequences of ignoring inequities in the practice of science?
Learning Assessments: Does the course include assessments that allow students to demonstrate their knowledge of and address inequity in science? Are learning assessments constructed in a way to ensure equity and fairness for learners?
Pedagogy: Does the course include opportunities for the instructor to model just and equitable science? Does the course include attention to principles of universal design of learning, including access and accommodation? Does the course include attention to highlighting the contributions of a diverse exemplars of scientists?
Wizard Outcome 2 - Outcomes
Learning Activities: Does the course include opportunities for students to identify, reflect on, and strategize actions to achieve the best short- and long-term outcomes for all groups of science stakeholders? Are students engaged with how possible actions balance the short and long-term outcomes, opportunity costs, cultural costs, etc. for everyone involved? Are there life-cycle costs to be considered? Are outcomes reversible? Is it clear to students who benefits and how? Are there issues of sustainability involved? Does the course give attention to examination of examples of unintended outcomes or competing outcomes? Do students engage with the potential of predicting the best possible short- and long-term outcomes using models, including climate models, disease transmission models and/or habitat suitability models, game-theoretic models, food production models, conservation and biodiversity practices?
Learning Assessments: Does the course provide assessments that allow students to use data tables, visualizations, and/or academic literature to compare and contrast or predict short- and long-term outcomes and benefits? Do the assessments created lead to accurate conclusions about student learning outcomes for all groups, including minoritized groups?
Pedagogy: Has the instructor employed the appropriate pedagogies that allow students to consider the best possible short- and long-term outcomes in the decisions they consider? Does the instructor guide students to metacognitively analyze the outcomes at which they have arrived and decide that they have come to the best conclusion? Does the instructor model reflexive process in organizing the course to enhance the short-term and long term learning outcomes for students?
Wizard Outcome 3 - Responsibilities
Learning Activities: Does the course include opportunities for students to enact their responsibility toward their development as science literate citizens and practitioners? Does the course provide opportunities for students to consider what duties and/or obligations apply to them as science learners and as members of scientific communities? Does the course provide opportunities for students to consider the ethical implications of experimental design, use of animal or human subjects? Are there opportunities for students to acknowledge their responsibility to understand the impact of research on the communities where it is performed and the long term impact of discoveries on ecosystems, communities, and society?
Learning Assessments: Does the course include assessments/evaluations of student competency in identifying, describing and practicing these obligations? Does the course include assessments that allow students to reflect on their sense of ownership for the original work they produce as learners? Does the course include assessments that allow students to reflect on their understanding of the importance of considering the ethical implications of biomedical research and experimental design?
Pedagogy: Does the instructor give students opportunities to take ownership of their learning? Does the instructor instill a sense of responsibility in students about the work they produce? Does the instructor accept that students will make choices about the quality of work they produce? Does the instructor create learning environment that promotes accountability, collaboration, and co-construction?
Wizard Outcome 4 - Character
Learning activities: Does the course include opportunities for students to reflect on how personal attributes and values factor into STEM practice? Do students have opportunities to practice applying their values and experiences in evaluating the impact of science in society? What exercises does the course provide for students to explore their ideal selves in the context of the life sciences? Does the course provide opportunities for students to acknowledge and respect values and identities different from their own? Does the course provide opportunities for students to weigh decisions that challenge their value systems?
Learning assessments: Does the course include assessments that allow students to demonstrate their character development and science identity? Are there opportunities for students to demonstrate how they contribute personal values and attributes to their science identities and as they participate in the local learning community of the course? Are students required to demonstrate self-reflective processes in evaluating bioscience in society? Are there opportunities for students to demonstrate their ability to integrate multiple values into evaluation and decision making in a scientific context?
Pedagogy: Does the course include demonstration of character development for the instructor, perhaps through adoption of some pedagogical best practice? Does the instructor demonstrate by example how to ground scientific analysis and decision making in the context of personal values? Does the instructor actively model awareness and care in acknowledging the multiplicity and intersectionality of values and identities represented in the class? Does the instructor expand opportunities for individual learners to express their values, attributes, and identities?
Wizard Outcome 5 - Liberty
Learning Activities: Does the course allow for the discussion of multiple perspectives on science topics? Does the course discuss the importance of autonomy and consent in relation to scientific research and practice (e.g., IRB, tribal sovereignty)? Does the course require students to explore the tensions between personal freedoms and scientific priorities (e.g., requiring vaccines to stop the spread of a pandemic)? Does the course introduce issues around the role of consent in canonical bioscience examples (e.g., bodily autonomy, organ donation, experimentation in Nazi Germany, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments)? Does the course present examples of historic and current violations of personal liberties in bioscience (e.g., gay conversion therapy, sharing of biodata)? Does the course allow for the discussion of how science can be liberatory?
Learning Assessments: Does the course provide students with the agency to decide formats and topics of assignments? Are course assessments transparent with regards to purpose? Are rubrics and examples provided? Can students demonstrate competence in multiple ways? Are there cases, such as dissections, where students are allowed to choose alternative assignments if they are uncomfortable participating?
Pedagogy: Does the course allow students to feel that they can bring their whole selves? To what extent are students compelled to participate versus being encouraged to participate? Does the instructor bring in examples of current events in science where questions of autonomy, consent, and personal freedom are at issue?
Wizard Outcome 6 - Empathy
Learning Activities: Does the course include different ways of knowing and being that promote empathy? Does the course provide opportunities for students to consider the issues, needs, and concerns of others, particularly marginalized groups? Does the course provide experiences where students can see and come to know different perspectives from the viewpoint of other cultures, ideologies, social and scientific identities? Does the course include opportunities for deep self-reflection and dialogue? Does the course provide experiences where students begin to understand and care about the impact that science has on humans, animals, and the environment? Does the course provide opportunities for students to examine their own biases and assumptions? Does the course encourage students to be curious how others view and engage with science?
Learning Assessments: Does the course provide assessments that challenge students to understand the perspective of others and how they feel about science? Does the course assess how students reflect on their experiences of interacting with and understanding different perspectives from the viewpoint of other cultures, ideologies, and social identities? Does the course assess the process by which students examine their own biases and assumptions?
Pedagogy: Does the course include opportunities for the instructor to model empathy? Does the instructor allow for flexibility in their syllabus in terms of deadlines, accommodations, and assignment formats? Does the instructor make sure to include and discuss campus and local resources? Does the instructor allow for discussion of the affective in science? Does the instructor present information from a variety of perspectives, especially including marginalized groups?
Wizard Outcome 7 - Authority
Learning activities: Does the course include opportunities for students to engage with the expectations of legitimate authorities associated with the scientific issue (e.g., review boards such as IRB and IUCUC, health and safety guidance, scientific experts, government agencies, legal stakeholders, religious entities)? Can the students express their understanding of the need for guidelines and rules (e.g., gene editing, genetically modified crops), and do they have the opportunity to practice creating guidance for group interactions (e.g., roles and expectations during group activities)? What opportunities do the students have for creating governance within their learning communities? Are there opportunities for students to explore the potential for human rights violations in the absence of legitimate scientific authority (e.g. forced sterilization of minoritized peoples as "experimentation")? Does the course include opportunities for discussions about power and privilege in science?
Learning assessments: Does the course include assessment of students' understanding of the role of authority in forming relevant regulation, laws, and/or policies? Can students articulate the necessity of authority in guiding ethical practices in science, and conversely, can they articulate the adverse outcomes that can result from deregulation of ethical scientific authority? Is there opportunity to evaluate students' understanding of whether an authority is legitimate? Is there opportunity for students to demonstrate their understanding of how power and privilege are enacted in science?
Pedagogy: Does the instructor employ pedagogical techniques that allow students to actively engage with the role of authority in promoting science knowledge and applications? Does the instructor model adherence to the rules and regulations of the classroom (i.e., as established in the syllabus) and the campus, while also allowing deliberative or discursive democracy?
Wizard Outcome 8 - Rights
Learning activities: Does the course include opportunities for students to engage with questions, topics, or controversies centered on human, animal, and legal rights with regard to scientific practice? Does the course allow for the discussion of what rights apply, if any, in real-word examples related to issues such as the development of biotechnology, genetic editing and/or modification technologies, sustainability investments, climate change effects and mitigation, or environmental impacts? Does the course provide opportunities for students to consider the rights of Indigenous peoples with respect to science conducted on their lands, or with resources obtained from their lands? Does the course include opportunities for students to explore the rights of human subjects in biomedical research? Does the course include opportunities for students to reflect on the rights of non-majority groups in their interactions with the science enterprise? Does the course allow students to examine cases where the rights of different groups are in conflict?
Learning assessments: Does the course include assessments that allow students to demonstrate their knowledge of the legal and innate rights of different societal stakeholder groups with respect to the research and applied activities of science? Does the course involve assessments of students' knowledge or understanding of animal rights related to biological research? Are learning assessments constructed in a way to acknowledge the rights of students?
Pedagogy: Does the instructor employ pedagogical techniques that are sensitive to the rights of students? Does the instructor use teaching approaches that allow students to decide whether the rights of one group were upheld or violated (e.g., enthobotanical expeditions on tribal/Indigenous lands, experimental drug testing using only majority groups, commercialized use of natural products at the cost of environmental quality)? During labs and demonstrations, are living organisms treated with their due rights? Do approaches to teaching highlight the rights of both the students and instructor, and demonstrate reasonable resolutions where rights may be in conflict?
Read more about the ERI and an example of its use within the context of a life science course. Using one of the ERI outcomes (e.g., empathy), we demonstrate how instructors can use the Wizard to inform their course content, activities, and pedagogy.