Best practice: Help in wrestling with ethics

September 24, 2004

Every day, newspapers report new ethical dilemmas, many related to the latest technological breakthrough. Students on science and law-related courses are increasingly faced with ethical issues, but how should they be taught about them?

This was the question posed by six subject centres in the Higher Education Academy, led by the philosophy and religious studies learning centre. The other centres were law, medicine, psychology, health sciences and bioscience.

Although the project finished this year, more work is expected. Jackie Wilson of the bioscience subject centre says: "It became clear it was much more complicated than we thought."

One of the debates was on how much you should seek to influence students'

views. Wilson says it was agreed that the main aim was to give students the skills to draw out what ethical issues are and then debate them.

The bioscience subject centre took part in four mini-projects, including workshop events. One looked at providing an online ethics module for postgraduates. As ethics involves debate, the aim was to see if this could be done online. Some students found they could be more open online than face to face.

The philosophy and religious studies subject centre hosts a central website ( carrying information and best-practice case studies. So far, not as many people as anticipated have contributed. "This indicates to us that many lecturers are struggling with ethical issues," Wilson says.

A survey for the centre found that most lecturers wanted additional resources on ethics and so it is issuing four ethics briefings.

"There is a lot of debate about how much bioscientists should know about philosophy and how much bioscience issues should be part of philosophy courses. Science is seen as non-emotive, but not at the point of application," Wilson says.

The next workshops on ethical issues will be held in December.

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