Pictured are (from left, front row) Tom Powers, Julie Maresca and Seth Shabo; (second row) Erin Brannick, Lindsay Hoffman and Belinda Orzada; (third row) Chris Williams, Victor Perez and Raymond Peters; and (back row) Randy Wisser and Donald Sparks.

Lessons in ethics

UD faculty members incorporate new ethics modules into their courses

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8:50 a.m., May 14, 2014--In 2013, the Center for Science, Ethics and Public Policy (SEPP), with support from the Delaware EPSCoR program, sponsored a grant competition to integrate consideration of ethics and policy into undergraduate and graduate instruction at the University of Delaware.

Fourteen faculty proposals were selected for funding, and their projects have been implemented during the 2013-14 academic year.

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According to SEPP’s director, Tom Powers, associate professor of philosophy, the goal of the program was to support new modules in existing or planned courses that introduced or explored themes of research ethics, bioethics, environmental ethics or policy, science policy or other social, legal or ethical issues relevant to the subject matter of the course. 

The curriculum development awards averaged $3,000 each. Some of the new modules and courses were implemented during the fall semester, while others took place this spring.

With support from their grant, Tracey Quigley Holden, assistant professor of communication, and graduate student Michaele Myers revised the engineering and science sections of COMM 212 “Oral Communication In Business” to help students address ethical issues in science through public speaking and to be mindful of the ethics of their own presentations.

“The students were at first a bit apprehensive about the new materials,” Holden said, “but they immediately saw the value of including ethics in their research and presentations. What we saw was a terrific boost in class discussions of the ethical implications of scientific research and the way it is presented to the public. Their level of thinking in regard to assessing published research and science journalism is much higher, which is a great outcome.”

Others who received curriculum development grants include the following:

Erin Brannick, assistant professor of animal and food sciences, made changes to ANFS 467/667, “Biomedical Communication,” to introduce weekly “integral ethics” discussions and a research ethics forum, with guest speakers and student case studies and presentations.

Lindsay Hoffman, associate professor of communication, will be integrating modules into an existing course on technology and politics in a spring 2015 class, COMM 418, "Digital Technology and Politics." The modules will explore common themes in information technology and democracy and will introduce an overarching ethical framework.

Jeff Jordan, professor of philosophy, introduced a new module in PHIL 344, “Science and Religion,” to help students inquire into the appropriate role for science in a pluralistic democracy. He focused on the social and moral limits, if any, which properly restrain the teaching of science in public secondary schools.

Julie Maresca, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, added a module to CIEG 437, “Water Quality Analysis,” on the ethical and practical considerations involved in writing and implementing environmental policies. She tapped the knowledge of state and local government and water resources experts and invited guest speakers to the class.

Kent Messer, associate professor of applied economics and statistics, expanded and enhanced the integration of ethics, science, economics and environmental policy into the curriculum of APEC 100, “Sustainable Development.” He developed an innovative three-stage module related to environmental ethics.

Belinda Orzada, professor of fashion and apparel studies, teaches the capstone course for the apparel design program, FASH 484, “Design Expressions.” She developed a module with readings on sustainable and ethical design options, with a special focus on the environmental impact of the apparel industry.

Victor Perez, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, developed a course titled “Environment and Health.” It focused on embodied health social movements and explored ethics and policy issues when citizens are involved in performing their own scientific and nonscientific research.

Raymond Peters, assistant director of the Honors Program, developed new modules in science ethics and policy for UNIV 495, an honors degree capstone seminar titled “Big Ideas and Elegant Solutions: Creativity in the Sciences.” His students studied some famous cases of scientific creativity, including its “dark side,” and explored the systems approach to human error and individual responsibility.

Andrea Sarzynski, assistant professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration, developed a module for UAPP 325, “Public Policy Analysis,” to focus on the ethical analysis of policy problems and solutions. Her approach was to present ethical policy analysis as a key analytical tool and incorporated student activities in problem-based learning.

Alexander Selimov, associate professor of foreign languages and literatures, created a new course in Spanish and Latin American literature and culture with an experimental title: “Exploring Bioethics through Literature and Film.” Drawing on a wide range of sources in cultural production and ethics, this course offered students an opportunity to study a number of challenges in light of the advances in biotechnology and life sciences.

Seth Shabo, assistant professor of philosophy, teaches PHIL 380, “Moral Accountability,” which examines the nature of moral accountability in connection with such concepts as free will, blameworthiness, excuses, forgiveness and hypocrisy. He introduced empirical studies on emotions such as resentment, moral indignation and guilt and explored their roles in our practice of holding people responsible for their conduct.

Chris Williams, associate professor of entomology and wildlife ecology, introduced modules to ENWC 413/613, “Wildlife Policy and Administration,” on Aldo Leopold’s land ethic and the conflict between conservation and preservation of natural resources, aspects of hunting and an exploration of the recent controversy over the need to increase biofuel and food production from agricultural lands.

Randy Wisser, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, teaches PLSC 467/667, “Genetics Breeding.” He developed lessons on the ethics and science policy surrounding genetically modified foods, the global exchange of genetic diversity and the patenting and commercialization of plants and animals.

About Delaware EPSCoR

EPSCoR, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, is a federal grant program led by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help states develop their research capabilities and institutions. It has served as a successful model for similar programs adopted by a number of federal agencies that sponsor scientific research. 

The University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College, and Wesley College are partners in Delaware’s EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) grant, the goal of which is to engage science, engineering, social science and policy experts in a vibrant, globally competitive, research and education community to address environmental and energy challenges and capture the economic and societal benefits of the research.

Article by Beth Chajes

Photo by Ambre Alexander Payne

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