Developing, implementing and evaluating the use of ethical frameworks in teaching bioethics issues in a Year 10 biotechnology program
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With the re-emergence of values education in the school curriculum in the last decade, science is viewed as one of the key teaching domains, and in particular, socio-scientific education is increasingly perceived as instrumental in helping students explore underlying beliefs and values, develop reasoning and critical thinking skills to make informed decision on socio-scientific issues. This thesis develops a conceptual basis for a model of teaching socio-scientific issues for secondary or high school students. The teaching of controversial issues needs a stronger theoretical base and a more viable pedagogical strategy to facilitate critical thinking, argumentation and decision-making skills. Previous research has shown that science classroom discourse was largely teacher dominated and tended not to foster adequate reflective discussion of scientific issues nor forge well-informed decisions on controversial issues. The use of ethical frameworks serves as a pedagogical tool as well as provides a process to help students make ethical judgements and rationally and relationally justify them.The five ethical frameworks explored in this model are categorised as rights and duties, beneficence/non-maleficence (utilitarian), autonomy, communicative virtues and Christian moral. The features of controversy that are made explicit to the students through the use of ethical frameworks are situated in the area of human genetics and transgenic plants in Australia. Such a study is undertaken in the realm of bioethics within the context of an ethically pluralist society. The present investigation focuses on the teaching of a Year 10 biotechnology class over a period of ten weeks in an evangelical Christian college in metropolitan Perth, Western Australia. Using an interpretative case study approach, a mixed method data collection and action research as the methodology, analyses of instructional strategies, teachers and students’ beliefs/values/attitudes and achievement outcomes were conducted and evaluated accordingly.This study is unique in that it presents one of the few studies that incorporates Christian/faith values in the ethical frameworks that enables the researcher to explore the connection, if any, between cognitive learning and moral reasoning and moral development, and in the wider sense, the link between cognitive learning (scientific literacy) and ethical reasoning.Research findings indicate that through the use of the simple framework in comparing the pros and cons, students in the comparison group developed a limited measure of competency in reasoning and developing arguments to express their viewpoints. However, students have also been noted to be more motivated and engaged with learning science because of its increased relevance to their personal lives and societal concerns. On the other hand, the experimental group students utilise the five ethical frameworks to orientate the thinking process to explore possible alternatives, to prioritize conflicting and competing ethical claims, to examine from different perspectives and to integrate their information by linking from knowledge content and/ or claims to well-grounded conclusions. Essentially, the use of ethical frameworks guides students’ understanding of the socio-scientific issue and helps them to formulate the crux of decision-making.Data analysis from both qualitative and quantitative aspects suggest that the use of ethical frameworks has brought about a marked improvement in the students’ ability to reflect critically, reason analytically and make rational decisions about their own ethical values in handling socio-scientific issues. Research finding also confirms the the important role of the teacher in implementing the ethical frameworks as a reasoning and argument-developing tool in socio-scientific education. On a modest level, research from the present study has shown that using the frameworks for both comparison and experimental groups has instilled in teachers some measure of confidence; with the five ethical frameworks proven more satisfying and effective as a pedagogical tool. This study suggests that, from a teacher’s perspective, the use of ethical frameworks could be a viable tool in socio-scientific education, and this needs to be supported by the teacher taking a procedural neutral stance, role-modelling the scientific reasoning process through carefully crafted questions, creating a collaborative and caring learning environment and a variety of student-centred teaching strategies.The incorporation of faith values in the ethical frameworks confirms previous research that there is the possibility that other concepts besides that of justice and fairness could be the key in determining how one judges what is morally right. The present research also suggests that there are different problem-solving strategies in making moral judgements beside stage schemes of justice described by cognitive developmental psychologists and educators. The present study also suggests that allegiance to belief systems and ideologies can sometimes override the influence of one’s own sense of fairness in making decisions of moral rightness. This is an important factor to consider in mapping out curriculum for moral education and socio-scientific education.Overall, the analysis suggests that socio-scientific education programs focusing on dialogical and reflective processes could help to facilitate socio-scientific reasoning. The study also argues for the importance of providing a sound epistemological and dialogical environment for socio-scientific education in a science classroom through the use of carefully constructed and evaluative metacognitive tools of learning in scaffolding and structuring reasoning and argumentation process, of which the use of ethical frameworks has proven to be modestly effective.
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